Why Bill Bailey turned his back on one of Australia’s most popular destinations

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When Bill Bailey decided to film his first travel series in Australia, where he has toured for the best part of 30 years, he decided to turn away from the overexposed beaches and landmarks of the east coast, and go west. In Bill Bailey’s Wild West Australia, the British comedian’s adventures include doing burnouts in a tugboat, trying to start a secessionist movement, caving beneath a convict jail, and visiting a commune of gnomes.

Bill Bailey wanted to explore paths less travelled in his new series, Wild West Australia.

“Docos and travelogues about Australia that I’ve seen in the past follow a certain structure,” Bailey explains from Christchurch, where he is touring his live show Thoughtifer. “They mostly take a big shot of the east coast. It’s mostly a lot of similar kinds of things that we’ve seen before. We focus on, ‘Ooh! The dangerous wildlife!’ ‘Ooh! The sharks and the snakes!’ and ‘Ooh! The spiders!’ Or it’s the beach life – the Bondi scene in Sydney, the sunny side of Australia – and I wanted it to be not that.

“The whole aim of the series was to show a 360 visual of Western Australia – the history of the place, the landscape, the people, the kind of work that people do, the industries –a broader feel of the whole state.”

In the four-part series, Bailey meets fascinating people, from Broome astronomer Greg Quicke, aka “Space Gandalf”, to the keeper of a replica Stonehenge, to passionate food producers and bush food experts. He jams with the Albany Shantymen and the Perth progressive metal band and Australia’s 2023 Eurovision representative Voyager.

“A lot of people came up to me and said hello and were very friendly, which is lovely,” he says. “That’s what happens to me anyway when I travel around Australia … I have to say, I loved singing in the pub with these bearded blokes. That was great. Going back to my prog roots, jamming with Voyager, what a joy that was! I love playing the keytar [a keyboard-guitar combination] at the best of times. It’s often something that you only play in private, but they’re a lovely band, and being able to jam with them was a wonderful day of fun for me.”

Bill Bailey, with keytar in hand, joined up with Australia’s Eurovision finalists Voyager.

From the first episode, when Bailey is welcomed to Country by Noongar guide Doc Reynolds on the sparkling white sands of Lucky Bay, First Nations people, history and place names are a cornerstone of the series.

“That was something which I wanted to make a feature of because I think it seemed like the right thing to do,” says Bailey. “And something which perhaps has not been mentioned too much, certainly by overseas presenters.”

Bailey can add the didgeridoo to the extensive list of instruments he plays, but he chose not to pick one up in the series.

“I played a bit of guitar in the Pinnacles [in Nambung National Park], and I wrote quite a bit of the incidental music for the series,” he says. “That is what I do when I’m on tour in Australia. I take a little keyboard with me and plug it into a laptop and I’ll write on tour, so we managed to capture a bit of that. That’s another thing I find about Australia – the landscape and the imagery that you see around is quite inspiring when you’re trying to write music, so I used the opportunity to do that.”

Although the series was made with the intention of broadening overseas perceptions of Australia, Bailey hopes there is much for Australians to learn about their country.

“There’s a lot about the series that perhaps [Australians] might not have known,” he says. “They might not have seen these places. They might not have travelled to them. Maybe it will inspire them to take their own journeys, make their own travelogues. I enjoyed it very much and I’m hoping to do more, so for a first one, I couldn’t have picked a better spot to do it.”

Bill Bailey’s Wild West Australia premieres Thursday, November 16, 8pm, on the ABC.

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