Acclaimed journalist, explorer and daredevil - Olly Steeds is Discovery Channel's new face of adventure in the brand new series SOLVING HISTORY WITH OLLY STEEDS beginning 28 June 2010. Mallika Naguran tracks down Olly to find out what he thinks about the relevance of history and heritage at this day and time.
Singapore, 9 June 2010. Oliver (Olly) has led numerous expeditions to destinations including Mongolia, the Amazon and New Guinea. The former ABC news producer and Al Jazeera broadcaster has lived with tribes of cannibals, was forced to walk 1250 kilometers across the Gobi Desert for his survival, was hunted down by bandits on the Chinese-Tibetan border, escaped from the People's Liberation Army as they chased him across the Shangtu Grassland, has been imprisoned on trumped-up charges of espionage in a number of different countries, ran six consecutive marathons across the Sahara to raise money for Lupus…
In SOLVING HISTORY WITH OLLY STEEDS Olly employs hidden cameras, holds clandestine meetings with smugglers, treks to remote locations to see relics, and throws himself head-long into local rituals to get the real story and weed fact from fiction. In this interview, I gather Olly's personal reflections on the expeditions that he has done and his real life experiences in relation to history, the environment and conservation.
How is history relevant in this age of fast food and iTunes?
On a very simple level we all come from somewhere. We have a history. In many ways, our present is defined by our past. So history is always relevant to “who” we are. If we can understand our past, we can understand who we are today and where we are heading in the future.
History has a nasty way of repeating itself – some good some bad. England won the World Cup in 1966, we will win it again in 2010 – in a wonderful way!
In the worst way, for example, it’s the misuse of power. Plato said in his dialogues of the Atlantis, that if you misuse power, if there is corruption in your world, then your world will be destroyed. That still has resonance today.
In Peru, the Nazca people died out 1500 years ago because of limited water. Today this remains a massive billboard for what might happen if you misuse the environment and limited resources. The Spanish, motivated by greed, raped and pillaged an indigenous culture in El Dorado, the lost city, for its wealth.
That’s still happening today, even in Peru. The big oil companies are going in killing indigenous people so that they can go into the tribal lands and exploit the oil. Some would go as far as to say look at Iraq and the US, British armies in Iraq. They wanted oil, they needed a foothold to extend their power in that world. It’s really the same principles as what happened with the Spanish in Peru.
All these stories can provide a looking glass into the present.
Is enough being done about conservation?
Conservation is one of the most important things of the world. There is extraordinarily new era of exploration on the planet, and progression now. New species are being discovered while old species are being destroyed. We need natural resources at this moment in time but we also know what damage natural resources can do to the environment if you look at carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide production, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and damage to the atmosphere.
Conservation is obviously key to this. We all have a duty to do more. We are all stakeholders of the world and we have a duty to look after what we’ve been given.
Yes, our previous generation has handed over to us a pretty shitty card. Quite frankly, they’ve done a lot of damage and destruction to the environment and it is up to us as a generation to pick up the damage and destruction and solve the generation of mess. If we don’t, it will be even worse for the next generation.
There has to be a stronger bottom line in businesses that has social and environmental conservation context. There is a value to those things that are not found in businesses. And that’s often not translated to people, especially consumers who have a choice in what they do. Great brands that give profits back to conservation. That will be an active, positive consumer choice.
When we look at historical sites, I always think people should do something more. Nazca Lines is a good example. The 2,000-year-old national heritage is an international tourist attraction, which is benefiting the residents.
How do you exercise your personal choice then?
I don’t drive, I travel and fly a lot but at the end of the year, I buy carbon offsets.
I buy local. Because the shipping cost of buying something from across the pond like the US or South America is huge. I eat meat from sustainable sources. My utilities at home is provided by an eco powered company. And my home is well insulated, as insulation is critical to saving energy.
There is a choice. If you want to make a difference, you can.
How do you view the ocean and do you have plans to do any underwater exploration?
There are frontiers everywhere, but for me, the monster in the room at the moment is the ocean. We need to change the way we look at it.
There has been a change with the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. People start to realize that the oceans affect marine creatures and land creatures. They see a bird being covered in oil, and they say, "Oh that’s bad!"
But people don’t appreciate the far wider, greater impact. We need to realize that we are living in a blue planet. From space you look at Mars, it’s a red planet. From space you look at Earth, it’s a blue planet.
