“A dark moonless night followed and being absolutely bushed from a long day on the road we fall asleep lulled by the sound of bush crickets and silence.
Splash, splash, splash, splash in the water. Really loud.”
The tales of Crocodile attacks in Australia are just spine chilling. A crocodile is a predator and a man-eater and when travelling in Northern Australia you should always BE CROC AWARE. Not afraid, just aware. Especially in regions that Saltwater Crocodiles inhabit.
A large crocodile, up to 6 metres long, can make himself invisible in knee deep muddy water and remain under for an hour without even a ripple to indicate his presence. He is the ultimate master of stillness – until the right moment. The ultimate ambush reptile. He explodes from the water with ferocity and aggression and if need be he can jump to take prey two metres above the surface. He is quick and deadly and the prey in his enormous jaws will be subjected to the ‘crocodile roll’ which is almost certain to be fatal.
Australian author, Hugh Edwards book, “Crocodile Attack in Australia” contains stories of attacks in Australia that are both fascinating and absolutely horrifying. They all happened in the blink of an eye and not surprisingly a lot of those fatally attacked were locals who should have known better. Locals have a habit of getting blase. The ‘she’ll be right attitude’ just doesn’t cut the mustard in Northern Australia waterways though.
I write this blog to re-count a tale of our own, just as warning. We laugh about it now as we re-tell this yarn but after reading Hugh Edwards book it sits a little uncomfortably with me, although it gets bigger and better with every telling.
In 2005, Kevin and I, with our three young boys did the monumental road trip along the Savannah Way, from Cairns, QLD to Broome, WA. It was and still is the ultimate Australian adventure drive. Remote, a lot of kilometres on dirt roads and the scenery right through Queensland, The Top End of The Territory and The Kimberley’s in Western Australia is simply stunning. Blue skies, ancient landscape, stunning waterfalls, gorges and waterholes, red dusty roads and big remote distances.
Our philosophy for this trip was “keep it simple”. No fancy caravan or camper trailer for our party of five. Just our 4WD Landcruiser stacked with boxes, an Engel fridge and five swags rolled up on the roof rack. What a sight we were at camp. Five swags in a line between two trees, a rope extending between the trees and 5 bright orange and blue mosquito nets tucked around each swag. We sure attracted attention and created a few laughs.
We tend to free camp a lot when we travel and like to be away from civilisation. Between Burketown in The Gulf Country to Borroloolla in the Northern Territory we travelled the very remote and rough Carpentaria Highway. Why its called a highway is beyond me. At times its nothing more than a two wheel track with a many river crossings. The 500 odd kilometres takes over 15 hours.
We decide to stop overnight half way across and we always like to camp by a watercourse if its safe. There’s just something really nice about camping by a creek or river with a campfire and maybe a refreshing swim when its hot.
So late afternoon, after many dusty slow hours of punishing dirt, we come to the Robinson River Aboriginal community. As we cross the causeway over the river, despite a crocodile warning sign, there are a couple of adults with young Aboriginal children frolicking and splashing in the water.
Kevin winds down the window and asks if there is anywhere we can camp for the night. They are very friendly and give us directions to follow a track to the right. “Don’t go left – big crocs that way”.
So, we find a lovely camp along a shallow tributary. Crystal clear shallow water and we all have a paddle to wash off the dust and travelling grime.
We prepare camp in the usual way by lining up all our swags in a row on the shallow bank of the creek, only a couple of metres from the water with Kevin at one end and me at the other. The three boys in their mini swags in the middle. The mighty sacrifices parents make for their off spring. Get eaten first.
A dark moonless night followed and being absolutely bushed from a long day on the road we fall asleep lulled by the sound of bush crickets and silence.
Splash, splash, splash, splash in the water. Really loud.
We all wake up instantly. What the heck was that? Kevin has the torch by his head and shines it quickly over the creek. We see nothing. “I think its just the fish arking up” says Kevin. Back to sleep again. Well a tentative sleep with me. I’m thinking about being stalked by yowies or bush pigs or Mick from Wolf Creek. Finally I doze off.
Then a while later a furious SPLASH, SPLASH, SPLASH, SPLASH……….
On goes the torch again frantically searching in the pitch black for the culprit.
We see nothing in the placid , calm, peaceful creek.
This happened all night long. It set us on edge although the boys zonked out.
In the morning its all cheery sunshine again as we pack up and we just brush off the weird goings on of the night before as a glitch.
As luck would have it, as we went to hit the road, Kevin discovered we had one dead flat tyre. A bit of messing around for us and a couple of the boys were getting antsy, so we gave them a two way UHF radio and said go and explore up the creek a little bit while we change it.
Next thing Kevin gets a call on the radio. “Hey Dad, are there crocodiles in this creek?”
“Because there is one in front of us”
“Come back RIGHT NOW!”
YIKES. We slept on the bank in swags, exposed, in crocodile country. The splashing during the night was possibly the crocodile going up and down the creek.
Kevin went to meet the boys and when they showed him the spot, the crocodile was gone, so we don’t know if it was the saltwater or freshwater variety. But as close as we are to the Gulf of Carpentaria it was highly likely a saltie. Way too close for comfort but I didn’t give it too much thought.
However, when we got to Broome, we bought the book. Hugh Edwards “Crocodile Attack in Australia”. Oh dear, that opened my eyes a whole lot more.
Were we croc aware? Well yes, in a way. We live in Cairns. We asked the locals first and got the all clear. However there are rules to camping in Northern Australia in crocodile country. They are as follows…..
- Observe the warning signs as they are there for a reason (yes, they were on the causeway)
- Seek local or expert advise before swimming, camping, fishing or boating ( well, we did do that)
- There is a potential danger anywhere saltwater crocodiles occur. If there is any doubt do not swim, canoe or use small boats. (Fail, we all had a paddle in the knee deep water)
- Be aware. Keep your eyes open for large crocodiles and keep small children and pets away from the waters edge (gulp!)
- Do not paddle, camp, clean fish or prepare food at the waters edge. (gulp again!)
- Do not return daily or regularly to the same spot. Crocodiles are smart and they will be watching for a pattern.
- Do not lean over the waters edge or stand on logs overhanging the water (remember they can jump)
And be aware that Saltwater crocodiles don’t only live in salt water. They can live hundreds of miles from the coast in freshwater lagoons and waterways and especially in freshwater swamps.
So there you have it. That was the night we were stalked and almost eaten by a reptilian monster. (Told you its gets bigger with every telling). But we all lived by the skin of our teeth to ride camels along Cable Beach in Broome.
Anyhow the moral of the story is ‘be croc aware’ in Northern Australia. Just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they can’t see you and even innocent mistakes can land you in a whole lot of strife. Don’t be too worried or afraid though. Its perfectly safe to travel and enjoy the North of our wonderful country as long as you observe the rules.
We have travelled and swum in exquisite waterholes all over Northern Australia but only where we know its safe to swim. Its actually rare to sight a crocodile and when you do its exciting (from a safe distance high up the bank of course.)
We learnt a lesson on that trip. Now we don’t sleep in swags on the banks of waterways in the North. Just in case………..
This stunning place is Sir John Gorge in the Kimberley. Yes we had a gorgeous swim here. No croc signs and perfectly safe. There are so many wonderful places like this along the Savannah Way. No need to risk it anywhere there are crocodile warning signs.