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 and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine