Obituary: Rod Ansell

THEY CALLED Rod Ansell "Crocodile Dundee" because his adventurous life in the wilds of Australia's Northern Territory inspired the 1986 hit film of that name. It propelled the actor Paul Hogan to fame and fortune playing the character who wrestled crocodiles and mesmerised buffalos. But Ansell, the real Mick Dundee, never saw a penny from royalties and had to settle for the myth surrounding his tangled life. His death on an outback highway, at the age of 44, could almost have been scripted for a sequel called "Mick Dundee: the final shoot-out".

From what can be pieced together of police reports, Ansell became involved in an altercation at a house south of Darwin on the night of 2 August. He fired shots at the house and one of its occupants then fled into the bush. Police surrounded the area, set up a road block on the Stuart Highway, the road that links Darwin and Alice Springs, and lay in wait.

Next morning, Ansell came out of hiding and crawled towards the road- block armed with two guns. He stood up and fired, killing a policeman. Another policeman returned fire and Ansell fell dead. Why did he shoot up the house in the first place? Why did he walk into a police trap when as skilled a bushman as he could easily have slipped away? Did he have a death wish because his life had turned bad? The questions are unanswered; no doubt they will be rich fodder for film producers.

I met Rod Ansell at his home in the Northern Territory in 1988. He lived with his wife and two small sons on Melaleuca, a large property in beautiful semi-tropical country between Darwin and the Kakadu National Park. 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 travelling 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.

That year, the Northern Territory government named him Territorian of the Year for his role in putting the Top End, as Australians call the region, on the world map.

He arrived in the Northern Territory from Queensland at the age of 15 to work as a buffalo-catcher. The story that brought him fame, but no fortune, happened in 1977 when he was 22. He was travelling with two dogs on the remote Fitzmaurice River when a crocodile overturned his boat. For the next two months he and the dogs lived off the land until Aborigines stumbled across them and brought them into civilisation. The press went mad over his story. Ansell was said to have survived by shooting sharks and drinking buffalo blood. No one seemed to mind if the details grew ever more incredible. A hero had been born.

Ansell was flown to Sydney to be interviewed by Michael Parkinson. He told Parkinson that he preferred to sleep on the floor of his five-star Sydney hotel in his swag, a bush bed-roll, rather than in the king-size bed. Paul Hogan said later the idea of the Crocodile Dundee film, a bushman adrift in the big city, sprang from the interview. The Hogan character in the film sleeps in the same manner in a hotel in New York. Ansell also recounted his adventures in a documentary film and a book, both called To Fight the Wild (1990).

By the time I met Ansell two years after the film's release, the Crocodile Dundee myth was already starting to fade. He was no longer interested in talking about the story, perhaps bitter that no money had come his way. The family were living in deprived circumstances.

Ansell complained that their livelihoods were threatened by an Australian government programme to shoot wild buffalo in a bid to eradicate tuberculosis from the cattle industry. The disease was then proving hard to contain in the buffalo which had been introduced to the Northern Territory as beasts of burden from Timor in the 1820s, and which had since proliferated to herds of about 300,000.

Officially sanctioned shooters were killing the beasts from helicopters. Conservationists supported the campaign, claiming the buffalo had caused untold environmental damage in the Top End. But Ansell was leading a farmers' protest against it. "No country has ever successfully eradicated the disease completely from free-range conditions," he told me. "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 eventually lost Melaleuca. His marriage disintegrated. In 1992 he was convicted of cattle rustling and of assaulting the owner of a cattle property in Arnhem Land, in the eastern Top End. He was fined and placed on a good behaviour bond. He continued to blame his troubles on the campaign to wipe out the buffalo. He told reporters he was living on unemployment benefits and "bush tucker". When he died he was living on an Aboriginal outstation at Urapunga on the Roper River, about 300 miles south of Darwin. He had an affinity with the Aborigines, who had initiated him as a white member of their community.

