Crocodile Safari Man

(Credit: bWeb & Crocodile Safari Man)

When Keith Adams loaded his wife, sister and dog into his Buick in 1955 for an expedition from Perth to the Gulf, the film he took of his travels was the first real Australian nature film. And, as he tells DANNY MORTISON, it made him a millionaire.

Many people take for granted a trip to the Top End but to do a trip back in 1955 in an old Buick from Perth across the Gibson Desert and north to the Gulf may well have been considered lunacy.

However such a journey made by Keith Adams with his wife Audrey, sister Margaret, and a crazy fox terrier named Tiger which he caught on a home movie camera changed his life forever.

The journey turned unknown diesel engineer Keith Adams, into a millionaire as he later travelled Australia and then the world showing the film from the wilds of Australia’s north.

Now Northern Safari is on video and the adventure enclosed in a book by Keith.

It shows how human ingenuity can get you through the rough patches.

He also wanted to prove to people in his home town of Perth that what he talked about from his trips to the Gulf were true.

“I used to tell people about my adventures in the outback and they just wouldn’t believe me, so I decided to take the movie along on this trip just to show them what it was like. I never knew it would be so popular,” Keith said this week from his home base.

Now 76, Keith still likes an annual pilgrimage to the Gulf where he travels across to North Island in the Edward Pellew Group.

In 1955 they travelled in an old Buick without backup or radio and followed the camel trails that crossed the wastelands of the Gibson Desert in outback Australia to the Gulf of Carpentaria and returned down the West Australian coast.

Colleagues at the Townsville Bulletin remember lining up at the picture shows in Brisbane in the late ‘60s with their dads to see what was then unique footage of Snakes, crocodiles four times the size of his boat, sharks that would normally eat you, scorpions and a multitude of our exotic Australian birdlife, make this an adventure to live over and over again.

The film is as rough as the tracks Keith had to cross, as beautiful as a western sunset and as dirty as the millions of flies which descended on their base camp in the Gulf country when they were cooking, but it’s the stuff pure adventure is made of.

Something as cheap as a washer on a crank case housing had them stranded in the heat of the Gibson Dessert, forcing Keith to pull the gearbox down and manufacture another part out of a piece of tin en route.

On the way out of the Gulf country his vehicle and trailer get stuck in a creek up to the axle. In 1955 power winches were yet to be invented and the method used to extricate the vehicle has you cheering for the science of invention.

For 30 years he went on to make millions of dollars screening the film himself in every state in Australia, and then in the US, Canada, England, South Africa, Rhodesia and New Zealand. It broke hundreds of town hall box office records and in some cinemas he did better than The Sound of Music and Jesus Christ Superstar.

Paul Hogan wasn’t even an apprentice rigger on the Harbour Bridge when this guy showed how the real Crocodile Dundee got out there in adventureland. Keith paid for his original trips to the Gulf by snaring a few crocs, in the days before the saurians were “protected”. The way he catches stuff is nothing less than amazing, but that’s just how it was in those days.

Chance encounters with the Aborigines of Central and Northern Australia and film of how they collected and cooked food is an education in itself.

In the decades before the slick stories of Attenborough, the imitative Crocodile Dundee, our own Bush Tucker Man and Steve Irwin’s jumping on the backs of crocodiles, Keith was out there living the adventure and recording it for his film.

The film has only recently been put onto video and is worth a place in any home if only to show the younger people of Australia there is something bigger and better away from the video games.

Keith has also transcribed his rags to riches life in a book Crocodile Safari Man in which he tells not only of the sharks in the ocean but those ashore, the doubting Thomas’s who reckoned he should pack up his swag and go home when he wanted to show his film.

Perseverance is a wonderful thing, in hindsight, especially after you have done the hard yards, as Keith and his companions have done.

The women did a great job at the camp site, allowing Keith to gather the food. Tiger was a terror and has you gasping every time he escapes from the vehicle to attack snakes, emus, crocodiles, fish, scorpions, goannas – anything that moves.

Keith was no “newbie” to the Gulf Country having made a living out of part-time hunting away from his regular job as a mechanic, a skill which kept him mobile through some pretty dire straits in the north.

Here is the original Aussie Battler who made a film, which is now the only movie in the world that shows the rugged crossing of the Gibson Desert and the way life in the Outback during the 1950’s.

Their remarkable journey was recorded by Bill Harney, then caretaker of Uluru (Ayers Rock) who wrote in his book To Ayers Rock and Beyond;

"Wonders never cease, for only a week before Peter and I with Loridja went west, a black heavy sedan with a trailer carrying an upturned dinghy came over the desert land. From the sea shores near Perth they had come, a man and two women, their destination Borroloola on the McArthur River which flows into the Gulf of Carpentaria - a run of over 2500 miles across Australia on a hunting and fishing holiday. Not since Charles Sturt's day has a craft been transported over such waterless land. Such then was our westward run, a bush track somewhere in the direction of the doggers and camel trails in the years gone by."

You can order the book, Crocodile Safari Man or the video, Northern Safari by telephoning 08 9341 1944 or write to Keith Adams, 13 Rinaldi Crescent, Karrinyup WA 6018.


Official websites

Crocodile Safari Man

Northern Safari