Welcome to ‘Part 2’ of my 2010, Gulf of Carpentaria holiday travel blog. Apart from including the usual boring tour snaps of Grandma standing by some random lighthouse and the kids building sand castles on a beach, I’ve had the chance to talk about a particular incident that by skill or luck, I’d managed to avoid for a very long time. Some people may object to parts of this post, as I’ve aimed to ‘keep it real’ and endeavoured to show an aspect of kayaking the Gulf which may be frowned upon by certain individuals or groups. It’s probably logical to follow Part 2 through each section and not flip to the end. So sit back, grab a beer and please enjoy the next chapter of ‘Rick and Frankie’s Excellent Adventure!’ Introduction:
18/9/2010: Nine truly amazing days at River X had come to a sad end. Memories from Big Gorge, the river camps and each cascading pool would last a long time though as we packed the cars for new territories. An entirely new challenge awaited us, one that would see us enter the dangerous realm of Australia’s apex predator and killing machine, the estuarine crocodile (Crocodylus porosos). With a diet extending to include the odd human being and family dog, this ferocious creature is naturally feared by many. A set of clear guidelines exist for people wishing to visit waters inhabited by dangerous crocodiles. Sometimes in mankind’s obsessive search for adventure however, those guidelines are dispensed with.A few rough tracks:
Stage 2 of our journey across the top would take us to a pool on a river I first visited last year. It supplied a few barra and jacks back then and I was hoping the significant 2010 wet had stirred things up a little. The 9.5km track into it contains a few awkward sections for the Swift but with backup readily available I wasn’t worried about getting stuck. We discovered soon after leaving camp though, that the main road apportioned its own allocation of complexity for the car:1Believe it or not this is what motorists are faced with on the ‘Savannah Way’. Probably a little daunting to caravans, I saw it as a great moment to do some ‘rock-hopping’ in the car. Frank offered to film the crossing which demonstrates what drivers of little red hatchbacks are up against when planning to tackle these roads. The short video below shows why ground clearance and wheel placement are important. Those two ‘rock towers’ driven between were placed as markers to avoid damaging the sump or puncturing the tank.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-X24jMaiDUo
Once reaching the side-track to the pool we saw that it had undergone a recent grading. This track is actually a back route into an Aboriginal community along the Robinson River so I assumed the upgrade continued the entire distance to it. Graders normally improve driving conditions but in this instance the blade had been a little aggressive on the surface and removed much of the hard crust leaving long stretches of softness behind. Several of the dry creek crossings were also a mess, being ‘repaired’ with large obtrusive rocks needing removing to get the Swift safely across.Day 1 at the pool:
The rifles were carried with us in the new pool. Being familiar over the years with a large resident saltie not far from the road crossing on the same river, there was no reason a cousin couldn’t have made the upstream trek during the last monsoon. Another cause for being armed concerned a massive settlement of fruit bats in the trees above the opposite western bank. If any crocs were about, they’d be waiting patiently beneath them for one to lose grip and drop.
I hit the first barra quite early in the pool, near a shocking snag that the fish escaped into with my Big-W lure. Working the structure along the (eastern) bank as the breeze carried us along (sometimes too quickly) we had a bit of excitement as barra and jacks came out to bump the lures, often a little too hard and ending up in the net. None were trophies to speak of, but each produced a smile as these untainted fish were gently returned to the wild. Frankie outshone me in the catch stakes, using gear from Shimano probably worth more than my car. 2A little Mangrove jack from the pool. Frank did rather well on the jacks and barra during the day while I struggled to keep most of mine on the line. The pool actually fished far better than last year with most specimens caught being a ‘fun’ size.
Last year a member on the AKFF made a subtle comment in the ’09 report about ‘seeing’ a few crocs on the post, rather than simply talking about them. Aiming to appease this person, I left Frankie casting into the snags and moved across to the bats with the camera primed ready to shoot. It only took a moment before the little mammals became restless and began scampering over each other for the higher branches, several becoming unstuck in the confusion and crashing into the river. Typically when introducing a natural berley to big reptiles, nothing happened and my video simply showed a bunch of noisy flying foxes defecating on me. 3Part of the bat colony. After failing to lure any stray crocs to the surface using live bats, I was convinced our pool was clean. Frankie wouldn’t go near these trees because of the smell but I didn’t think it was any worse than our clothes.Around the campfire:
Another feed of crispy skin barra filled our bellies alongside slices of bush fried bread, chilled coke adding welcome lubrication and helping offset any saltiness. We were eating well, and had gallons of coke left in the larder for our regular caffeine and sugar fix. Frankie wasn’t well however, picking up a stomach bug at the last river that was giving his new shovel an extended workout. Things at home were also on his mind and he began talking about leaving in the morning for Borroloola to make a phone call. Borroloola was over a hundred kilometres away and if he decided to go, I couldn’t see him returning in a hurry.
My dramas were isolated to the car after noticing a painful rattle somewhere in the lower steering linkages. One of the new driveshafts was also giving a weird clunk in the CV joint and the engine seemed to have lost acceleration though low gear. Adding to the power loss was a distinct ‘clack-clack-clack’ which had developed in the bottom end near the timing-belt pulley. On a positive note, the budget brand road tyres from ‘K-MartTyres’ were performing remarkably well!A new Day:
The weather turned during the night, bringing with it breezy conditions and an abnormal coolness to the air. My plans were to fish the pool until noon before packing to relocate downstream near the road crossing. Frank had other ideas, and was leaving after breakfast for Borroloola. I said my goodbyes and didn’t expect to see him again on this trip. I wondered at the time about getting the car out without backup, but decided to leave it for the moment and enjoy my time alone the river.
I didn’t get off the water until after midday, landing a mixed bag of fish on the lures but nothing worth photographing. Being on my own, I was surprised how quickly my awareness of the surroundings became and what had previously been ‘fun times’ on the water altered as I slipped into a more serious ‘survival’ mode. Stress levels are noticeably higher when attempting to do these trips on your own and that tension can extend beyond the water, noticing my heart racing a little once the car was packed and the time to leave came. The camera recorded segments of the drive out and I’ve included a short clip below which shows the route uphill from camp plus a little bit of the soft (graded) road. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1oBlkTJvfco4Worries aside, the track out is actually a fun piece of ground to drive on knowing it’s basically soft without termite mounds to crash into. The dry creek crossings were another story and care was required not to damage the spoiler or anything beneath the car. For years I’ve enjoyed tackling the Gulf bush in the ‘wrong’ car and these couple of shots and clips are a tiny snippet of what the Suzuki has continuously faced since 1999 in the search for hidden places to camp, kayak and fish.Reunion!:
Totally unexpected, after getting across the above creek I heard a vehicle approaching at speed before seeing saw Frankie screaming around a bend. We both stopped in a cloud of dust, smiles on our faces: ‘How come you came back? I asked curiously.
‘Didn’t see you at the crossing’ he replied, ‘so came back to make sure you could get out!’
I still couldn’t comprehend that he just drove 200 kilometres to make a phone call. Oh well, she must be a special woman! 5 (Video still) Crossing the shallow but wide Robinson River, towards camp upstream.
Frank didn’t want to fish the river that afternoon so I went downstream alone, bringing a barramundi back for the pan. The sky was clouding over on sunset and soon after retiring for the night, we had an unseasonal sprinkling of rain. On waking the next morning the cloud band had strengthened with an increase in wind, depressing conditions as we packed for the Foelshe River.6 20/9/10: Robinson River camp, almost ready to move out on a dull and breezy morning. From this point on to when I finally steered the car home, the weather became unpredictable with afternoon storm activity common across the land. Gulf Septembers are normally free from these climatic patterns and it seemed that the monsoonal ‘wet’ was building early. If the track west from Borroloola became soaked by one of these localised downpours, then there was the real possibility that several of the creeks needing passing could become flooded making the crossing a little interesting.The Foelshe River:
I mentioned to Frankie one night how the Foelshe should be good for a few crocs and I was keen to get one on the camera (for that AKFF member). I took Craig (Junglefisher) through it last year and we didn’t have much luck with them, or even catch anything for that matter blaming it on the river being too shallow. As mentioned in last years report, the fishing has never been good in the Foelshe but it’s a nice wild river to camp and paddle on and see a bit of nature. 1.3 kilometres prior to its junction with the Wearyan River, an early ‘bumping’ between the two sees a remarkable overflow develop during tidal movements. It is possible to fish virtually back to back here, in two separate rivers at once.
