Alone's Michael Wallace set for a new adventure

Michael Wallace, the Christian contestant who came third in the inaugural season of Alone Australia, is heading back to Tasmania later this month to rough it in the outdoors again with two other contestants.

Michael, 43, is training up Jimmy, 22, the youngest contestant who was extracted on day two with COVID but wants to have another crack at the next season. The pair will meet up for a week’s camp, along with Tasmanian contestant Chris, 39, an Army veteran who suffers from PTSD.

In the first season of Alone Australia – SBS’ most viewed series ever – ten outdoor survivalists were dropped off in separate locations in Tasmania’s wilderness in the middle of winter. The person who survived the longest, totally alone, took home $250,000.

“I need to train Jimmy up a little bit more because he wants to apply for another season,” Michael tells Eternity via Zoom from his sheep and cattle farm at The Oaks, 82km southwest of Sydney.

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“We’ll go to Bruny Island, which will be a bit nicer than where we were put for the show. It will have a bit more food around, rather than us being isolated and starving, but it’ll still be good practice for Jimmy being outdoors with just a reduced Alone-style kit and his own ingenuity to rely on.”

Being content with very little was a big part of Michael’s ability to last …

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 and prayed out loud.

Michael even recorded four sermons for his ‘Sunday services’ while in the wild, including one themed on a Colin Buchanan song, Big Bible Story, and another on Amazing Grace. Sadly, the sermons didn’t survive the cut, but his journey became more prominent as the season progressed and he reached the final three.

Michael was the only one of the final trio who did not catch any fish or wildlife but survived solely on saw sedge and other wild greens.

“I spent hours each day just eating that saw sedge, that kind of grassy stuff, to the point of, by about week three, my teeth were really sore,” he reveals.

“I thought my teeth were either sore from too much chewing or because I was starting to get scurvy. That’s when I started cutting up the saw sedge and boiling it so it was a little bit softer to eat, and added the greens, that water ribbon stuff. Then my teeth started to feel a bit better as time went by rather than worse, which was good.”

Cast of Alone Australia 2023

The cast of ‘Alone Australia’ 2023. Image: SBS

Although Michael’s prayers for food were not answered, he never felt abandoned by God because he had willingly put himself in a situation where there was little to eat.

“I knew as soon as I got there that it was a terrible place,” he explains.

“This wasn’t Tasmania; this was like a flooded valley. Pete ‘the hunter’ called it the Shadowland from The Lion King. There were trees around, but it’s such an unnatural valley and watercourse. So, as far as how I coped being out there, as a Christian, I’m used to the fact that a lot of Western people don’t realise what wealth we all have. I’m comfortable when I have plenty and also when I have little. I’m used to being out on the farm and roughing it.

“A lot of people who are living all for themselves, who are used to plenty, feel they deserve better, whereas I’m used to going through a hard time and knowing it’s going to be OK. Christianity teaches us that it’s not all about living for now and needing everything to be perfect or deserving everything right now.”

“It’s such a slow pace of life out there that it’s easy to ponder on God’s word.” – Michael Wallace

Being content with very little was a big part of Michael’s ability to last 30 days with minimal food and a simple folded tarpaulin for a shelter.

“My shelter had a little bit of a veranda that kept the rain off. And I built a log wall that stopped the dewy air that was blowing up and down the valley. In the evening, the cold air comes down and then in the morning it goes the other way, so it blocked that airflow, which was really nice. And that was all that I needed. I had really good warm clothes, and I didn’t need to be on social media; I didn’t miss my phone at all, which was great.”

While he didn’t include a Bible among the ten items contestants could take into the wilderness, that didn’t stop Michael from meditating on Scripture. As someone who reads his Bible daily and leads a Bible study group, he had imagined being discouraged by not having access to a Bible.

“But I found that it’s such a slow pace of life out there that it’s easy to ponder on God’s word without having to read it. Whereas sitting down and reading the Bible is required to keep me more focused in this busy life that we usually have.”

