Keith ‘Crocodile Safari Man’ Adams
Before Crocodile Dundee, Bush Tucker Man and Steve Irwin there was Keith Adams. In late 2010, I had the privilege to interview Keith and his equally adventurous wife, Audrey.
I can remember seeing your movie, ‘Northern Safari’, back in the mid sixties. When was it filmed?
We shot the movie over three different trips to the Gulf. I had been up that way shooting crocs in ’49 and ’54 and decided after all the interest in my still photos and 8mm movie footage – nobody believed the fish we were catching, the crocs we were shooting, or the incredible wildlife - that we’d buy an expensive 16mm movie camera and a old 1948 Buick. I fitted a Perkins diesel engine to the Buick but it would only rev at 1500rpm so I hunted around and found a Packard overdrive unit, which I fitted to the vehicle – made it go a littler faster. Then we fitted bigger springs and taller tyres. I built a trailer and an 11-foot boat – it was a ripper – and with my wife of just two years, Audrey, and my sister, Margaret, we set off in 1955.
So, how did you get the ‘world’s first colossal flippin’ home movie show’ – your words - into picture houses and theatres?
Well, I’d never made a movie before so we took a while to cut it into a documentary and action thriller – the kitchen was the film lab, the lounge was the recording studio for sound tracks and the like and we showed it to friends and clubs, but then we got the offer of a local theatre to show it and with Audrey running the projector and me talking we got our show on the road – it was the beginning of ‘Northern Safari’.
It was hugely successful wasn’t it and made you a millionaire?
Lets get back to the adventurous bit, when were you last up in the Gulf country?
You know we had it on the road for years, with three or four teams touring Australia showing it in local halls and theatres, we had up to three teams in the UK for three years, a number of teams in the USA and Canada and we also took it to Southern Africa, Germany, Holland and New Zealand. We stopped taking it on the road in 1985 – it had been on show nearly continuously somewhere in Australia and the world from ‘59 - and got it onto TV during the late 80s.
Just two years ago– it was my 53rd trip to the Gulf (in 2009 - it was his last trip)! I’ve got a cave on North Island (in the Sir Edward Pellew Group in the Gulf) that overlooks a wonderful stretch of coast. We’ve been going there for 50 years and the Traditional Owners reckon its my cave and me and the kids will always be welcome. The fishin’s good and it’s just a great place to go.
Your original trips were in old Buicks, Studebakers and more recently a Rambler …. Have you ever owned a four wheel drive?
No! I mean it would have been nice to, but I couldn’t afford one even if I could have found one to buy back in the early days. Then when we did what we did with those old American cars, we just couldn’t change.
You’re obviously pretty skilled with your hands and could turn your hand to anything … where did that come from?
Well, we grew up in Tasmania – too cold down there, that’s why I left – in the middle of the Depression. Dad and mum had a farm but you couldn’t give the sheep away and we grew up catching fish, shooting wallabies, fixing anything. Then I got an apprenticeship in Launceston and quickly discovered that I couldn’t afford the train fare so I rode my pushbike the 60 miles to take the offer up. Didn’t have a place to stay either!
So how did you get out of Tassie?
Well, after dad died I worked for a while in Tassie then headed north. First to Melbourne – still to cold – then Tenterfield and finally Brisbane where it was at least warm. I was only there a few months and I got this job in New Guinea servicing and maintaining a company’s fleet of boats and vehicles. Port Moresby was a man’s town back then and we had lots of adventures – I shot my first croc up there!
The trip through central Australia, especially from Laverton to Warburton, Ayers Rock and on to Alice Springs must have been a hell of an adventure back in ‘55?
It was way before Len Beadell built his roads so all we had to follow on a lot of occasions were a set of camel pads. The bull dust was thick in places and when we had to cross the sandhills, we’d let the tyres down and then blow them up – with a hand pump – after each and every dune. It was hard work!
Do you remember Bill Harney? He was the first ranger out at Ayers Rock, he couldn’t believe we had arrived at the Rock from the west – we even get a mention in his book, To Ayers Rock and Beyond …. Pg 184!
I know the book well – my Dad knew him. So how did you go for food … I’m guessing you didn’t have a fridge?
No, we didn’t have a fridge. Meat or fish weren’t an issue. We’d shoot pigeons, roos, rabbits, ducks … they were good … and catch fish when we were up on the Gulf. Vegetables were a bit of a problem at times and we’d often buy them off a local station or make do with a bit of bush tucker.
You’ve been going to the Gulf and the remote areas of Australia for nearly 60 years – what have you seen change the most?
Of course there are the roads and the number of travellers, but the thing that really depresses me are the rivers and billabongs. The water lilies and the richness are gone, or nearly so … and I blame the cattle. They destroy everything in and around a waterhole … and that means the wildlife and the fish life go to.
It was a sobering thought and while I could have spoken to Keith and Audrey for hours the sun was setting and it was time to go. It had been a privilege to meet two great Australians.
Keith Adams past away in 2012 and was laid to rest at the family funeral plot in Tasmania. His long life friend, travelling companion, wife and lover, Audrey, still lives in Perth.
And, you can still order the DVD, ‘Northern Safari’ (really fantastic!) and the book, ‘Crocodile Safari Man’ (a bloody enjoyable and exciting read) from their website, www.northernsafari.com, or ph: (0429) 701 365.
As Keith used to say, as a postscript to his book, ‘If readers enjoy my scribbles, would they please spread the word. It’s tough promoting a book at my age!’ Now that mantle of keeping the story and the legend alive has fallen to his daughter Joanne; you can find out the latest at: www.facebook.com/KeithAdamsNorthernSafari.
Copyright Ron & Viv Moon