It just sank in. I won Alone Australia. And I couldn't have done it without you.
pic by Riima Daher
‘I’m going to be the first woman to win Alone’
Apparently this is what I said to the panel of producers and SBS heavyweights at the gruelling make-or-break final cut for the first series of Alone Australia.
I don’t remember saying ‘I’m going to’, I think it was probably more like ‘I want to be,’ but perhaps my conviction and passion was enough to land as certainty in the group interviewing me.
I thought I’d blown it forever that day. In response to a question about first aid I’d cheerfully held up my gnarled and battle-scarred hands and announced that I often cut my fingers to the bone while spoon-carving with wicked blades that look (and feel) like bear claws. ‘I just tape ‘em up and sand the blood out of the spoon’, I’d said, blithe as a child. The universal look of horror rippling around the ring of faces slapped me into focus. Shit, Gi, these people think this is really weird. Stop talking. They’ll believe you’re so risk addicted you’re gonna die out there.
Four days of radio silence sent me to a pit of chocolate-bingeing hell, positive I’d ruined this amazing chance. When the producers finally rang, they said, ‘Thank you so much for jumping through all the hoops…’
All I heard was, ‘Dear John.’ It was a breakup call. I knew it. My heart fell into my knees, and the next words had to be repeated because I didn’t catch them the first time.
‘Gina, we’d love to have you on the first series of Alone Australia.’
All ten cast members landed at boot camp a year ago, met for the first time, sized each other up with squinting suspicion for a horrible day before deciding fuck it, we’re in this together.
And that’s how it’s been ever since. I don’t know about the US and Scandanavian versions of Alone, but us Aussies looked after each other, competition be damned. Boot camp was harrrrd. We helped each other through it, in little ways and big. As we were bundled into cars and ferried out to our sites on drop day, everyone popped out of hotel rooms to wave and cheer each other on. ‘You’ve got this,’ rang out as the cars drove away. Until it was my turn, cocooned in my possum coat, still stitching furiously to finish it before the boat took me into the wilderness.
I didn’t plan to dance on the moss, it was just the most obvious hello to country, after acknowledging the palawa whose footprints I would dance in for 67 days. Larila Bay was my name for my site, after lady larila the platypus, one of my many wilderness friends (I knew larila was the palawa word for platypus after meeting palawa elders who gave us a harrowing history of white occupation of lutruwita and a crash course in some food we might find on the landscape).
For 67 days I loved that land. I love it still. It broke me into ten thousand pieces, and each one became a scrap of silk on the wind, a flung coin of light on the lake, a spiralling leaf of myrtle beech. I became the moss and the earth and the worms that made everything possible. I died, and was regrown as part of the land, less human, more animal, and more in love than I’ve ever been in my life.
Days stopped meaning anything. I danced through seasons and weather and the 4 metre rise and fall of lake-water that brought or dissuaded the trout, the moon cycles that called or burned the eels. I became more me than I have ever been, or probably ever will be. Time stopped being logical and linear. It padded, furry-pawed, into earth time, dirt time. Every moment was eternity ,but I wasn’t thinking about the next one, only the one I was in, so even in the discomfort I was content.
I had another twenty days in me, at least, when they pulled me out. The haul of eels I’d landed a few days before was smoked and tenderly wrapped with my remaining wallaby jerky. My rock stove kept me toasty warm at night, preserving calories and giving comfort. The incessant rain that had trapped me in my shelter for the last week had finally lifted. Sunshine bathed me in delight.
I danced into that final morning, raked my fingers through my dreadlocked hair and threw out lines to snag a fish before med-check. There was always a thumping fear in the pit of my belly that someone would decide I was done with a flick of their finger. The finger of doom. I feel for Mike. He knows that feeling too well.
When Lee appeared like a goddamn apparition behind my shelter, I didn’t know if he was actually there. Over the next ten minutes I tentatively touched his chest, almost afraid my hand would go through him. ‘Are you real?’ I said.
