Bad Ending for “Crocodile Dundee”1
There was a real Crocodile Dundee, and things did not end well for him. However, the popular belief that Australian Bushman Rodney William Ansell was killed in 1999 by police while he was resisting attempts to confiscate his weapons is way off the mark and is mostly contradicted by the actual facts, according to an Australian newspaper article.
Interest in the Crocodile Dundee franchise has been reignited by the strong reaction to a bizarre series of Tourism Australia commercials that first appeared during the 2018 Superbowl broadcast. The commercials are designed to look like a promotion for an upcoming – but non-existent – film about the adventures of Crocodile Dundee’s son, played by Danny McBride. We don’t know whether the commercials have sparked an increase in tourism for Australia, but they have sparked interest in yet another Crocodile Dundee film, with Paul Hogan returning to the title role, according to a 2018 Hollywood Reporter story. It will be Hogan’s first film appearance since 2009’s Charlie and Boots.”
In the new film, “The Very Excellent Mr Dundee,” Hogan will play a mashup of his real life persona and his Crocodile Dundee likeness on his way to receive a knighthood in London while trying in vain to protect his good name and reputation, a situation that closely mirrors Hogan’s real life problems after his meteoric rise to stardom.
Renewed interest in the fictional version of Crocodile Dundee has also raised questions about what happened to the real person that the fictional character was based on. Ansell, 44, was killed in a shootout with Australian police officers at a roadblock that was set up during an attempt to apprehend an unknown assailant who was being sought in connection with a report that shots had been fired at local residences where two people were reportedly injured.
The police officers were in the process of dismantling the roadblock when shots were fired at them from a concealed location, injuring one bystander and killing Australian police sergeant Glen Anthony Huitson. Ansell was killed by return fire from Huitson’s partner, Constable James O’Brien, with a single shotgun blast after the officers failed to neutralize Ansell with their hand guns.
Sergeant Huitson was killed by a ricochet that glanced off the police cruiser and hit Huitson below his bulletproof vest. Ansell was a prolific hunter and an expert marksman. The fact that Huitson was killed accidentally argues that Ansell wasn’t really trying to kill anyone because, if he had wanted to, he could have easily picked off several police officers before they could have put him down.
The Australian police weren’t even looking for Ansell at the time but Ansell, who police think was the assailant in the earlier attacks, probably thought they were looking for him and reacted violently to the imagined threat of capture. He was not, however, protecting his right to bear arms, which had been more severely restricted by the Australian government after the 1996 Port Arthur Massacre in which 35 people were killed and 18 were injured by a single man with a semi-automatic rifle.
More than 700,000 firearms were either bought back from citizens by the Australian government, or voluntarily surrendered by their owners…but gun laws vary from state to state in Australia, just as they do in the United States. In some jurisdiction, long guns were permitted while, in others, rifles were banned but citizens could obtain carry permits for hand guns. Australian authorities estimate that the more stringent regulation of firearms has reduced firearms deaths in Australia by 23 percent from 1996 to 2013, according to a 2017 article on Factcheck.org.
In Ansell’s case, the 30-30 caliber lever-action rifle with which he was armed would have been legal under the then-current Australian laws. Ansell, therefore, had no reason to fire upon police officers.
It was a sad end to a legendary life. Ansell first attracted public attention when the 23 year-old hunter, cattleman and self-confessed crocodile poacher survived 58 days alone on a desert island off the Australian coast after his motorboat capsized and sank during a solo fishing trip before being rescued by aboriginal herdsmen. At first, Ansell downplayed the story but, after the media picked up on the story, which many local residents considered a publicity stunt, he eventually became the subject of a 1979 Richard Oxenburgh documentary film, To Fight The Wild, and a follow-up book.
In 1981, Ansell’s story came to the attention of Australian actor and television personality Paul Hogan, who proceed to co-author the Academy Award winning screenplay, Crocodile Dundee, in which Hogan, of course, played the title role, turning the local Australian hero into a movie star.
The success of the film was a boon for Hogan, but it was a disaster for Ansell, who had been a highly respected back woodsman and was accepted as an adopted member of an aboriginal community. The film re-ignited resentment against him among his peers that had originally resulted from the sudden notoriety generated the documentary film and the follow-up book. The film made matters even worse.
Ansell sued Hogan for a percentage of the film’s multimillion dollar earnings but failed to gain any traction in court. His failure to receive any remuneration from the misappropriation of his life story embittered Ansell for the rest of his life and was the beginning of a downward spiral that ended with the shootout at a police roadblock. (To date, the film has earned $175 million. Since the film was released in 1986, the actual value of the film’s earnings in constant dollars is now in excess of $422 million. Altogether, the three Crocodile Dundee films have grossed $707 million.)
The rest of Ansell’s story is a saga of repeated disappointments. He started a cattle ranch (called a cattle station in Australia) but his herd was struck by the Bovine Brucellosis and Tuberculosis virus. Government agents killed the 3,000 wild buffalo he had collected for domestication, and then refused to compensate him for the loss of the livestock. The land he had leased for the project was infected by a pernicious Mimosa pigra weed infestation, making it impossible raise livestock there.
The Ansells sold their land holdings and improvements in 1991 to settle their debts. His 15 year marriage collapsed into divorce. He started cultivating marijuana as a cash crop and became addicted to amphetamines, suffered from psychotic episodes, and delusions of persecution in which both Ansell and his girl friend identified Freemasons as their tormentors.
At 23, Rodney William Ansell had a “Robinson Crusoe” experience that shaped the rest of his life but it turned out that he was more adept at surviving in the wilderness than he was at surviving in what we laughingly call “the real world.” The Crocodile Dundee film was a make or break moment for him. It broke him. Coming out at a moment when he really needed money to stave off financial disaster, he had to watch Paul Hogan sore to fame and fortune on the wings of his own story, while his own dreams were crashing and burning around him.
So, why did Rodney Ansell fire upon police officers? It’s too easy to guess that this was another case of “suicide by cop,” because Ansell was firing from a concealed position, which is not how you commit suicide by cop. It is more likely that his tenuous grip on reality slipped out of his grasp and, in his mind, he may have been firing upon his tormentors, real and imagined.
Crocodile Dundee was just as much a break or break moment for Paul Hogan and, indeed, it made him into the icon he became…but his life has not been without difficulty, having had to go to court several times against the Australian Tax Office in a series of actions from 2007 through 2017. It still remains unclear whether Hogan participated in several tax fraud schemes. His third marriage (he was married and divorced twice from his first wife) to his Crocodile Dundee co-star Linda Kozlowski ended in divorce in 2014 after 14 years of marriage.
Now 79, Hogan has not appeared in a film since Charlie and Boots, a 2009 Australian film that does not appear to have made it to the United States. In that film, Hogan plays an aging widower who is taken by his adult son on a fishing trip to a remote location on the northern tip of Australia that is rather like the fishing trip that Ansell made in 1977. They have some irrelevant adventures along the way that are reminiscent of the irrelevant adventures of Mick Dundee in New York City. The film ends (after the credits) with a scene in which Charlie and Boots are crossing the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the bridge that Hogan was helping to build when he launched his acting career.
We thought we had seen the last of Paul Hogan. We were wrong. First, there was the cameo in the tourism commercial. Now, it seems that we will get to see Paul Hogan as Crocodile Dundee one more time, in the upcoming film. The Crocodile Dundee myth is really about two men, both larger than life, both of whom have had to take the rough along with the smooth…but life was much rougher for the real Crocodile Dundee than it was for the fake one.