Thinking about outback adventures. What would be an authentic Australian outback adventure? When people think of the outback many people think of the Australian desert, crocodiles, aborigines, bushmen and Crocodile Dundee. What outback adventures that combine all those?
The answer lies with Mick “Crocodile” Dundee. What you may not know the famous movie character played by Paul Hogan was based on a real life Australian bushman Rod Ansell. Rod Ansell’s life was one of legend. The legend begins when at only 15 he ran away from home at to catch wild buffalo. Two months later he walked out of the bush from what was to be a life of outback adventures He became a national hero with tales of his survival in the wilderness. Once such story is a huge crocodile capsizing his boat on Northern Territory’s Fitzmaurice River.
Sadly the legend doesn’t have a magic ending. Rod Ansell ended up a very angry man bitter at not benefiting from the Crocodile Dundee movies. His life fell apart, losing his large property, his wife and was jailed for cattle rustling. His ex wife blames his decent into drug-induced paranoia. At only 44 his life came to a violent and shuddering halt, Ansell was shot dead after ambushing police, where he killed a police Sergeant. This was to be the last of his outback adventures.
Outback Adventures of Survival
Rod Ansell’s legend begins when he ran away at only 15 to become a buffalo-catcher. He left home barefoot and headed to the Northern Territory from Queensland.
While that in it tells of a sense of real outback adventures it is his remarkable tale of self-preservation seven years later that sent the people wild. In 1977 when Ansell was 22 he was trapped in the remote Northern Territory region around Fitzmaurice River. He was traveling in a dinghy down the river with his two faithful cattle dogs, his rifle and bush knife. A crocodile, overturning his boat and throwing them into the water, attacked his boat. The three of them swam ashore and survived but were now trapped in the wilderness.
For the next seven weeks Ansell and the dogs survived by shooting wild cattle for food. Legend has it Ansell also drank wild buffalo blood and shot sharks also. Ansell was rescued when local aborigines came upon Ansell purely by accident. He was later to be initiated by Aborigines as a member of their community.
To Fight The Wild
A media frenzy engulfed Ansell and the tales of his outback adventures grew. The Australian writer and filmmaker Rachel Percy created a documentary “To fight the wild” reenacting the survival story. The documentary was later to be turned into a book by the same name in 1990. Ansell makes clear he was "not lost, but stuck" and the loneliness didn’t bother him.
Ansell quipped that he would have preferred a woman to join him for the trip. The crocodile attack is reenacted with the loss of supplies and equipment. It is a great documentary on survival, searching for fresh water, natural foods and camping. It is a story of individual resourcefulness and a tale of inner strength. "You must believe me, it was not that big a deal," Ansell told reporters.
Crocodile Dundee the Movie
The actor-writer Paul Hogan said he was inspired with the idea of the Crocodile Dundee films after watching Michael Parkinson interview Ansell about his outback adventures. Hogan, Ken Shadie and John Cornell were inspired to write a screenplay about an outback superstar "Crocodile Dundee" which went on to become an international monster hit in 1986, which was followed by a 1988 sequel “Crocodile Dundee II”.
Much of the humor of Crocodile Dundee was in response to Ansell’s uneasiness in the big smoke of Sydney. In the movie it went a little more with Mick Dundee being overawed by New York City.
If you have seen Crocodile Dundee no doubt you recall Mick Dundee bedding on the floor in his luxury digs. This was based on fact, Ansell slept in his sleeping bag at the five-star Sydney hotel Sebel Townhouse. He was fascinated by the bidet, which was also replicated in the movie.
Journalist Robert Milliken, who interviewed Rod Ansell described this about him, “He ran buffalo. Ansell was strikingly handsome with blond hair, blue eyes and bare feet. The bare feet were his trademark. He seems never to have worn shoes, even when traveling on aircraft and staying in city hotels at the height of his fame. His looks and charm captivated women. And the charm was not all rough-edged. He had an engaging laugh and would talk at length about the bush and its animals.”
Even down to the blonde hair he was Crocodile Dundee.
The Buffalo Catcher Unravels
Despite the massive success of Crocodile Dundee at the box office, Ansell reportedly saw nothing of it. It was report that he embittered from never profited financially from the two Crocodile Dundee movies despite being the inspiration. Indeed in 1988 he had been named Northern Territory's “Territorian of the Year” for inspiring the film that introduced the world to the Australian outback.