He alternated between nodding and crying and laughing.
‘You’ve won, Gi,’ he kept saying. ‘You did it, you bloody legend.’
It didn’t sink in. It still hasn’t.
I took him around my site, showed him all my treasures, the places I hunted and fished, the jungles I’d explored, the homes for wombats and wallabies, the place I gutted the wallaby, the neverending swampy, muddy morass I trudged through day and night hauling cameras and tripods and trunks of myrtle beech to build my beautiful nest.
And then it hit me.
‘This was the easy bit,’ I said. ‘My life just changed forever’.
All at once I saw it, the journey and the opportunity laid out in the moss.
I would have a platform to speak about precious things.
I showed that it’s possible to be at home in the wild, to be part of wild nature rather than apart from wild nature. I made a stand for ancestral remembering, and to make that stand purely, it doesn’t stop when the cameras stop rolling. This is a passionate life belief.
The show is just the beginning
I feel a little lost after the ending. I’ve gone through this journey in real time with all the viewers, all over Australia and beyond. I’ve watched my fellow Alone family as they solved the challenges of shelter, water, fire and food in a landscape that did not give up her secrets easily. I’ve cried when every single one of them left. I found myself biting my nails for the last two episodes, even though I was the only one who knew how it ended. I forgot a little that I’d won, so deeply was I embedded in the unfolding story.
And now I feel my extraction and its accompanying grief again, but this time with a full belly, sleeping in a comfy bed, surrounded by loved ones.
My rewild village turned out for a watch party of the final episode. It started with a couple of families and, as happens with these things, it grew. I was wrapped in love and hugs and more love. Watching my extended family celebrate brings it all home. All the times out there I missed my village, and here they are. I know what it’s like to sit around a fire with 150 people, listening to stories, singing songs, catching moonlight and swallowing it like ambrosia. I did what I did because they were with me.
I feel displaced now, half in larila bay, half here in a vortex of interviews and social media and literary agents and management and all the landmarks of a wild new world. My time out there in palawa country was the east part. That’s a jungle I understand. This jungle is a whole new wilderness and here be dragons. I have no illusions that I won’t end up with more scars, maybe these ones not visible on my fingers, but deeper in my heart as I learn this new world by living it.
Holy crap. I won Alone Australia. Even though I’ve had nine months to absorb it, it’s only just becoming real. I haven’t spent the money in my head, mostly because to me it isn’t real until I have it, and prizes don’t land until the whole thing is well and truly over. I haven’t been able to celebrate winning because it has been a secret I’ve had to bury deeper than worms in lutruwita mud.
But here I am now. I won. It’s real.
I did it with the help of nine other incredible, amazing humans who made the choice to lay their lives on the line in the most exposing way possible. They chronicled their journeys with honesty and integrity and if you have any judgement about their choices, I invite you to walk your talk, pack up your life, take ten items into a freezing winter wilderness with very little available food and see how well you do once the calories drain out of your system and the immensity of drop shock falls on you like a mountain. Instead, please celebrate their courage, their capacity for transformation, their ability to say yes to something marvellous that will change their lives forever. Every single one of these people is a real, 3D human with loves and challenges and stories you will never see. Hold them with tenderness and compassion and kindness, if you can, because they are you and me and we are all each other underneath our skins.
I love them with my whole heart. They are my family, forever. They are superheroes, every one of them. Thank you, loves, for always. Special love to the extraordinary Mike, who was my foil and challenger, and who understands what it’s like to survive out there for 64 days. Thank you for making a stand for an ancestral way of being.
I won with the support of the most phenomenal production team, headed by Riima Daher and Ben Ulm of iTV. It’s been a dream to work with you. Thank you for helping this fledgeling spread her wings and fly. Thank you for loving me like family, and allowing beautiful friendships to blossom through trellises of duty. Riima, you are a sister for life. I thank every star I ever wished on that you ended up in my world. You magical, wonderful, bananas human. Thank you to the tireless work of all the unsung heroes, especially the poor sod who had to review my accidental moon shots. Give that boy some therapy, Riima.
