When I was a child, I had what some might describe as an unhealthy obsession with TV documentaries about the world and wildlife. My tastes were not particularly discriminating, I would watch shows with a conservation theme, then enjoy a fishing show (I used to fish a lot with my Dad). But I loved watching shows that presented animals in their natural environment, and that gave us that little bit more knowledge about the world around us (one such series is actually called “The world around us”). I lapped up shows by the likes of David Attenborough and Ben Cropp.
Having exhausted what was on TV, I convinced my parents to take me to the video shop to get more. There I first discovered Malcolm Douglas; although he was already one of the highest rating documentary makers in Australian history. This khaki-clad adventurer would leap around the top half of our continent, handling snakes, chasing lizards, helping to catch and relocate troublesome crocodiles. He’d get bogged in his 4WD, then get out again competently (if a little muddy). The end of the day would be celebrated with a lesson on how to survive and flourish in the bush. Through Douglas’ lens I got to see parts of my country that I’d not seen before, and saw the behaviour of strange and dangerous creatures in their natural habitat. I was particularly impressed with his gentle skill with the animals he showed. As with his peers (though those like Douglas have few) he instilled in me a deep curiosity in the natural world, and more than that, a desire to learn more and pass it on to others.
Later Douglas was to become famous for his conservation efforts and his crocodile farm in Broome, Western Australia, which I have visited. It was a little highlight of my childhood. He became an icon of the Kimberley district, fighting for its land, people and animals. Tragically, his croc farm claimed his life today, as he died, pinned between his vehicle and a tree. A terrible loss and a reminder of how fragile life can be, even for those who live life so large and strong. He was a true wildlife warrior; the second we’ve lost in less than a decade.
We run lower on inspiration each time a naturalist of Douglas’ stature passes. A new generation of documentary makers, naturalists and promoters of the natural world is needed. Who will take up the challenge to bring nature into the living rooms of our concrete jungles? People of the world will miss Malcolm Douglas, the speechless animals and trees may well miss him more.