Sir David Attenborough in Australia

Sir David Attenborough in Australia

David Attenborough at the Great Barrier Reef – Image from:

Sir David Attenborough is the most well-known figure associated with audiovisual media and environment globally. His television work has pioneered new modes of nonfiction, particularly the “landmark” style of blockbuster series. Attenborough has, moreover, invited collective global engagement with the Australian environment in a way that no other individual has. This study sets out to examine the role that Attenborough, as a broadcaster, has played in the changing relationship between audiences and the Australian environment. He is an interesting figure not least because his onscreen associations with Australia span the 1960s to the present day, making him a prominent feature across the decades addressed by this project.  

Sir David Attenborough “in the parched deserts of Australia where flowers only bloom after brief rains”


Smaill, Belinda. “Historicising David Attenborough’s Nature: Nation, Continent, Country and Environment.” Celebrity Studies ( 2021) (10.1080/19392397.2020.1855995) 

Examining just a small portion of the television that Attenborough has produced in Australia, this article focuses on a particular style of programming– “blue chip” natural history programming and the two series that bookend Attenborough’s work as a presenter “in” and “of” Australia—Quest Under Capricorn (1963) and Life in Cold Blood (2008). It is attuned to historical and contemporary cultures of colonisation and how these are located within the values and practices of blue-chip natural history programming. Despite his standing, there remain many unanswered questions about this public figure. For the purposes of this research, the most salient demand is to understand not only Attenborough himself, but to offer equal weight to the human and nonhuman world he brings to audiences.

Key Quotes

On Quest Under Capricorn (1963): “Not only does the focus on place emphasise continent, above nation, the singular elaboration of Attenborough’s expository narration eclipses any possibility of an understanding of country.”

“While fitting with an imperial ethos, Australia as the remote “elsewhere,” and the site of ancient indigenous culture (albeit through the lens of primitivism), offer a rupture and destabilise the premise of nation building based on “nature as resource” – that the empty continent is simply available to fuel white settler modernity.”

On Life in Cold Blood (2008): “This more mature Attenborough, again in situ in the Australian landscape, feeds into the visual imagination of a natural world uncluttered by, paradoxically, invasive species and the untidiness of human invasion and settlement, whether indigenous or non-indigenous, by taking us to a moment that never existed—a contact moment of discovery where terra nullius was a reality.”  

Key TV Series

Quest Under Capricorn (1963)

Life In Cold Blood (2008)