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Croc around the clock – working with Steve Irwin

A few years back I was filming a documentary with Mark Strickson a natural history director with Bristol based UK production company, Partridge Films. We were shooting sequences for Discovery Channel in Far North Queensland in Australia, and were at the tail end of a six week stint shooting "Deadly Crocs" with then relatively unknown Croc Hunter, Steve Irwin. Steve was the same then…and I claim little more than to have introduced him to the art of making and drinking decent strong coffee while we were camping. This may have been a catalyst to his rather odd presenting style.

Having finished most of Steve's sequences, Mark and I set up our tents by the South Kennedy River in Far North Queensland, Australia. We planned to leave early in the morning for a pleasant filming trip up the river in our small tin boat in search of Salt Water Crocs. The next morning we slowly motored up river heading north towards the mouth of the river. There were a large number of "Salties" sunning themselves on the muddy banks. This was encouraging. The river ahead divided, and on the bank where the river split, there was a large lifeless salty taking in the sun. Mouth open and rock solid, it lay motionless in the distance.

I decided to shoot initially from a distance to get a safety shot. This is the shot to get in case I the subject takes its leave. He or she could become shy and quickly slip into the water. I asked Mark to give me some forward motion with the motor to help stabilize the boat and then suggested he switch it off and allow us to drift quietly towards the croc. The resulting footage was smooth as I had my Miller Arrow HD tripod straddling the uneven floor of the boat. It appeared that this animal was very much at ease in the sunny spot and as I knew that I already had a few great shots in the can, I thought we go for the cream. With the tiny outboard switched off, we drifted into the bank with some assistance from the oars. The bow of the boat wedged into the muddy bank around two meters from our croc who was still very much in relaxed mode. 

I found an even closer handheld shooting position at the bow and decided to stabilise myself by quietly placing one foot onto the bank. The plan here was; one foot on the bank and the other in the boat. This prevented the tinny from sliding back off the bank. As I put my foot onto what I though was solid bank, my whole leg sank down, into the mud, all the way to my thigh making an obscene squelching noise! I couldn't pull it out – my let was in too deep and the suction was too strong. 

I whispered loudly to Mark to fire up the outboard and reverse rapidly to yank my leg out. I was there with one foot on floor of the tinny with the other leg buried and seemingly permanently imbedded in three feet of mud. The nine footer was only two meters away and now getting wary – I had nowhere to go. The outboard motor didn't start (have you ever know an outboard to start first go?) and by now I was making way too much noise. Had the croc decided to strike, it would have been curtains.

I'm happy to say that the option of grabbing me, a meal for the taking, was mercifully, not as enticing as the joy of continuing to lie in the warmth of the tropical sun. I can recall his/her eye slowly opening, a slow look to me then…. closing again and back to the business of sleeping. There is truly no way that I could have escaped. I did eventually extract the leg and so here to tell the story.

The trip back to the camp site was interesting. The tide had retreated and the river level by now was dramatically lower. What water there was, was a torrent that flowed the wrong way! We ended up having to carry the boat full of 16mm camera equipment over the rocks . Then we ran out of fuel!

Almost dark and in full view of the many crocs now forming a peanut gallery along the banks, we must have been a site for sore eyes. None of them moved off the bank to take us. I think by now they just felt sorry for us.

© 2013 Pieter de Vries ACS

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