I won because Joseph Maxwell of SBS Unscripted went out on a limb and said yes to the biggest risk SBS has ever taken. Thank you to everyone at SBS for their unflinching, incredible work getting this show out there, and especially to Nikita Jackta for going above and beyond in so many ways, and for finding homes for my words to nest.
I won after being welcomed and blessed by the living caretakers of palawa wisdom, by dint of their generosity of spirit as they shared practices, local knowledge, and the harrowing story of the attempted genocide of their ancestors by the colonial marauders. Thank you for your kindness and your teaching, and for building bridges of connection to weave our worlds back to healing. Thank you to those palawa spirits on the land who sang me awake until my heart rang with wild music, and taught me how to live in the embrace of lutruwita.
I won because lutruwita opened her muddy arms and welcomed me home. She revealed herself to me in every moment, in platypus splashes and wormy bacon. In fish sperm and moss on which to dance. She blessed me with sea eagles and ravens and ducks to greet me each morning. She raked me with a dirty claw and said WAKE UP, and I will never be the same again. She challenged me to the core of my being, then held me while I wept. She caught those tears and turned them to golden light, shimmering on the skin of the lake. She dropped her huge and heavy paw on me until I faced my deepest fears and yearnings, and then she called me out to dance in the sunshine. She will always be my home.
I won because my enormous global family lives in my heart and I took you all out with me. Thank you all so so so much for all you do and are. You know who you are. That family has just exploded exponentially, so thank you all for loving my journey enough to follow each week. Thank you for all your messages of love and support, for cheering me on, for allowing this crazy hippy to dance barefoot into your living rooms and your hearts. I hope in some way you have been inspired to go outside, to take a little more risk, to make that one extra step past your comfort zone. To believe in a world where kindness is the glue that holds humans together and the song of Gaia is the most perfect music to dance to, preferably barefoot in the moss.
And when you can’t find the nourishment you need, maybe it’s time to try the fishy fishy dance.
This isn’t the last you’ll see of me. We live in a world struggling under the weight of so many humans its homeostatic systems are splitting. I believe that embedded in our DNA is the wisdom to carry us through these times, and I went into lutruwita to show this is possible. By listening to Big Mama Gaia and each other, being enraptured by the unfolding beauty in every moment, dissolving into being rather than doing, playing like a child in pure delight, and finding what feels belly-right in each step, life is a dance in which we can never, ever be alone.
This message of healing our wounds of connection doesn’t stop because I’m not on your telly every Wednesday night. I’ll be shouting it from rooftops, singing it in my album, dancing it in my 5Rhythms classes and retreats, writing it in my books, speaking it to corporations, chatting to you on the street. And when none of this is going on, I’ll radiate it from every cell in my body anyway.
I’m holding in my heart a dream where remembered ancestral connection with country becomes a spark flitting from heart to heart around a living planet that desperately needs a regeneration in our relationship with it, this big beautiful behemoth hanging in space, our only home. Deep listening and caretaking is our way through, to this planet and to each other.
So please, don’t be a stranger. To me or anyone else.
We’re in this together.
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Congratulations you magnificent, succulent, wild woman. You didn't just survive, you thrived - and shone and wept and revelled in the wilderness and shared your joy with us. What a gift. Thank you xx
Gina! While I have followed this epic adventure on FB, I haven't seen any of the show. (CAN NOT WAIT!) But my entire skin just goosebumped reading this email - because of what it means for your message. Your REACH! The whole world getting an introduction to what it means to live WITH the land, and the power of dance to heal. To hear your music! Your stories! Your WISDOM! AHHHH! So freakin' exciting and POTENT. Gabrielle is with you, as are the ancestors. Thank you for your vast and deep commitment to wholeness. So grateful to have crossed paths with you in this lifetime. Goosebumps in full effect!