The path to the Foelshe camp runs off a side road to a gravel pit. As with the track to Big Gorge, it didn’t appear to have been driven since leaving it 12 months earlier. The sun had made a pleasant return as we pulled up on a burnt out bank and unpacked, preparing the kayaks for a quick launch. Some anxious moments:
Once on the water we dragged/waded/scraped for 2.5km before reaching a sandy left bend where the flow begins to absorb definition and depth and from experience, attracts the sporadic large crocodile. Carefully watching the river ahead as we slowly followed the curve of the shoreline around the bend, I saw a dark lump on the surface warranting a scan with the binocular: ‘Croc, a big one,’ I said to Frank quietly after estimating the head in view belonged to a creature in the three metre range. In our favour was its parallel positioning to us, body language not indicating an immediate threat but still an excuse to get the rifles out. I chambered a shell into mine and left the safety off, feeling my heart race a little as we stroked carefully to where the animal had since submerged. These moments become extremely anxious for me knowing the beast could rise at any moment in a change of mood and lunge. Frank appeared calm at the time but I think it was more because he hadn’t had the misfortune of being charged or stalked by aggressive crocs before. He never actually saw this one, which could have made the situation quite dangerous if he were alone paddling blindly over it. I teach people that knowing where the threat is enables one to be prepared for attack, thus reducing the element of surprise on the part of the croc. Adopting this strategy has kept me injury-free and safe ever since I began paddling with these animals.
Once past the danger, I took the binocular a second time to sweep a grassy bend 400 metres in the distance known to accommodate large salties on ebb tides. Almost too quickly, I spotted the target species and turned around: ‘Frank, there’s another big croc on that grassy bank ahead.’ As I spoke the animal moved position and slid into the river, disappearing and staying down. Crocs I’ve found over the years have truly incredible vision and will respond to the presence of a kayak up to nearly a kilometre away. Without quality binoculars to see these perceptive animals in the wild, one could easily believe they didn’t exist.
Reaching the Wearyan overlap with just a few adolescent reptiles about to whet our appetites, we landed on shore to give each river a going-over with the lures. Following an hour’s casting without hint of a touch, boredom and tiredness set in and we drifted off in the heat:7Kayaks parked at the ‘overlap’ of the Wearyan and Foelshe Rivers as the tide runs out. 8 Frankie taking a little time-out at the Foelshe / Wearyan overlap. This place is extremely frustrating to fish. Each time I’ve been here I’ve never caught anything decent despite the area offering serious potential. Nevertheless, it’s a nice educational outing from the cars and a good chance to mix with the wildlife. Once this shot was taken, I found my own patch of ground to nap on. Later, we took the kayaks into the Wearyan to work some of the mangroves but again couldn’t find any takers on the lures.9We’re heading back to camp in this photo and warily approaching the sand bank and bend on our right near where the initial large croc was seen. The animal could still be about so care and vigilance must be exercised as we make our way through. In these tense moments, senses are working well into overtime to detect any hint of an approach. As mentioned earlier, being prepared is the key to surviving these trips.1006:38pm and happily back at camp. We were fortunate to find the entire area above the bank burnt out on arrival saving us the effort of clearing it. A day on the Foelshe against tides and wind is quite exhausting and we felt it that night, especially after a few ports. Onto the Wearyan River:
Another windy morning greeted us as we packed for the relatively short drive to the Wearyan River camp. Once reaching it, I noticed the regular loop-track in from the road had been buried by sand leaving the only access via the usually impassable back way. I normally avoid the back route but had no choice if I wanted to obtain a water frontage site. One thing I’ve learnt over years travelling the Gulf is how the annual summer rains can radically change tracks, campsites and even the river. 11Here’s the usual way down to the river and camp, a little sandy this year and not an option in my car. This path is normally graded so I can’t understand why they omitted it this time.Day 1 at the Wearyan, 21/9/2010:
I may have indicated in past posts how I have a fondness for the Wearyan camp, being extremely popular with the local wildlife and receiving few visitors. In addition, I never get tired exploring the ancient cycad forest on a nearby hill. The fishing can be good as well, with most species available found within a few kilometres of camp. We deployed the solar showers soon after positioning the vehicles, filling them with clean river water to give us a nice hot wash after a day’s paddling. Frankie became a little greedy with his new shower, overfilling it well beyond the recommended 20-litre capacity. It survived only minutes on the rope before gravity dragged the bulging bladder to the ground, torn and ruined. I tried not to laugh but he looked like a kid who’d just dropped his ice cream. For redemption I said he could share mine, so long as he did my back.