However that award seemed to be the peak, he had the ‘To fight the wild’ documentary but Ansell's life began to unravel. He was forced to sell his Melaleuca station property in the early 1990s. He laid the blame for this squarely on the Northern Territory government buffalo tuberculosis eradication program. Shooters were culling wild buffalo from helicopters with the aim of eradicating tuberculosis from the cattle industry.
Buffalo were not native to Australia and were imported from Timor in the 1820s. The herd had grown unchecked to around 300,000. Ansell led a protest against the cull. "No country has ever successfully eradicated the disease completely from free-range conditions," Ansell said. "If you have just one wild animal left, it will still be there. All this money would be better spent on research on Aids." Ansell blamed the Buffalo cull as the root of his problems saying it cost him 3,000 head of cattle and he was never compensated properly.
Ansell’s life began to spiral further out of control in 1992 after being charged with cattle rustling. He was convicted without sentence for rustling 30 cattle valued at AU$7,200. He was also charged with assault. He threatened Mainorou Station manager John Harrower with a one-meter steel bar and was fined and released on a two-year bond.
His marriage fell apart and he separated from his wife, Joanne and his two sons, Callum and Shaun.
He went on to live on an Aboriginal outstation Urapunga Station on the Roper River near the Gulf of Carpentaria about 300 miles south of Darwin. He had an affinity with the Aborigines after being a buffalo hunter since 15. The aboriginals had initiated him as a white member of their community.
Ambushed in the Outback
Ansell’s last outback adventures were to end up in bloodshed with him dying in a police shootout. The ambush came the day after Ansell became involved in an altercation at a house south of Darwin on the night of 2 August 1999. He fired shots shooting off the index finger of one man and injuring another then fled into the bush.
Police surrounded the area, set up a roadblock on the Stuart Highway, the road that links Darwin and Alice Springs, and lay in wait. The next morning Ansell came out of hiding and crawled towards the roadblock armed with two guns. He stood up and fired wounding a motorist in the back and killing Sergeant Huitson. His partner returned fire on Ansell, killing him.
There ended two lives, one an innocent policeman in the line of duty the other a man who felt betrayed by the world around him. The death left much speculation; given his bushman skills was this final conclusion in self-destructive behavior?
His ex-wife Joan gives us some clues in an interview for her own book.
“We all knew he smoked a lot of marijuana, and that use got heavier and heavier over the years and I think that impaired his judgment, and made him very depressed and very paranoid and when he got into amphetamines I think it was, he would have thought he was in control of it, but he wasn't, and in the end he had a psychotic episode. “
A lesson on where life can take us when it all gets out of control.
**Rodney William Ansell, buffalo farmer and bushman: born 1955; married with two sons; died Darwin, Northern Territory 3 August 1999.
More Outback Adventures
- Australian Author Joanne van Os
Joanne van Os, Australian Author of Outback Heart and Brumby Plains. Joanne van Os was married to Rod Ansell and has two sons with him. She lived with him in the bush, chasing wild buffalo and shared his adventures.
billyaustindillon (author) on April 11, 2010:
Thanks Maggie May he certainly was a character - and the modern world just seemed to leave him behind. The rustling was when he was down and out. I also think the story is appropriate in the modern world how you can get out of step, the perils of drug addiction and not dealing with fame. Plus there is just good old fashioned resentment here.
Nadine M AuCoin from Fort McMurray on April 11, 2010:
Very interesting! Never knew cattle rustling meant raiding/stealing them. And, why oh, why would he do such a thing? I loved the movie Crocodile Dundee, and didn't have a clue about the Outback until watching it. Between Ansell's non-profiting from the movie and his trips to the wild outback by choice and of course his getting stuck/lost in the wild for such great lengths of time, the man undoubtably lost his sanity. Myself, the part of being lost in the outback, even for a day, would no doubt render me irrevocably crazed out of my mind. Great choices to put emphasis to billyaustindillon!
billyaustindillon (author) on March 21, 2010:
It is a great place well worth jumping on a boat and visiting - there is so much to see. Don't worry too much about spiders and the like - the two main ones are funnelwes and redbacks but you get to know their habits - you don't hear of many being bitten.
Prosperity66 on March 21, 2010:
Very interesting read! I'd love to visit Australia but I don't like those horrible small beasts (spiders and alike) and definitely don't want to fly. Ocean must solidify for a month or two to have me travel to the other hemisphere. But definitely a marvelous country!