Michael Wallace, the Christian contestant who came third in the first season of SBS’s hit show Alone Australia, was surprised by how hard he found returning to the bush when he went camping for a week with two other contestants on Bruny Island in Tasmania earlier this month.
“The first few days were plagued by feelings of heartache, hardship and homesickness. All the grief of the last few days of being on Alone last winter came flooding back. I had chosen to forget how hard it really was out there, especially towards the end,” he confesses.
Michael, 43, had organised the trip to help train Jimmy, 22, for a possible next season of Alone Australia, and Tasmanian-based Chris also joined them for the reunion in the wild. (Jimmy had to be extracted from Alone Australia on day two because of catching COVID.)
The trip had come to the attention of Bruny locals through the first article Eternity published about Michael’s experiences and his plans for a new adventure.
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“The first article was wide-reaching. A Bruny local read it and passed it on to Chris. Chris posted it on his Instagram and Jimmy copied it on to his Instagram. When Jimmy was at the airport, a fellow even came up to him and said, ‘You’re on your way to Bruny Island to hang out with Michael and Chris.’”
Michael discovered that Jimmy already had “an amazing repertoire of impressive survival skills” gleaned from a hands-on outdoor life as a child growing up on a rural property and adventures including work placements on sheep stations.
“The biggest area of growth in his survival skills was practising starving and an introduction to the Prusik knot. Jimmy will next be working on the isolation part of his Alone skills repertoire with an upcoming job placement as a ‘Bore Runner’ on a cattle station in the Pilbara.”
Straight off the plane before heading to Bruny, the trio took time in Hobart to sample a local Aboriginal food stand, Palawa Kipli (Palawa = Aboriginal Tasmanians, Kipli = food/tucker). “We all went for the unique taste of Tasmania, muttonbird. It tasted more like a sardine bird than a muttonbird, but I found the strong sardine fish taste to the pigeon-sized bird made for a delicious late-night dinner, bush tucker takeaway style,” Michael says.
While camping in South Bruny on the north edge of a vast lagoon, Michael broke the group rules by packing his mobile phone and a backup battery charger, with the memory fresh that what broke him during his time on Alone was being away from his wife and family.
“There was no reception at camp, but I found on day two that in low tide out on the water’s edge of the peninsula of the lagoon, I could make a call home with one-to-two bars of reception. The call would drop every few minutes, but it was worth it. It was great being able to speak to Paula, my wife. She was missing me also and said, ‘I don’t like doing life without you,’ which was so beautiful and just how I felt. We were both hitting the raw nerves of the pain and suffering from the long, hard time apart last year.”
Unlike on Tasmania’s west coast, where the contestants were based during Alone, it didn’t rain every day on Bruny Island and fresh water proved scarce, leading to dehydration.
“Chris set up a tarp to catch water, but by the second day, we were already rationing water and becoming dehydrated. All the local creeks were long and flat, so the brackish water extended a long way upstream. We ended up being able to access fresh water on a route we could only pass in low tide, but it was 1.3km away. We made the 2.6km round trip for water for every remaining day of the trip. It made us think of the amazing women in Africa who walk for hours each day to provide their families with water,” says Michael.
“We were blessed with an abundance of oysters and mussels, but as the days went by, Jimmy and I found them less and less delicious and more and more burdensome. There was a good supply of Lomandra, similar to the Saw Sedge grass I lived on for a month last year. On the second last day, Chris found a huge octopus stranded in shallow water by the low tide. This made a welcome change from the oysters and mussels.”
The questions that kept cropping up included: What is the most challenging part about being a Christian?
As an active member of Narellan Anglican Church, Michael stood out among the ten contestants in Australia’s first season of the popular American show – not only because he didn’t swear wildly as the others did but also because he talked on camera about his faith.
On this trip, Michael says the trio had some great conversations about Christianity, especially by the fireside in the evenings.
“We discussed topics including: what is the most challenging part about being a Christian, how Jesus bridges the gap between us and God, caused by our sin that separates us from God, and why Jesus died to take the punishment for our sin.
“I was able to explain the simplicity of God’s law, in a nutshell, as seen in Jesus’ response that the most important command is to love the Lord your God with all your heart followed by love your neighbour as yourself,” Michael says.
The last few days in the wilderness were physically tough as starvation kicked in.
“We were all starving and could feel our bodies trying to slow us down. I could taste the ketones on my breath as starvation and fat breakdown had fully kicked in. My belt could now be easily taken in an extra hole and there wasn’t another hole below so my pants needed a bit of hitching up every so often. On the last night at the evening talk around the fire, there was not a conversation that did not end in talk of food.”
“We were all starving and could feel our bodies trying to slow us down.”
The group planned first to eat the chilli chips given by a friend of Chris as a parting gift, which they had left behind in Chris’ 4WD diving rig, then chicken parmigiana at Bruny Hotel. On the way to the airport on Saturday, Chris was planning a delicious detour to the Cadbury factory, where they each looked forward to buying a 5kg box of factory seconds. (Sadly, it turned out the chocolate factory no longer has a shopfront).
As they ate the last clams and mussels on the final night, Jimmy commented lightly, “This is our last supper,” and they had a little chuckle. Steady rain soon set in, so they retreated to their shelters to keep warm and dry. The blessing of that downpour was abundant water to drink in the morning as they packed up camp and prepared for the arduous pack hike back to their drop zone.
“Once we got back to base, we weighed in. We had all lost at least 3.5kg in less than a week. In total starvation, you should lose about 300gm of fat daily, but we had been exercising harder than we should have and were possibly dehydrated.”
Michael said the trip reinforced that, as Christians, we all need to be ready to share our faith. “It is not just the minister’s job to tell others about Jesus, but we all should be ready at all times. This doesn’t mean we need to know all the answers, and in fact not knowing all the answers gives a great opportunity for a follow-up conversation.”
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