Our first day fishing the river proved rather successful, picking up a few barra here and there before focussing on a snag near a tidal bar on the runout that seemed to be full of fish. Frank actually named it the ‘Christmas’ snag because it kept on ‘giving’. Annoyingly though, the bigger fish were uncontrollable and continuously pulled us into the mess of underwater branches to escape, usually with the lure. We believed the only way to beat these critters involved roping the boats together and towing both yak and fish against the ‘run of play’. 12Frankie at the Christmas snag with one of the smaller barra that allowed itself to be landed. These fish mainly hit the lures when winding from the snag to the deeper centre of the river. Once on, they dragged us back to their homes.13About to enjoy another sensational feed of fresh barramundi on a warm frog-filled Wearyan night. We iced up a few Tooheys beers for the occasion, relishing the sweet amber ale as the last fillet was eagerly consumed. This could have been one of the most memorable meals of the trip. Frankie leant back contentedly in his chair at one stage after finishing his plate: ‘How am I ever going to go back to work after this?’ he said sincerely. I agreed. ‘Yeah, that’s why I keep coming back. Dunno how I’m ever gonna eat kingfish or flathead again?’ Frank made that comment several times during our weeks together.Day 2 at the Wearyan:
Waking to the calming sounds of nature, we decided to do the traditional ‘marathon’ paddle downstream for a fish and sightsee. In some years large (I mean huge) crocodiles have often cut this little excursion short.
A tide at the bottom of the ebb greeted us at launch leaving us bumping and scraping a little between pools. Shortly after passing the turnaround point for Day 1, I was surprised to notice a large sandy island in the river that didn’t exist last year. Obviously created during the last wet, it bore testament to the power the rains have in reshaping the land, especially in the Wearyan. Naturally, I wanted to be one of the first two people in the world to explore it!:14Island view, Wearyan River looking downstream. I know its only a piece of sand that may disappear with the next wet, but I find it a novelty knowing we discovered it and even managed to cast lures from its shoreline.15Same island, different angle. Each year brings subtle changes to the bush as the rains change the landscape however this island was rather prominent. I felt a little like Robinson Crusoe being on it - but only at low tide. Come high, she entirely disappeared! 16This was our lunch stop during the long trek down the Wearyan. Nice conditions, but somewhat disappointing on the lures.
