The seemingly miraculous life-giving properties of water in Australia's parched heartlands are the subject of a special documentary on ABC television, featuring UNSW's wetlands and rivers expert, Professor Richard Kingsford.

Professor Kingsford, who is Professor of Environmental Science in the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, travelled twice to central Australia last year with an ABC-TV film crew to witness the transforming power of floodwaters from northern Australia arriving and eventually evaporating from Lake Eyre.

The hour-long documentary traces the floodwaters from heavy rains last summer as they made their way overland to the normally dry salt lake.

The team saw boom conditions as the desert ecosystem sprang to life, with carpets of wildflowers and massive breeding events from freshwater fish and vast bird colonies. The drying of the lake saw the ecosystem go gradually into bust mode.

Professor Kingsford, who has monitored Australian water bird populations and inland river systems for more than 25 years, says it was a truly exciting display.

"There are so many things happening on these systems you don't know where to look. It really defines our continent. We are the most arid inhabited continent in the world and so when the water does come it's incredibly productive."

The documentary airs on ABC1 at 9:30pm Tuesday, 5 January and can also be seen online through ABC iView.