The castaway from Nelson Bay

Nelson Bay’s resident survivalist talks about going it ‘Alone’ on reality television and why life is better with adventure.

I was a military pilot for 20 years,” explains Michael Atkinson. “I flew around a lot and during a transition exercise, I pretty much flew the entire east coast of Australia, from Cooktown to almost Melbourne in one hit, in a helicopter, at a very low level.

“Along the way, there were two places that stuck out as far as beauty goes, and one of them was Nelson Bay.”

And so it was that more than a decade and an air force transfer later, the man who has become known as ‘Outback Mike’ came to call Nelson Bay home.

Mike was one of ten Australians who chose to be dropped in the wilds of Tasmania, in the middle of winter, to test their survival skills and potentially win $250,000. Mike did not win Australia’s first season of the television show ‘Alone’, but he certainly has won a huge social media following and much attention for his many other survivalist adventures.

Because long before reality television came along, Mike was already a skilled and practiced survivalist, as well as an adventure filmmaker. His passion for both was ignited way back in his childhood.

“The influences for me as a young kid were that my dad took me trout fishing a fair bit and my grandfather took me on bush walks and I got to go skiing and fishing with my mates,” explains Mike.

There was one other childhood inspiration, who will be very familiar to certain generation of Australians,
Les Hiddins, also known as ‘The Bush Tucker Man’.

“I watched the Bush Tucker Man, and that provided a lot of incentive. I thought wow, look at all those cool places you can go – rough, remote travel, living off the land. I love that idea, so that became one of my goals in life, to do that kind of thing.”

With that seed firmly planted, Mike’s next career inspiration came from the 80s hit movie Top Gun. Pursuing his dream to fly fighter jets, Mike worked in the army as a helicopter pilot.
It turned out this was the perfect job to cement his passions for survival – and for film making.

An army of adventures

“Every chance to get better at filming, I took it. When I became an army helicopter pilot, I was in a reconnaissance unit and we did a lot of filming from the helicopter.

Sometimes I’d be flying, sometimes I’d be filming, and then I would edit it all afterwards.”
The army was also where he gained valuable survivalist training.

“I did a survival instructor course and became an instructor. The army started survival training during World War II, working with Aboriginal people to help patrol northern Australia, and it wasn’t just skills but also their connection to the land and their ways of doing things.

“So all along the way I was gathering survival qualifications and doing other adventures when I had the chance.”

Those adventures have taken Mike far beyond the shores of Nelson Bay.

“I skied solo across Iceland in 2003 and I spent nine days crossing a Saudi-Arabian desert with two camels that I bought from a market and trained myself.

Most recently, I instructed survival in Panama and climbed up an active volcano.”

Then there was the time Mike built and sailed a dugout canoe through crocodile infested waters while living completely off what the sea and land could provide.

Read more in our Summer Edition of Hunter & Coastal Lifestyle Magazine or subscribe here.

Story by Sally Maguire, photography courtesy of Michael Atkinson