We paddled well into the tide during the day but up until deciding to turn back, had only hit the one reasonable fish - a huge barra that dragged me against the wind into a sunken tree and released itself. At Frankie’s ‘Christmas’ snag we found the water almost motionless and any barra currently off the bite. I did manage a bull shark however on a floating lure that gave me a decent workout on 6kg mono. When it was nearly spent, we roped the kayaks together and Frankie dragged 'us' to shore.17There was no way I’d bring this thing into the boat so it was handy to give our new attachment device a test run. Once ashore we took a few snaps and make a silly video of me trying to ‘do something’ while holding a live shark. I learnt fairly quickly that there’s actually not much you can do while holding a cranky bully. The audio is a little unprofessional near the end where the video controls cause some confusion to the operator. See this short Spielberg masterpiece below…http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vp4kBeQaTE8
Once dumping the shark we worked the Christmas snag a little longer before Frankie indicated he was heading back to camp. I persisted for another half hour and landed just the one barramundi, keeping it for the table. A resident saltie paid me a visit whilst fishing but being extremely cautious, didn’t venture close enough to become a threat.18On returning to camp and the pool, I heard a low rumbling in the air and realised Frank had dozed off. He wasn’t alone though, sharing slumber with a normally shy visitor…19These water monitors are usually very timid around people so I can’t understand why it decided to get some sun near a strange human, dead to the world in his chair. He barely moved after I brought the kayak up so I left him sleeping to explore and photograph the cycad palms above the burnt hill behind camp.20The cycads in this area really take a beating when the fires come through. This one here must be gifted and has at least another season left in it if the flames leave it alone. Strangely, the round yellow seeds produced by these trees need just the right amount of heat to crack them open to allow germination. Too much, and they fry. The next photo shows a bit of their growth cycle: 21Rising from the ashes like a phoenix, a young cycad palm begins its slow climb towards life and the sun. Nearby, future generations lay dormant waiting for the moment when they too might share in the opportunity to one day stamp their mark across the land.A Wearyan roundup, including added ramblings:
Fish fed us yet again on our final night at the Wearyan River. Frank unfortunately had an unfavourable reaction to the meal and disappeared several times with the shovel to find relief. Just the one Barking owl visited camp, the remnants of his clan absent while the country was burnt and their food supply destroyed. It sickens me seeing thousands of square kilometres of Gulf bushland deliberately torched each year by the locals. Forget cane toads decimating our endemic species – indigenous Australians do a far better and purposeful job of it. Not only do these calculated fires leave the land a virtual reptilian wasteland, but they exterminate the young trees needed to replace mature growth forest. Once the adult plants eventually pass on, the entire ecosystem is affected.
I’d miss the Wearyan camp once we’d shipped out in the morning, not knowing if I’d ever sleep by her friendly banks again. Being my fourteenth consecutive day in the bush however, I was almost ready to see civilisation again except for a final river to explore. This was a new waterway, unnamed on charts and probably rarely fished. I’d examined it in detail on Google Earth and mapped its full meandering length to the ocean. Despite being keen for some ‘rest and recreation’ I was actually eager to check this one out.Tuesday 23rd September 2010:
Rain fell around 5:30 that morning, heavy enough to have us leave the cars to put things under cover. Once dawn broke we noticed the air was relatively cool and the sky overcast threatening further showers. I had ridiculous worries about escaping the sand after packing but found a little uphill speed made everything too easy. Glancing at the GPS, I saw the distance to the sidetrack we needed to find indicating twenty kilometres.22I made these lightweight tracks by cutting the bottom from a plastic bread container. Placed on the sand as shown here at the Wearyan camp, they do a great job preventing the wheels from sinking in. Frank actually used them a short time later to get himself out of a shallow bog. I only had a set of two, but serious off-roaders could have a number linked together for extended recovery. Not just a car implement though, they became multi-functional as a fish cleaning board, protective ground seat, something to swat grass fires with, a rack to clip lures onto, standing platform for the solar showers and a place to store medical equipment during emergency surgical procedures or heart surgery.23Leaving the Wearyan camp for the main road and the final river before Borroloola.
The track to the new river presented itself seven metres further west than the GPS indicated, an inaccuracy easily overlooked considering the waypoint was lifted from a computer program somewhere back in Sydney. Making a right onto it, we drove approximately seven kilometres of reasonable surface before halting at the final 150 metres to the river when the ground turned to ridiculous sand. Parking the vehicles, we walked in.
The crossing was found to be mainly uneven solid bedrock, tricky if the Swift ever had to cross it but not impossible. We didn’t follow the track any further and focussed instead on what was on immediate offer – a flowing freshwater pool echoing in birdsong to our right and a distinct tidal system on our left. Each side had possibilities for a paddle and fish but I decided downstream was the place to get wet. The tide was well out leaving several lines of rocks exposed however beyond the shallows, the river switched to unobstructed openness and potential angling heaven!
