We all know the character Crocodile Dundee, thanks to the film trilogy that happened to be Australia’s first blockbuster movie. But how many of you know the guy that inspired the main character Paul Hogan portrayed? Many Australians know of Rod Ansell as he’s one of the country’s legends, but it’s a story Americans should know.
A decade before Crocodile Dundee came out, Ansell made headlines by surviving a 56-day ordeal in the Outback. His story was so epic that a movie was made about him. Thing is, he never saw a dime from it. He didn’t even want the fame, actually, but it followed him anyways, up to his grand exit.
The Death of an Unknown Crazed Gunman
In 1999, in the middle of Australia’s Outback, police shot and killed a crazed gunman after he opened fire on them at a roadblock and killed one of their boys in blue. The gunman was nameless at that point, with no identification on him.
Only later was it revealed that he was the legendary barefoot bushman people knew as Rod Ansell. The 44-year-old spent his life in the wild, so it’s only fitting that he went out that way. Before he earned national fame, he was a buffalo catcher (something like the Australian version of a cowboy).
The Shoeless Outsider
He was short, wiry, and wide with blond hair and blue eyes. And he never ever wore shoes. This outsider literally spent most of his time outside, even when it nearly cost him his life. At 22, he spent eight weeks stranded on a remote and crocodile-infested river.
He never expected – nor did he ever pursue – the fame that his experience would bring, such as the interview on TV that inspired actor Paul Hogan to invent the character of Mick Dundee. Ansell was a loner in most ways, having left at 15 and moving to northern Australia to be with the buffalo.
A Doomed “Fishing” Trip
After having finished a job, the young loner set out on a boat in the Victoria River. He later confessed to his close friends that the purpose for his solo river mission was to poach crocodiles. At the time, though, he told hi girlfriend that he was going for a months-long “fishing” trip.
But his adventure was doomed from the get-go. Shortly after he began his trip, his 6-metre motorboat hit either a whale or giant crocodile (he assumed), before capsizing and sinking it. He then transferred himself and his two eight-week-old bull terrier puppies (one with a broken leg) into a 3-metre dinghy.
A Rifle, Some Milk, and a Dinghy
Ansell managed to salvage his gear (a rifle, 27 bullets, two knives and a sharpening stone) and some food he had with him (a can of powdered milk, peas, and some sugar). As for his dinghy, it only had one oar. With no fresh water, Ansell was in deep trouble.
He was now stranded almost 125 miles from the nearest area of civilization. On his first night, he, his dogs, and his dinghy drifted out into the Timor Sea and ended up on an island on a river he never meant to be on. He was no longer in control; nature was taking him on its course.
Beehives and Crocodile Heads
The bot moved up the river for the next couple of days, but Ansell was left marooned without fresh water and little to eat. Being mindful of the few bullets he had left, he shot wild cattle and buffalo when needed. He had to drink their blood to stay hydrated, too.
When he wasn’t chasing bees to find their hive for honey, he was protecting himself from crocodiles by sleeping in the fork of a tree. The angle gave him an advantage when he needed to shoot 5-metre croc as it charged at his dogs. He kept the beast’s head as a souvenir.
56 Days Later…
Ansell recalled that in those moments, he didn’t think he would ever get rescued. What he hoped to do was walk overland to a cattle station, as soon as the wet season arrived. But time kept passing, and passing. Finally, after 56 days in his stranded state, he was found.
Two Aboriginal stockmen and a cattle manager named Luke McCall stumbled upon the bushman and helped him to safety. Home at last, Ansell didn’t make a big deal about his adventure. What most people would find life-changing and incredibly terrifying, he mostly shrugged off.
The Media Thought Otherwise
Ansell explained in an interview that what he went through was being over-sensationalized. He explained: “All the blokes up in this country who work with cattle” – they have near-death experiences all the time.
“But they never talk about it… I think the opinion is that if you come through in one piece, and you’re still alive, then nothing else really matters. So that is how I looked at it. Until the paper got hold of the story, and that changed a lot of things.” Ansell quickly became a “modern-day Robinson Crusoe.”