So we can’t live without water. The oceans are things that help to generate our climate. They capture more carbon dioxide than anything else, a lot more than rainforests, and produce oxygen – these are much more fundamental to the survival of our planet, and yet they are in complete collapse. The UN came out a couple of years ago to say that the oceans are in “silent collapse. This is due to depleting fish stocks, pollution, and acidification - fundamentally the breakdown of ecosystems.
I’d like to do more about this quickly to make people aware of what’s going on there.
I agree. I think we need to show the relevance of simple acts like littering in the sea to how it affects our life.
People have lost that emotional connection to the sea – they see it as a big deep freeze – “Oh there’s food in there” and “There’s garbage as well”. Actually it’s not like that at all. It’s fundamental to our life.
WH Auden said: “Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.” You can’t survive without water. We all die. It’s a bit of a no brainer. We think we can get away with it, but oh no. It’s going to come back and bite us.
You’ve started an educational network for youths. What’s that about?
Digital Explorer is a virtual meeting place for youths to meet scientists, explorers, conservationists, educators and learn. They learn to use skills Google Earth, Google Maps for instance. They can select different educational resources such as climate change, forests, conservation and can communicate with people directly.
There are projects on antarctica, atlantic rising, rainforests etc. and even cultural exchange programmes such as US-Pakistan relations.
I started this site five years ago and remain as director. I registered it as a Community Interest Company (CIC) non-profit structure in the UK. It provides free resources, and is funded by grants.
There’s an expedition side that takes kids to the frontlines of the world, and they come back and communicate their experiences with their friends. It has touched millions of kids that way. We take 10 to 12 kids with each expedition who work with their counterparts in that country.
That’s excellent. So what else are you working on?
I’m writing a book on “Indigenous Wisdom”. It’s a result of my research with more than 100 tribes during my travels and explorations.
Premiering every Monday at 2100 hrs (9:00 pm SIN/HK), starting June 28, SOLVING HISTORY WITH OLLY STEEDS takes viewers on a heart-pounding, globe-trotting quest that spans from Europe to South America. Encores Tuesdays at 1600 hrs (4:00 pm) and on Saturdays at 1400 hrs (2:00 pm).
Ark of the Covenant
The Ark of the Covenant, a golden chest built to hold the Ten Commandments, is one of the most important religious artifacts in the world. But over 2,500 years ago, the Ark disappeared. Ever since, legends, theories and Hollywood blockbusters have tried to explain what happened to it. Was it destroyed or captured? Or could it still exist? Olly explores the plausibility of one of the most exciting theories in the premiere episode.
Carved into the Peruvian desert thousands of years ago, the Nazca Lines have puzzled archaeologists and laypeople alike ever since their discovery 100 years ago. Olly travels to ancient cemeteries and Nazcan cities that are curiously off-limits to camera crews. He explores underground tunnels used in psychedelic cult initiations and tries to venture into the spirit world himself to unravel the mystery of the Nazca Lines.
Lost City of Gold
From the golden churches of the Incan capital Cusco, Olly follows the trail of El Dorado along a road of ruins deep into the remote Andes Mountains, leading an expedition that promises to open a new chapter in the centuries-old hunt for the City of Gold and change the face of archaeology.
Perhaps the most famous lost city of the ancient world, Atlantis is an enduring symbol of mystery and beauty. Beginning with Plato, people have dedicated their lives to finding the missing continent. But what happened to Atlantis? Through dogged reporting, Olly reveals new evidence that could explain the mystery of what really happened to the fabled city of Atlantis.
For more than 200 years, the infamous Amber Room, made entirely from carved amber, gems and gold, were the pride of the Russian czars - that is, before the Nazis looted the treasure in 1941. In this episode, Olly uncovers exciting new evidence that could lead once and for all to the discovery of the Amber Room.
Olly discovers some lost, ancient mummies from different cultures that were recently re-found in a German museum and unravels how they were used by Hitler's Secret Service for the Nazi's ultimate propaganda mission.
Long before Alcatraz, there was Devil's Island - the most notorious and vicious prison complex ever constructed. Escape was said to be impossible. But was it? Olly explores the horrors of prison life and tests first-hand whether tales of great escapes could be true.
Check out Olly Steeds' website, blogs and more.