Robert Milliken

Rodney William Ansell, buffalo farmer and bushman: born 1955; married (two sons); died Darwin, Northern Territory 3 August 1999.

Arts & Entertainment
William Shakespeare's influence on English culture is still strongly felt today, from his plays on stage to words we use everyday
books50 Shakespeare phrases still in use, to mark the bard's 450th birthday
Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio (left) could team up with British director Danny Boyle for the Steve Jobs (right) biopic
film
Arts & Entertainment
The next wig thing: 'Drag Queens of London'
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Bear Grylls’ latest television show has been labelled sexist by female survival experts

TV
Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams as Arya and Rory McCann as The Hound
TV
VIDEO
Arts & Entertainment
Rush hour: shoppers go sale crazy in Barkers, Kensington
film
Arts & Entertainment
Juliette Binoche and Ralph Fiennes play Catherine and Heathcliff in Pete Kosminsky's 1992 movie adaptation of Wuthering Heights
booksGoogle Doodle celebrates Charlotte Brontë's 198th birthday
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Robin Thicke with his Official Number 1 Award for 'Blurred Lines', the most downloaded track in UK music history
Music
Arts & Entertainment
Rory Kinnear in his Olivier-winning role as Iago in Othello
Theatre
Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
ComedyCollier was once told there were "too many women" on bill
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
music

Arts & Entertainment
Tom Baker who played the Doctor longer than any other actor
tv
Arts & Entertainment
Ken Loach (left) and Mike Leigh who will be going head to head for one of cinema's most coveted prizes at this year's Cannes Film Festival

film
Arts & Entertainment
film

Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home

    It's not always fun in the sun: Moving abroad does not guarantee happiness

    Brits who migrate to Costa del Sol more unhappy than those who stay at home
    Migrants in Britain a decade on: They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire

    Migrants in Britain a decade on

    They came, they worked, they stayed in Lincolnshire
    Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

    Chris Addison on swapping politics for pillow talk

    The 'Thick of It' favourite thinks the romcom is an 'awful genre'. So why is he happy with a starring role in Sky Living's new Lake District-set series 'Trying Again'?
    Why musicians play into their old age

    Why musicians play into their old age

    Nick Hasted looks at how they are driven by a burning desire to keep on entertaining fans despite risking ridicule
    How can you tell a gentleman?

    How can you tell a gentleman?

    A list of public figures with gallant attributes by Country Life magazine throws a fascinating light on what it means to be a gentleman in the modern world
    Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

    Pet a porter: posh pet pampering

    The duo behind Asos and Achica have launched a new venture offering haute couture to help make furry companions fashionable
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: The mutiny that sent a ripple of fear through the Empire

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    The mutiny that sent a ripple of fear through the Empire
    Hot stuff: 10 best kettles

    Hot stuff: 10 best kettles

    Celebrate St George’s Day with a nice cup of tea. Now you just need to get the water boiled
    Sam Wallace: Why Giggs is perfect fit as Manchester United boss... in the longer term

    Sam Wallace

    Why Ryan Giggs is perfect fit as Manchester United boss... in the longer term
    Renaud Lavillenie: The sky's the limit for this pole vaulter's ambitions

    Renaud Lavillenie: The sky's the limit for this pole vaulter's ambitions

    Having smashed Sergei Bubka's 21-year-old record, the French phenomenon tells Simon Turnbull he can go higher
    Through the screen: British Pathé opens its archives

    Through the screen

    British Pathé opens its archives
    The man behind the papier mâché mask

    Frank Sidebottom

    The man behind the papier mâché mask
    Chris Marker: Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch

    Mystic film-maker with a Midas touch

    Chris Marker retrospective is a revelation
    Boston runs again: Thousands take to the streets for marathon as city honours dead and injured of last year's bombing

    Boston runs again

    Thousands of runners take to the streets as city honours dead of last year
    40 years of fostering and still holding the babies (and with no plans to retire)

    40 years of fostering and holding the babies

    In their seventies and still working as specialist foster parents