Married With Children in the Wild
Later that same year, he met a new woman, 22-year-old radio operator Joanne van Os. The two married and started a family; two sons in 1979 and 1981. Together, they lived a simple life. A very, very simple life indeed – camping under a canvas sheet with no running water or electricity.
In 1979, after becoming a first-time dad, Ansell was asked to relive his adventures for a documentary called To Fight the Wild. The following year, it became a book. With all the publicity, rumors started spreading that Ansell made it all up.
Accused of Making It All Up
Some locals were doubtful about this bushman’s survival story and asked why he didn’t just follow the Fitzmaurice River back to civilisation. They accused Ansell of seeking publicity. In 1981, he was interviewed for an English talk show, and his story reached an even greater audience.
Barefoot, he told host Michael Parkinson that while staying in the city of Syndey (for the taping of the show), he slept on the floor of his room. It was a little anecdote that got inserted into the Crocodile Dundee script.
Sleeping on the Hotel Room Floor
When staying in a New York hotel, Mick Dundee does the same; he sleeps on the floor and – like Ansell was – he got confused when he saw the toilet’s bidet. Dundee was inspired by other things that Ansell did and had, such as being accepted by Arnhem Land’s Aborigines and speaking Urapunga fluently.
“When Crocodile Dundee came out, people started ringing me up and saying they saw all these similarities between my experience and the movie,” Ansell said. The Australian movie happened to do really well (over $300 million at the box office).
Not a Dime
Despite the film’s success, Ansell never received a dime, and he was reportedly bitter about it until his dying day. In fact, he wasn’t even allowed to promote his property as a tourist attraction which he wanted to name “The home of the real-life Crocodile Dundee.”
In 1988, he was named Territorian of the Year, but he still didn’t like being a local celebrity. There were also the local naysayers, who though his story was a bunch of BS. Yet “proving the point about the story being true or not wouldn’t matter that much,” Ansell explained.
Don’t Be on TV
“The people it would affect, who affect me, are the people who live where I work, and know me. And people up here have a phobia about appearing on the media. So that was detrimental to my standing in their eyes… they thought it was a terrible thing to do.”
Maybe they had a point; maybe it was bad luck. If that were true, then Ansell might have been cursed by his newfound spotlight in the media. Starting in the mid-80s, his life started getting more and more complicated.
Ansell Vs. the Government
By 1985, he was running a cattle station called Melaleuca. By the end of the decade, he got involved in a long-running dispute with the government over its plan to eradicate bovine brucellosis and tuberculosis. As a result of the new government program, Ansell was forced to kill 3,000 buffalo which he was intending to domesticate on his property.
He was never compensated for it. Then, mimosa weeds made most of his land useless. By 1991, he and his wife were forced to sell the land. Their marriage ended shortly after.
Penniless and On Drugs
Ansell started acting out. In 1992, he was convicted of stealing 30 cattle (worth $7,200) and was fined $520 after he assaulted a station manager. He was left jobless, penniless, and without much of a plan for work.
What he did next was grow cannabis and enter a relationship with a woman named Cherie Hewson. The two lived together along a river. Marijuana wasn’t the only thing Ansell was putting into his system. He was also injecting large amounts of amphetamines. With time, his behaviour grew increasingly erratic.
Ansell Vs. the Cops
His behavior eventually put him in a deadly situation – one that could easily have taken place in a cops and robbers movie. But in this case, on August 3, 1990, nobody won. Just as Ansell was shot dead on the side of the Stuart Highway roadblock, so was police officer Glen Huitson.
“The only verbal communication I had with the gunman was when I was reloading the shotgun for the first time,” the surviving officer said in a statement, who never spoken openly about the ordeal. “I called out to him to put his weapons down.”
High and With Nothing to Lose
To that, Ansell shouted back, “You’re all dead.” At the time, Ansell was on the run. And like most who find themselves in his situation and in his state, he (probably) felt that he didn’t have much to lose. At that point, he was wired on speed.
