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Epic discoveries go back to the Ice Age in The First Inventors

Rob Collins takes us on a spectacular journey of discovery in <I>The First Inventors</I>.

Rob Collins takes us on a spectacular journey of discovery in The First Inventors. Photo: Ten

The oldest fish farms on Earth, engineering triumphs, uncovering ancient super highways and solving the mathematical mystery of kinship systems are all part of a “visually spectacular” documentary series.

And it’s not about one of the oldest cultures in the world from Europe, the Middle East or Asia … it’s the oldest culture in the world.

“Imagine yourself back in time, 65,000 years ago … it is the dawning of a new era, where modern humans take their first brave steps into new worlds … it’s here, in Australia,” says Tiwi Islander and Logie winner Rob Collins (Extraction, Mystery Road) as he introduces the four-part series, the first co-commission between the Ten Network and NITV.

Collins said that, among the many things he learned, he was astonished to find links between modern-day roads and ancient travel routes.

“I hitched a ride with Professor Sean Ulm. The penny that dropped for me was that a lot of the highways around the country that we take for granted follow the same routes that we used thousands of years ago, which is pretty cool,” he told The New Daily.

The greatest lesson of the series for Collins?

“Indigenous voices have value and that if we want a stronger future together, we have to be more willing to listen to them,” he said.

Rob Collins says he ‘can’t wait to share this amazing story of knowledge, resilience and adventure’. Photo: Network Ten

‘Timely reflections’

In a number of projects announced by Screen Australia in August, The First Inventors was one of 13 documentary series sharing in $4 million of production funding.

In The First Inventors, Collins is taken on a journey across the country, and gets a master class on everything from how Indigenous communities developed aquaculture and sustainable farming practices, to their inventions, homes and highways.

“The power of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge is awe-inspiring. Its endurance speaks to the strength, resilience and ingenuity of Indigenous knowledge holders around this incredible country,” Collins tells SBS, where it will also stream.

“Traditions and practices that have sustained my ancestors for countless generations are now spurring incredible new discoveries in partnership with the best minds in science today.”

Aiming to rewrite history

In episode one, Collins meets archaeologist Dr Chris Wilson, traditional owner and world heritage ranger Tyson Lovett-Murray, and a team of laser technology experts who map out an area off the western Victorian coast first inhabited by the Gunditjmara people 37,000 years ago.

After the Budj Bim volcano erupted, it “formed this big lava ridge that runs right through this lake”, Lovett-Murray says, about the area that is now a world heritage site,

He says it’s better known as an “eco-cultural landscape”.

“[The Gunditjmara] changed the landscape to increase the production of eels or fatten them up without taking away their biodiversity,” he said.

“They domesticated a whole landscape and waterway … the whole lake is basically a trap with little traps inside it … it takes ingenuity … using baskets to funnel eels into a narrow flow of the river system.”

In 2020, the University of Melbourne declared the Gunditjmara lived in this area for much longer than previously thought (6000 years).

“And now, using a new volcanic activity dating technique and matching this with physical archaeological evidence and the rich oral traditions of the Gunditjmara people – we have confirmed human habitation in this region at least 34,000 years ago.”

It contains “the world’s oldest known aquaculture system”.

“There’s something really special about Gunditjmara country … what I’m really interested in is how people have reshaped this landscape over thousands of years,” Dr Wilson said.

NITV head and Wiradjuri woman Marissa McDowell says the series fronted by Rob Collins ‘celebrates and illuminates more than 65,000 years of knowledges and cultures’. Photo: Network Ten

Indeed, the docu-series takes viewers back in time – between 70,000 and 120,000 years ago – to a community that is developing stone tools, art, agriculture, irrigation and astronomy.

Each episode looks at four investigations.

Other revelations include showing fire masters reigniting traditional burning, and transforming deadly fire into a productive food source.

A compelling, complicated computer simulation showing how Indigenous ancestors embarked on humanity’s first great ocean crossing – and exactly where they crossed onto the mainland.

Long before the invention of writing, how was it possible to accurately record and pass on knowledge and events for thousands of years?

“Harnessing the neuroscience of song and story, Australia’s First People invented the world’s most effective memory system … but can an ancient song line written in the stars help you navigate the outback today?” reads the documentary’s logline.

Collins, who is starring in Ten Pound Poms and alongside Simon Baker in outback film noir Limbo, also goes diving off the remote Pilbara coast with underwater archaeologists to “prove that Indigenous storytelling recorded the end of the Ice Age”.

The First Inventors premieres on Network Ten and NITV from Thursday, June 15

Topics: Indigenous
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