Coast Australia, TV review: A wondrous place where penguins take priority over people

Presenter Neil Oliver seems very in tune with a national psyche that's rooted in the ancient landscape

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The Independent Culture

Coast: Australia is back for a second series, since "we'd barely begun to cover this vast and surprising continent" in series one. It hasn't run out of seaside stories yet, nor will it in the foreseeable future. BBC2 managed a total of eight series on the UK's own much smaller coastline.

As the second most Scottish man on television (after Groundskeeper Willie from The Simpsons), presenter Neil Oliver would be expected to bring an outsider's perspective to Australia, but he seems very in tune with a national psyche that's rooted in the ancient landscape. This week's episode "Victoria: Mornington Peninsula to the Gippsland Lakes" featured his particularly moving interview with an erstwhile resident of Summerlands on Phillip Island, a community that disappeared completely in 2010 to make way for a penguin colony. "I am sad that we had to leave…" said the tearful interviewee, "But, y'know, the penguins were here first thousands and thousands of years before we ever came so it's fair… I think…"

The blessed absence of humans was also a feature of the most captivating segment on a strange place called Cleft Island or Skull Rock. Coast's trademark sweeping HD helicopter shots can give the impression that no cranny, however remote, is inaccessible, but this was something else. Oliver claimed the island had been walked on by less people than the surface of the moon. To get to the island's massive concert stage-like cavern, he had to fly in a helicopter then abseil down a sheer rock face, and it was all worth it: "This might be – no, this is – the most special place I've ever been."

There was also a segment by the historian Alice Garner on Harold Holt the Australian PM who disappeared off spooky Cheviot Beach and one on Eagle's Nest, where in 1978, Professor Tim Flannery (our guide) and colleagues finally proved the existence of polar dinosaurs. These other landscapes might not have always matched Skull Rock for magnificence, but our hosts compensated with story-telling skill, allowing each tale to unfold like a gripping mini-mystery.

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