It had been over two decades since his 15 minutes of fame put him in a spotlight he never even wanted. Even after the fatal gun battle, local police said they lost “an all-round good bloke” that day. As for his two sons, they lost a father.
The Slain Sargeant
Then there was Sgt Huitson’s family, which was robbed of much more. Five years earlier, Huitson was commended for his bravery after arresting a drunk man wielding a knife (as well as a star picket and a pale of boiling water) who intended to harm another person.
He also received a Valour Award after convincing a delusional man, Wayne Costan – who tried to hijack a tourist coach with a sawed-off .22 rifle – top drop his weapon. He then tackled Costan to the ground. But when it came to facing off Ansell, Huitson didn’t make it.
Fatherless Kids and Grown Men in Tears
The 37-year-old sergeant left behind a then-infant daughter and five-year-old son to grow up without their dad. His widow, Lisa, took her husband’s posthumous Australia Bravery Medal home, along with her broken heart.
Former Police assistant commissioner, John Daulby, was one of the men in uniform who raced out to attend to the double killing that day. “Everyone was stunned,” he recalled. “It was just a tragedy. The grief at the scene is something that sticks with me – grown men in tears.”
On a Hunt for the Freemasons
As the account goes, Ansell had already wounded two men on a shooting spree before fleeing into the bush on the night of August 2, 1999. Apparently, he was convinced that members of the Freemasons had kidnapped his sons, who were by then 20 and 18.
According to his girlfriend, Cherie Ann Hewson, she told him that as a kid she saw the sacrifice of young girls that her family “brought out of the woods”. Who were these people? Apparently, they were members of a secret medieval fraternity, and she said the girls were bound, raped and slaughtered.
At the Root of His Insanity
The couple, obviously high on shared drugs, had a shared paranoia which came to a head when Hewson said she spotted three bow hunters. She saw them near their bush camp dressed in camouflage with night vision goggles.
The Coroner later said the “wretched drivel” was at the root of Ansell’s insanity. Ansell and Hewson had met a man named Steven Robinson and his partner, Lee-Anne Musgrave, who were living in a caravan. Ansell shot at their caravan six times. A neighbor heard the shots and jumped in his truck.
The Shootout Before the Shootout
The neighbor, David Hobden, armed with a double-barrel shotty, went to investigate the shootings. Unfortunately, he got caught in the fire, literally. Hobden lost an eye when Ansell shot a bullet at him through the windscreen of his truck.
Hobden then ran to warn his neighbour, Brian Williams, who was said to have “waxed wrath” at the state of his friend’s face. He grabbed a baseball bat and charged at Ansell, who was at that moment trying to steal Hobden’s truck. Things got worse from there.
Bullets Fired, Hands Blown Off
“I smacked him straight down the forehead, and that’s when he blew my hand off,” Williams told the police. “He was going on about stealing his children, and Freemasons, and being a baby killer… oh, just, he was mad, mate.”
Ansell then fired even more shots at Williams’ house before running away with a rifle in one hand and Hobden’s shotgun in the other. But before the final shootout with the police began, Hewson had already disappeared. Some said she may have committed suicide, but that was false.
A Hole the Size of a Baseball
At about 11 pm that night, August 2nd, two troop carriers and a dozen cops set up a command post. They manned the north roadblock and waited for Ansell to show up. Sgt Huitson and his second-in-charge, O’Brien, guarded the south barrier.
Each had a pistol, a 12-gauge shotgun, and a standard police issue .308 rifle. But Ansell didn’t show up until the next day. At 10:30 am, a road worker was leaning on side of the cop car, talking to the officers when suddenly a bullet ripped a hole “the size of a baseball” in his pelvis.
From Behind a Waterpipe
The man was flung forward onto the ground. His colleague quickly dragged him out of view as Snr-Const. O’Brien covered them. More shots were being fired from behind a roadside water pipe. Ansell had sneaked through the bush, hidden by tree shadows.
O’Brien heard Huitson shout out, “Get on the ground.” He then “swung round to look over the boot of the car with my Glock drawn,” O’Brien recounted. “I saw my shots hit the ground close to where Ansell was.” After calling for help, Huitson grabbed his 12-gauge shotgun.