Back at the vehicles we tried to find another track to minimise the portage but didn’t have any luck. During this period I had the impression Frankie wasn’t well. He was quiet, not himself and seemed to have lost all energy or desire to do anything. When I saw him hunched over the bull bar I told him to forget the river and go to Borroloola to see a doctor. My plans wouldn’t change though and I’d still be heading out for a fish and explore. Before leaving we conducted a ‘controlled’ burn-off around the car that nearly went drastically wrong...24Never make the mistake of lighting too many spot fires at once purely to save time! In the gusty breeze the flames quickly spread to become almost uncontrollable and would have reached Borroloola by sunset if we hadn’t stopped them. I really had no idea how long I’d be spending at the river but with town just 30 kilometres away, the risk of local arsonists had increased exponentially. The Sixth Sense:‘What happened over the following three hours has been documented as best I can without exaggeration or fabrication. I’ve told this story to a number of people since coming home but recreating the emotion leading up to and following the incident has been a difficult process.’
Once Frank had driven off I walked down to the water to prepare the boat, knowing as I did that something wasn’t right. To elaborate on this, I knew in my mind that I’d soon be facing something cruel in the river, more than likely a crocodile and one that would probably show aggression. They say sharks are partial to dull, gloomy surroundings and to avoid swimming during these moments, especially on lonely beaches. Crocs I’ve learnt over the years respond differently, being highly active and visible during warmth and bright sun. With a sky growing dark under heavy cloud and the air beginning to cool around a build-up of rain to the south, danger would still exist, but in a more subtle format.25This shot taken at 11:37am shows the view from launch looking downstream into a low tide. At this point I had a lump in my stomach knowing that I’d soon be having some sort of encounter on the river. I usually find this foresight helps in problem areas by accelerating reaction times whenever things turn ugly. Notwithstanding having this ‘sixth sense’ available, it still doesn’t hide the fear generated from being on waterways inhabited by large or savage crocodiles. Gaining experience with these creatures over the years however, has given me some confidence to be around them and not aborting trips whenever the jitters begin. Nevertheless, there has been on occasion when a particularly oversized reptile has sent me into a fast retreat.
Despite battling ‘bad’ feelings with the river, it actually provided some great structure along the banks and helped keep my mind cemented on the job of catching a trophy for the camera. More than enough deep water was discovered for the lure and I believed that once I met the rising tide, a nice little session on the rod could be had. Things were looking up and my mind switched to locating that ideal log or stump which could uncover a monster barra. Once reaching ‘checkpoint B’ on my chart I took the binocular out for the umpteenth time to scan the area searching for the crocs that were supposed to be there. Since launch the entire system had screamed potential for the saurians however I still hadn’t seen one - and I knew why. The cooler air and thick low cloud was keeping them underwater where temperatures were relatively warmer. Managing crocodiles which can be seen is amazingly easy. Dealing with the invisible threat is a true nightmare and that was my primary concern before launch.
After releasing yet another large Archer fish from the lure, I steered towards a shallow sandy beach on my left with plans to track past it before cutting across to an inside bend on the right. Twenty metres from the beach I noticed a set of small bow waves materialise then arc towards me. Thinking I’d finally found my giant barramundi, reality kicked in and I unclipped the rifle pointing it towards the nearest wave. At this stage I had no idea of the size of the thing causing the surge except that it was on a direct collision course with the boat. Pushing into the foot-pegs for stability with both knees locked against the hull, I braced for impact.
As the object came to within four metres of the bow I managed to discern the rear legs of a sizeable estuarine crocodile folded back onto its tail in classic swimming position. Instinctively tucking my arms in, I calculated where the head might be and followed with the rifle. It didn’t hit the boat, passing instead close to my left where it suddenly stopped and spun around, bringing its head above the surface a metre from the cockpit and staring. The animal wasn’t on comparison with some of the past dinosaurs I’d seen over the years, but with a scull width estimated at 23 centimetres it still presented an extremely damaging package. Too close for a warning shot, I calmly aimed into the head the moment it appeared and pressed the trigger. To my amazement nothing happened, the mechanism seemingly jammed by something. In that split second of confusion, the crocodile lunged.
