Free Beer & Sex by Mike Dixon - HTML preview

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14 Dangerous company


Back in 1987, three people were taken by crocodiles in northern Australia ... two of them tourists.  It was the year we opened our hostel and we were deeply in debt to the bank.  The thought of tourists being scared off by the attacks was alarming but we needn't have worried.  The publicity did marvels.  Australia joined Africa as an exciting place where people get eaten by wild animals.  Of course, no one expects that to happen to them ... being eaten is what happens to others.

We lived in Townsville, which is in croc country, and our hostel was next to the harbour where the dive boats were moored.  When I was in the scuba diving industry I spent a lot of time there.  Our customers came on board in the early evening and were briefed for the trip out to the Great Barrier Reef.  We then hung around on deck until midnight before putting to sea.  That way we could cruise out slowly and arrive at the dive site towards sunrise.  I could often be found leaning over the rail, having a beer or two with my mates, while we waited to leave port.

During the day there was never much sign of life in the murky waters of the harbour.  Night was different.  Big things came to the surface and moved around in the dark.  Huge gropers (giant wrasse) lived beneath the wharves and we saw them in the beams of our spotlights.  Telltale fins betrayed the presence of sharks.  Sometimes the creature in the water seemed more reptilian than fish.

Crocodiles were once common in the harbour.  Early settlers talked about them.  The evidence suggested they were back.  We couldn't be sure and it didn't matter.  Gropers and sharks had a sufficiently sinister reputation.  If work had to be done on the hull of the boat, we waited until we were out in the clear blue waters of the Coral Sea and did it there.

When I set up the hostel, I forgot about the crocs.  Then a commercial diving academy opened nearby and some of its students stayed with us.  They told me about their course.  One part involved underwater navigation in zero-visibility conditions.  The academy was near the harbour and its muddy waters were ideal.  I mentioned crocodiles and the students consulted their notes.  Currents and tidal conditions were discussed in detail but not crocs.  Weeks passed.  New students arrived and I continued to talk about the big reptile.  Nothing happened and I was beginning to feel alarmist when everything changed.

"Take a look at that!"

A photograph was pushed under my nose.  It wouldn't have won a prize in a photographic competition but its message was clear.  A huge crocodile had plodded through the upper reaches of the harbour and its tracks had been recorded with an underwater camera.

Months passed and the evidence was irrefutable.  A 3-metre specimen was photographed on the water beside a jetty.  At that size they are seriously dangerous, not just scary.  Warnings were issued and a team of wildlife officers arrived to relocate the animal.