• Eurovision presenter Julia Zemiro goes back to her genetic roots in Tanzania (SBS)
As part of SBS's DNA Nation, Julia Zemiro (accompanied by fellow travellers Ernie Dingo and Ian Thorpe) took off on an epic journey of genetic travel to find out where she comes from. Using DNA, Julia retraces the steps of her ancestors who migrated out of Africa and went on to populate the rest of the world. Here, Julia describes how she felt at facing this daunting journey.
By
Julia Zemiro

17 May 2016 - 1:42 PM  UPDATED 17 May 2016 - 2:04 PM

The proposal: 34 days on the road. Big planes, light planes, four-wheel drives with no suspension… maybe boats. No more than 25kgs of luggage allowed. Shots. There will be malaria, tetanus, and diphtheria. Oh and malaria tablets. I'll be doing my own hair and make-up. Or will I even bother?

I'm about to go on such an adventure. Or so I'm told as I don't actually know where we are going. Ian Thorpe, Ernie Dingo and I are going on a trip starting in Africa to follow the footsteps of our ancient DNA and find out how it came to Australia. 

My main fear as I pack my bag in Sydney is ... getting sunburnt. I have a hat, long sleeve shirts, long pants. Most of my 25 kg baggage allowance is sunscreen. I burn in 10 minutes. 

We know we are starting in Tanzania ... that we will spend time with a tribe that lives as closely to how our ancestors once lived as hunter gatherers. Where we go after that though, we don't know.

We will be checking in every few days on Skype with our geneticist expert Dr. John Mitchell, who will tell us where we are off to next. 

Even our crew know where we are going. They will constantly stop short when chatting about the next day when they realise they were about to say Turkey? Or was it Israel? We will try to bribe them with drinks. They remain tight-lipped. 

I'm excited about not knowing. Every move in my modern life is planned. And I love a routine. I don't know it yet, but during this trip when I start to feel lost, I will create new little routines to give the days some shape. But this is all still to come.

Should I be frightened? Just because we are travelling with a six-strong television crew doesn't mean we are safer. Anything can happen out there in the world.

I'm nervous. I'm curious about spending time with our hunter gatherer tribe. How will they feel about us being there filming them? 

I resolve to keep a diary. 

I'm nervous. We all are. 

Looking at who we really are is at the core of this trip and this documentary.

We will be trying to connect with elements of our ancestors. I worry about how I will do this.

I can imagine connecting to a great, great-grandmother, but going back to Africa - to our origins - I wonder how will I feel and connect with what I see around me?

It turns out I won't find that easy. I will have to really embrace the empty spaces, the long days, the distances we cover in only a few weeks that would have taken our ancestors months to travel on foot.

I take a bit of reading on my iPad: Richard Leakey's The Origin of Humankind. Little do I know, we will actually meet the great Kenyan paleoanthropologist, conservationist, and politician on this trip.

It's not until I read  the writings of Mary Leakey though - Richard's mother and an archaeologist herself- that I imagine how a lone African woman, walking our same route, might be feeling:

'She stops, pauses, turns to the left to glance at some possible threat or irregularity, and then continues to the north. This motion, so intensely human, transcends time' - Mary Leakey, Olduvai Gorge: My Search for Early Man, 1979.

It's all about moving forward. Just keep going. I will be going north too - but not on foot.

We know we will be going to archaeological sites. I hope we get a chance to do some digging and discovering ourselves. I think of bones and skulls.

I have seen countless productions of Hamlet and even been in a couple. One of the most famous scenes of course is when Hamlet happens upon a grave digger who unearths the skull of Hamlet's playmate as a child. We see Hamlet holding the skull, and saying I knew this person - he was flesh and blood and played with me as a kid, and now I have his skull in my hands. Is that all we are?

On day 25 of my trip I will hold a skull in my hands. It will be a very important piece of the puzzle of where we fit in the line of evolution -a great discovery.

I will feel the enormity of it and the nothingness of it.

We are stardust. We are dust.

DNA Nation starts Sunday 22 May, 8.30pm on SBS.

Watch the trailer for DNA Nation below. 

 

More from DNA Nation
DNA Nation: Meet the famous Australians journeying to uncover their true identities
Ian Thorpe, Julia Zemiro and Ernie Dingo are three high-profile Australians from very different backgrounds who set off on this intrepid journey into their genetic history with the help of high profile human geneticist and series consultant Dr John Mitchell.
DNA Nation: About the show
Ian Thorpe, Ernie Dingo and Julia Zemiro are about to become some of the first people in Australia to use DNA to go on a journey tracing their ancestry back through more than 200,000 years.