Michael Wallace

Michael, Paula and Charlotte enjoy chocolate-covered strawberries. Image supplied

Slowing down meant Michael could focus on God in the way we ought to and develop an even greater appreciation for the amazing way God has made us.

“Besides loving God’s creation, a big part of it was being blessed with bodies that can cope with famine or whatever hard times he’s built us for. We can go through hard times like that and know that it’s OK,” he said.

“Thinking about withstanding famine, it’s just amazing that people get worried about missing lunch these days, whereas you can go for days and days just drinking water.”

Michael found the days went fairly quickly if he kept himself busy. He notes that the show’s producers created a storyline that failed to reflect reality at times.

“They pigeonhole people a little bit,” he says, giving the example of another contestant Mike Atkinson (who dubs himself ‘Outback Mike‘) being framed as “the big tough guy who did everything, but not many of [his plans] succeeded.”

“Well, he did a lot more that you didn’t see as well,” says Michael. “He had another trap or two. And the fact is, in real life, that’s how it normally goes. You’d set six traps and one might catch something once every couple of weeks in a good place, let alone in this deserted, flooded valley.

“I did a lot of stuff as well. I had a lifting trap to try and catch a wallaby that didn’t catch anything. It was built well and set up well, but there just wasn’t the population of critters where I was. And I did spend a lot of time fishing. People said, ‘You didn’t do any fishing.’ I did a lot of fishing! You just didn’t see it for some reason.”

He only thought about the parallel with Jesus’ 40 days of fasting in the wilderness after the show.

Both Michael and Mike – the runner-up – felt at ease in nature, but the narrative storyline showed that Gina – the eventual winner who lasted 67 days – was the only one comfortable in nature and everyone else was meant to be struggling.

“I set myself mental tasks to do as well as physical ones. So I’d tell an Australian poem to the camera on a Wednesday, I told a story on Friday, and then I had church every Sunday. This meant throughout the week I could plan what story or sermon to tell in the days ahead,” says Michael.

He only thought about the parallel with Jesus’ 40 days of fasting in the wilderness after the show.

“Then I thought I should have done 40 days and 40 nights – ten more than I did. I could have done that if I didn’t move [the location of my camp]. I could have stayed there starving for ten more days. With the move, I thought I’d get to a better spot and keep going. But in the end, it ended up being the right time to burn brighter for less time. And my wife and I really needed each other by the end.”

Michael Wallace

Michael with Paula, Sam and Charlotte on Clean Up Australia Day this year. Image supplied

His lowest point came on day 28 – the day after he made the perilous and exhausting move of his camp to what he hoped would be a better place for fishing and hunting.

“The hardest moment wasn’t the move because that was actually doing something. The hardest moment was the day after the move when I’d done the move and my body was aching and all my muscles were so sore.”

That’s when Michael broke down in tears while recording a private message to his wife, Paula, as physical and emotional exhaustion caught up with him.

“I sent a few little ‘messages in a bottle’ home. I thought, ‘I’ll just record it and hope my wife gets it.’ Once my Alone time was finished, I was told ‘Well, it’s nice that you did that, Michael, but that’s not part of how the filming works. It’s meant to be no communication out either.’ But in the end, the footage of me crying [during the message recorded on day 28] was just too good for them to not use.”

Michael tapped out two days later.

“One of the hardest times was when our property flooded while I was away.” – Michael Wallace

Paula was having a rough time, too, while Michael was away, being left to take care of their cattle and sheep farm, on top of her own activities of SRE teaching, church involvement and running Playgroup.

“One of the hardest times was when our property flooded while I was away. We don’t normally get high winds and lots of heavy rains in winter, but we had both, and the poor sheep had a really hard time. When Paula was doing the rounds during the flood, three ewes had died from the cold. She had to drag them off by herself and then bottle-feed their babies until she could find them new homes.”

Since returning to his family – including his wife Paula, son Sam, 19, and daughter Charlotte, 12 – Michael says he and Paula have a renewed appreciation for each other.

“Since being back, I’ve been cooking a lot more. I’ve got a renewed appreciation for food as well. Instead of once a month, I cook more like once or twice a week now!”