Thinking it was coming over the deck, I leant back but it went for the kayak instead, grabbing the plastic around my lower left leg in a savage bite and holding on. I expected to feel something penetrating the skin but apart from the hull compressing a little absorbing the strike, nothing came through. A second attempt to fire was undertaken yet again the trigger seemed locked - by the safety catch I stupidly realised. The animal dragged its teeth across the hull then let go, freezing momentarily before twisting into a rapid underwater descent. Swinging the barrel around towards the swirl of water I released a shot which probably had no effect at the depth the crocodile was at by then.
My initial reaction to the attack was anger, swearing at the top of my voice at the thing that had nearly ruined a great holiday. I’d done everything right in my mind but severely ‘stuffed’ it up with the safety catch. I came to shore to check the hull for leaks however apart from a nasty gash on top and three underneath, my ride was okay. The track marks revealed another story too, illustrating the animal’s intention to drag the boat under before losing grip. At least I was (relatively) safe being in a ‘sit-in’ kayak and the experience reinforced my view that only these types of craft should be used in places inhabited by aggressive estuarine crocodiles. 26At 1:15pm a few minutes following the attack, I made a short useless video on the beach explaining what had just happened. In this frame, I am pointing to where the croc grabbed the hull. Watching the clip since the incident, I can’t believe how calm I appeared at the time, even choosing to carry on downstream and continue fishing. The shock actually didn’t begin to set in until a little later. 27This frame from the same video shows the beach area from where the croc came. I had earlier scanned this entire bank with binoculars seeing nothing to get me concerned. Note the overcast sky and threat of rain - these are danger/warning signs to look out for if deciding to paddle rivers occupied by estuarine crocodiles. Negotiating waters in these conditions is akin to walking through a minefield blindfolded.
The following photos show the scars to the boat:28Bite marks and scrape, top of hull.293x teeth marks and scrape, lower hull
Climbing back into the cockpit, I pushed from shore and stroked across to the inside bend originally intended (top centre of photo 26 above) but once reaching it found myself shaking and unable to concentrate on what I was supposed to be doing. I desperately wanted to explore the river ahead but knew the risks of continuing were enormous. With all the time spent mapping its course and driving half way across the country to actually be on it, I reluctantly turned around after completing just three disappointing kilometres.
Danger was still about as I soon discovered when 200 metres into the return, a familiar reptilian head surfaced 30 metres to my left. Grabbing the rifle I swung and fired in a single sweep, the shell hitting precisely where the scull was if it had remained visible a half second longer. The rain began then and the shakes intensified, partly from cold but primarily at the evil things swimming below me. Thirty strokes on another animal surfaced, slightly smaller than his friends but enough to put an end to any further fishing. With nerves approaching breaking point I brought the lure in and commenced a race back to the car, not slowing until reaching the final hundred metres of ‘safe’ water. My watch indicated 02:10pm when I finally dragged the kayak onto the sand near where I’d launched from. Checking the time was important, because scribed in the ground near my feet was a reassuring note from someone I knew quite well: ‘Frankie was here, 2pm’. In all respects, it felt as if I’d just been saved.Borroloola:
Word got out pretty quickly in the McArthur River Caravan Park of the croc attack (thanks Frankie!) and the kayak became a bit of a showpiece for any kids wanting to have a look at the teeth marks. I had to painstakingly review my plans for the next week as Frank was heading home in the morning leaving me on my own. Normally that wouldn’t bother me however since the attack that afternoon, I’d developed mild symptoms of post traumatic stress and didn’t know whether I’d be capable or even confident enough to get back into the water with the saurians. Equally worrying became the intense evening storm build-up threatening to flood the route west. Someone said they’d experienced a respectable drenching from Roper Bar with the road becoming soaked. The possibility of flash flooding through some of the already ‘wet’ creeks could see the car seriously held up.
