Program Summery

Survival School is a rare journey into a primal world few of us have encountered. One student said: “We were broken down to nothing. Nothing mattered except the tasks we had to carry out in order to stay alive. It changed my life. I realise how little separates us from death”.

Each year NORFORCE, a regiment of the Australian Defence Force, organises an environmental survival course for fifteen elite soldiers. They endure extraordinary physical and psychological challenges to prepare themselves for the dangerous situations that their work involves. The group, often a mix of white and Aboriginal men and women, are forced to live off the land. The students are taught textbook-army survival skills as well as learning about bush tucker, bush medicine and hunting from Aboriginal instructors and the local Yolngu community.

The course is held in one of the harshest environments in the world: the mouth of the Daly River in the Northern Territory. The students are not informed what the program will be for the two week course. The objective is to destroy the students’ comfort zone, to create a sense of fear and disorientation that approximates their state of mind in a real survival situation. The workload is relentless and the discipline brutal. The students risk heat exhaustion, mental breakdown, injuries and snakebites.

Once the bush survival stage starts, the students cannot take food, bedding, tents, cooking utensils, watches, compasses or matches. When they reach the mouth of the Daly River, a barren and desolate coastal plain infested with some of the biggest crocodiles in the world, they discover that there is no fresh water. They must live off the land using the survival skills they have learned. In the middle of the day, in forty-degree heat they look for anything that can be used to make a still to distil the salt river water. They live off whatever they can find, including mangrove worms, often a metre long. They get weaker and increasingly exhausted. The group is mixed in terms of experience, however there is no rank amongst the students and they must decide the issue of leadership. This creates real tensions. Rivalries develop between the students as atavistic, tribal instincts rise to the surface.

Will all of them survive the distance?