Hello, I’m Mark O’Shea and I want to thank you for visiting my official Big Adventure website.
From the films you have seen you will probably have realised I am a keen photographer of reptile and amphibian subjects. Every time I go overseas I try to identify and photograph every single species of herp I find, including males and females, juveniles and adults, differing, naturally-occurring, colour morphs and even the same species in different geographical locations. This obsession goes back years before I was making television films to when I was carrying out fieldwork in the tropics for the Royal Geographical Society, Operation Raleigh or Oxford University’s Dept. of Clinical Medicine. I now have over 1,500 taxa (species and subspecies) of reptiles and amphibians as transparencies and digital images, and the website has given me the opportunity to display some of them to a wider audience.
I have always loved maps too. I think I got that from my father, Mo. He loved to pour over maps and plan routes, and I have inherited the same fascination. Combining my love of maps with my love of herpetology means I am completely fascinated by distribution maps and biogeography. I want to know why something is found here, but not over there, what are the factors that limit a species’ distribution. I have really enjoyed preparing the maps for the website, probably too much actually, because when they were shrunk down to fit their allocated spaces on the pages I realised they were simply too detailed for the scale and space allowed. Maybe I will have to redraw simpler maps at a later stage (or maybe I will get more space for my maps on the individual pages).
So what are we trying to achieve with the Mark O’Shea official website ?
A good question and one with several answers I suppose.
Firstly we want to provide an easily accessible resource for you to find out more about the many films we have made. In time I hope to include sections on some of the fantastic sequences, locations, and species that never made the final transmitted versions of the films. Talking to the various Directors most admitted that their Director’s Cut of any particular film was three times longer than the transmitted version. The hardest job in television must be deciding to cut out great sequences: the capture of a large Mexican cribo and two Mexican west coast rattlesnakes during the filming of “Monsters of the Madre”, or the really sparky Papuan blacksnake I caught while filming “Tree Crocodile” in Papua New Guinea (which far out shone the injured specimen I encountered in “Magic Man”).
I would hate to have to make the editorial decision to cut something I really liked from a film.
The website also gives us a chance to set the record straight in matters where there is some confusion. For a start, I would like to inform everybody that, although I have spent a great deal of time there and think it is a wonderful country, I am not an Australian ! Nor, media reports to the contrary, am I an American, or even Irish although this last is the closest to the truth. I was born in England, in Wolverhampton in the Midlands to be precise, to British parents, both teachers but I had two Irish grand-parents (one on each side), plus one English and one Scottish. Sadly my grand-parents and my beloved parents have now all passed away.
My Mum, Barbara, was my rock, my advisor, my secretary, my personal assistant and my friend. In late 1999 she was diagnosed with cancer and she had an operation to remove as much as possible, followed by a course of chemotherapy. During 2000, while we were filming Series Two, she seemed to improve and life got back to normal. When I left on the third shoot (New Caledonia, Guam, Australia) she seemed in fine fettle and as excited as usual about my trip away. Ever since I began participating in expeditions and tropical fieldwork in the early 1980’s I used to write her long letters, telling her how things were going. The first phone call I received when I got out of a Brazilian hospital in 1987 and moved into the RGS base house in Boa Vista, following a rattlesnake bite in Roraima, was from my Mum. With the advent of email I taught her how to use the Internet on her iMac and I sent her emails whenever I reached a hotel with that facility. She said she went on my expeditions ‘by proxy’ and it was always my ambition to take her into the tropics – she felt deeply about endangered wildlife and habitats, and especially threatened indigenous peoples – but it was never to be.
I left for Shoot Three of Series Two and as I waved goodbye to her I turned to my driver and said “I do hope that’s not the last time I see my Mum”. When I got back to the hotel in Noumea, New Caledonia (Devil in the Trees) after from a week in the field I called home but got no reply. Phoning relatives I discovered my mother had relapsed and been taken into hospital. I called and spoke to her, but she would not have me come home. “You have a job to do” she said.
I phoned from Guam (Snake Invasion) to discover she was now in a hospice “Only temporary” she said “you carry on filming, don’t come home”. The next film was very remote, based as we were in Far North Queensland and ultimately on board ‘The Kimberley Quest’ off Ashmore and Hibernia Reefs (Sea Serpents). In Queensland nothing had changed and we moved onto the diving phase of the film. I had to keep my mind on the job in hand. Diving can be dangerous and whilst at the bottom of the Timor Sea I found that out the hard way! But I was determined there was no way I would tell Mum about that !
On the way back to Broome, a 36 hour journey, I was awoken to take an urgent call from home. It was my brother who has never called me on location before so I knew something was very serious. He told me Mum was going down fast and although she probably would not be around when I got back could I come back as soon as possible. In fact I was coming back as soon as possible, the boat docked in Broome and I flew home alone, leaving the crew in Australia. It was a long lonely flight, Broome, Bali, Hong Kong, London.
My production company YAP had laid on a driver to meet me because originally I had been due to go straight to an awards ceremony at a hotel in London but all that changed now.
He drove me directly to my brother’s and we went to the hospice to see Barbara. She was, thankfully, still alive and very pleased to see me. I stayed with her some hours until she tired and went to sleep.
I then went back to London to the black-tie awards ceremony where the Explorers’ Club of New York awarded me with one of nine Millennium Awards for Services to Exploration. Mine was for Services to Zoology. When I gave my acceptance speech I told the gathering that the award was really not just for me. I recall saying something to the effect that every expedition, every explorer, has an unseen support team and my support team was my Mum. But she was dying in a bed in a hospice and unable to be there with me to accept our award. I just managed to say that the next morning I would take the medal they had given me and place it on her pillow, before I choked and had to come off the stage. It was the hardest speech I have ever made and it drew a standing ovation from those present.
The next morning I did just what I had promised, I placed the medal on my Mum’s pillow. She could not see it well but she could feel it.
Two weeks later she passed away.
The UK version of the Sea Serpents film carried a dedication to Barbara but the US and international versions did not.
I would like to take this opportunity to dedicate this website to my Mum