Another camper that same day told us the sad news of Malcolm Douglas being killed in a car crash. I always endeavoured to be like Malcolm as he had that unique adventurous spirit and fascination with nature which I often tried to emulate. I wanted my own journey through the bush to be like his were and vowed then to continue this one. A good night’s sleep would clear the head and hopefully, get rid of the nerves and unpleasant thoughts.Conclusion:
It’s easy to criticise people being irresponsible by putting their lives at unnecessary risk. Some individuals believe kayaking with dangerous crocodiles is foolish and stupid. I agree, it is totally foolish and stupid but I’ll probably keep doing it because I like it and find I get a weird kinky thrill from being scared half to death each time. I enjoy my crocs and being around them and only when the situation becomes life threatening would I ever consider hurting one. On the day I was attacked I knew before launch that something was going to happen. How could I possibly know that? I’ve no idea, but having experienced similar awareness during past Gulf treks I recognised the signs. Some people who dabble in the weird and spooky call this phenomenon the ‘sixth sense’. On August 29th 2010 I uploaded a post on the AKFF about the trip and something I mentioned is worth a note: Quote ‘There’s also a new tidal river I found near Borroloola to jump into. Expect big crocs from this one, as it’s near a major system feeding the Gulf….I’m both excited and nervous about this latest trip. Facing aggressive saurians is never easy, especially in a kayak.’
Even back then, I had a sneaking suspicion something was going to happen. The sealed section:PLEASE NOTE: Both freshwater and saltwater crocodiles are protected species under the Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act and it is an offence to kill or injure any crocodile. In situations of imminent life-threatening danger, there are no official guidelines available, and Territory Parks and Wildlife will evaluate circumstances on a case-by-case basis. The following photographs show a (dead) crocodile that was threatening my safety during a kayaking trip in 2006. Based on my knowledge of crocodile behaviour acquired from being around them in the Gulf of Carpentaria and Cape York, including having several as pets in PNG, I felt that shooting the reptile was the only way to successfully halt the attack and consequently, save my life or prevent serious injury. Please do NOT click on the 'Show' button if you feel you may be offended by these photos.30
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In September 2006 on the Wearyan River I came face to face with this reptile while trolling the bank. As it didn’t retreat during those initial crucial seconds, I knew that it would lunge and had to be stopped. This crocodile would have been only slightly larger than the animal which savaged the kayak four years later in 2010. An argument I’ve endured since electing to paddle waters governed by estuarine crocodiles concerns putting myself into situations where ‘self-defence’ may result in the death or injury of a protected species. But, should you let an animal get in the way of something you love and are passionate about? Professional crabbers in the Top End often carry a firearm when on the job. I don’t think they’d appreciate being asked to find another career which doesn’t involve the possibility of shooting a croc while on shift.
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Well, that’s about it for this chapter. I’ll see everybody in the concluding ‘Part 3’ for a less controversial instalment of adventure through Australia’s incredible Gulf of Carpentaria as the Zook and I push on through the ‘harsh’ bush alone. Nerves will again be tested as the crocs jump a size or two and the bull sharks figure I’m good for an easy free meal. Poisonous snakes get a little too close for comfort and strange lights appear on a mysterious lake that reveals a secret bounty.
Rick (with Frankie for support)
(p.s. special thanks to mod ‘RedPhoenix’ for his technical help during this post)
Oh, I nearly forgot. To that AKFFer who wanted a photo of a croc, this was the best I could do. Here is one truly terrifying and savage beast… 32WTF...
Any newbies who missed Part 1, here's the link:viewtopic.php?f=17&t=42861
Yak PBs: Barra 93.5cm, B'couta 103cm, Bull Shark 106cm, Herring 74cm, Golden Trev 88cm, Kingy 72cm, Long Tom 107cm, Mang Jack 50cm, Mowie 47cm, Queenie 93cm, Saratoga 80cm, Sooty 41cm, Spaniard 65cm, Threadfin Salmon 91cm, Snapper 55cm, Seal 60kg, Flattie 86cm