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The harshness of the sea

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How I came to be on a trawler instead of in New Guinea
Redmond O'Hanlon Writer
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I was going to New Guinea. It was all planned. I was going with Tim Flannery, who's Mr New Guinea, and we're going into a range of mountains that were mythical, legendary. Jared Diamond, it was his report to Tim, had gone in there, been helicoptered in for three days and come out again, and he said, 'This place, it's a paradise'. And he didn't just mean the birds of paradise, he meant, as he said, 'It's quite extraordinary'. You can walk up to tree kangaroos and stroke them. They've never seen humans. You can pick them up and kiss them. Nobody even... I mean, the birds of paradise come and perch on your head. Nobody there has seen a bloke, I mean seen a human being, and so of course, as it was Jared Diamond, everyone believed him. And the reason nobody had been there, as far as I remember, was that there's a methane swamp right around this mountain. Now it's kind of... it's a plateau. I think it's about 400 miles by 200, whatever. Absolutely pristine, non-human, wonderful jungle. That's where we were going. The greatest prize ever.

But then Tim became busy which was a good deal less painful... and eventually, of course, he became Australian Humourist of the Year, and had to do... you know, take prizes everywhere. And he was very busy indeed. So I got over it. But the truth is, obviously I haven't. But a proper scientific team went. I think there were 18 of them, Indonesians and Australians, and just discovered, well, five new species of amphibians within a few days, and tree kangaroos that were thought to be extinct. Just magical, magical, ridiculous. Anyway, so quite rightly now, that's a... that's a closed area to anybody. I mean, it's just one of the last... one of the last real pristine, beautiful, beautiful places on the planet. And indeed, you can pick up these tree kangaroos and give them a kiss. They just think it's a bit kinky.

So I couldn't go because my daughter was really ill, and the psychiatrist said, 'Now look, the minute she's 18, fathers don't matter at all, but you can't go away for six months now. You might have her death on your conscience.' So I was immensely flattered. I mean, fathers don't think they matter at all, really. So this project, I could do with six weeks away, rather than six months, and then come back and then carry on.

British author Redmond O’Hanlon writes about his journeys into some of the wildest places in the world. His travels have taken him into the jungles of the Congo and the Amazon, he has faced some of the toughest tribes alive today, and has sailed in the hurricane season on a trawler in the North Atlantic. In all of this, he explores the extremes of human existence with passion, wit and erudition.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is a London-based television producer and director who has made a number of documentary films for BBC TV, Channel 4 and PBS.

Tags: New Guinea, Norleantean, Tim Flannery, Jared Diamond

Duration: 3 minutes, 23 seconds

Date story recorded: July - September 2008

Date story went live: 11 August 2009