Rookies outfox the crocs29/09/2019 - Author: admin - Comments are closed
Croc College participants help to move a large female croc. About-face: Lynda Bennett went on the show in an attempt to deal with the death of her granddaughter, who was taken by a crocodile in the Northern Territory.
Five metres, 500 kilograms, 70 teeth, and millions of years of hard-wired, predatory instincts. Understandably, that’s not everyone’s ideal workmate.
So when applications for Croc College were released in late 2011 seeking those looking for ”a new challenge”, it may have been one of the greatest understatements likely to lead to a television audition.
A three-week saltwater crocodile-wrangling course, complete with capturing, wrestling, feeding, sexing and skinning, may warrant a different expression (usually, ”challenge” is a term attributed to something more like an Ikea assembly). ”You live, eat and breathe crocs on the course, day and night; there are no diversions,” says crocodile farmer and host John Lever.
The show follows six Australians being put through their paces, under Lever’s tutelage, on his industry-renowned training course.
From giving lectures on behavioural traits to nursing a six-month-old croc, each student is aiming to impress Lever in the hopes of earning a place on a research expedition to Kakadu.
No fear, though – they’re in a safe, well-worn pair of hands. With more than 40 years’ experience surrounded by salties, Lever wrote the book on crocodile training. No, literally, he wrote the book. ”I wrote a crocodile industry training manual in Papua New Guinea,” Lever explains, ”because there was no industry standard at all; there was nothing to measure anything against. So people just started learning on the farm with me right beside them.”
But the first thought to cross his mind when he saw the unusual suspects heading onto his property? ”Help!” he laughs down the line from his Rockhampton farm.
”The ABC had told me nothing about the people they’d selected, so when they turned up here I had no idea. After introducing themselves and telling their stories to me, I knew then the ABC had deliberately set me a real challenge.”
That challenge is, in fact, the core tenet of the program. Lever, now 70, frequently jokes on the show that his time in the field is nearly up, and that’s where the training course comes in.
For him, the only prerequisite is passion – the show is all about proving that a bunch of people who know absolutely nothing about crocodiles could be taken and come out the other end with a real skill-set.
Overcoming a natural, instinctual fear, however, was another matter entirely, as Lever realised when the show’s producers came up for a demo before shooting.
”One entered the pen with me,” Lever explains, ”and I said to him, ‘Whatever you do, never try and jump a fence if a croc attacks you, because you could hit the top, bounce back in onto your back, and the crocodile will be on top of you’.
”Well, the crocodile attacked and he leapt straight over the fence! It’s not that easy to train people out of their instincts.”
Some instincts, however, are ingrained in a more personal, immoveable place. Participant Lynda Bennett lost her 11-year-old granddaughter Briony to a crocodile attack three years ago in the Northern Territory, a tragic occurrence that prompted the family to call for a mass crocodile cull. However, in time she did an about-face on the matter.
”To lose a child in the situation that we lost Briony was very confusing,” Bennett says, ”so we firstly looked at the safety factor and thought perhaps the cull would be the way to go. We did a double-take on that thinking, though, because if you cull the animal people are going to get a false sense of security and are still going to go into the water where it’s unsafe.
”So we headed into awareness. We stopped blaming the animal and pointing fingers at it for basically doing what’s in its nature, and did a push towards safety via understanding.”
It’s an attitude still unsupported by many in her family; her decision to go on the show was met with great unease.
Bennett admits to still wrestling with her emotions, though she says the opportunity for direct contact was the best way for her to move forward and retain some peace of mind.
”I felt absolutely useless,” she recalls of her feelings at the time. ”As a parent and grandparent, not being able to do anything to make it right left me feeling a little inadequate, and by doing this show I thought perhaps I could redeem myself in some way. There’s no closure on anything like that, but it’s given us some sort of direction.
”Knowledge is power, and that’s what it’s given us.”
Croc College, ABC1, Tuesday, 8pm.
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