If Only His Vest Was On Correctly
Huitson started firing towards Ansell; one through the windows of the cruiser and two over the roof. One of the bullets from Ansell’s rifle ricocheted off the metal door and struck Huitson in the stomach. Although he was wearing a bulletproof vest, it wasn’t properly fastened.
The bullet tore right through a velcro strap that would have been covered by a Kevlar panel if it was properly fastened. Huitson fell down, landing on top of the shotgun. O’Brien wasn’t wearing a vest, and luckily dodged a bullet.
O’Brien Takes Over
He then rolled his bleeding colleague off the shotgun, quickly reloaded it and fired back at Ansell. “I realised unless TRG arrived I could run out of ammunition, in which case I would have to retreat with the others,” O’Brien said.
“I loaded two more rounds, looked up and saw the gunman wriggling forward. I heard a sound like a match being struck just past the right side of my head.” At that point, the troop carriers came speeding down the highway. It was like a scene from a movie…
The first driver slammed the brakes as he heard gun fire, which sent the 4WD rolling as the second car crashed into it. Ansell, who was crawling on the desert plain up to that point, now got up on one knee to line up the cops, who were crawling out of the vehicle.
O’Brien, however, finally got a clear shot of Ansell. According to the autopsy, 33 bullet wounds hit Ansell’s body. Two of them were fatal. He fell into the dirt. Huitson was declared dead upon arrival at the hospital.
In the aftermath, O’Brien was scrutinised and underwent a rigorous police investigation, but was ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing. He was then praised for his “simply outstanding” actions that day.
“If he felt any fear, it seems to have been submerged by his concern for his wounded colleague and others,” the Magistrate announced. “There can be little doubt his bravery prevented further loss of life.” As for Ansell’s crazed girlfriend, Hewson turned herself in to the police four days later. So, no; she didn’t kill herself.
The Bitter Barefoot-er
Writer Robert Milliken spent time with Ansell when they were working on projects together, and he saw how bitter the lone adventurer became. When Milliken met him back in 1988, he described Ansell as “strikingly handsome with blond hair, blue eyes and bare feet.”
“He was charming,” Milliken said. “He seems never to have worn shoes, even when travelling on aircraft and staying in city hotels at the height of his fame.” He said how the press “went mad” and a “hero had been born.”
Ending in Tears
“I didn’t know Ansell really well, but I’d met him a few times,” a former reporter, Chips Mackinolty, said. Mackinolty was allowed through the roadblock earlier on the day that the shootout happened. “He was tough as nails, the sort of person that could do what he said he did and did do it when he was working as a stockman, as a wrangler and that stuff.”
Mackinolty considered Ansell “an extraordinary person at that level,” which makes it tragic that it “ended up in tears.”
Goose Steps on Your Own Grave
The reporter recalled it being one of those “goose steps on your own grave” feelings – being so close to what ended up as a very awful thing. “It’s always sad when the threat of poverty and frustrated ambition get mixed up and send people off the edge, big time,” Mackinolty said.
“I was completely shocked, as were a lot of people who knew him in the earlier years.” According to Magistrate Wallace, the difference between the “original Crocodile Dundee who appeared on television” and the drug addict who weighed just over 100 pounds when he died, was very noticeable.
The Man Who Murdered a Cop
According to Mackinolty, Ansell’s drug abuse made him so confused that he was believing fantasies and his actions “caused immediate agony and suffering to the men he wounded.” In the end, his legacy of being a hardy bushman was eclipsed by becoming the man who murdered a heroic cop.
Ansell’s motive for taking on the police, rather than escaping them, isn’t very clear. Assistant Commissioner Daulby said after the shootings that he’s “at a loss to say anything about the motive at this point of time.”
He Had a Very Good Shot
“If this person wanted to secrete himself, he could easily have done that; if he wanted to escape, he could easily have done that, he was a bushman,” Daulby continued. Luke McCall, one of the men who rescued Ansell 22 years earlier from his infamous adventure, said the deranged gunman could have killed all the cops if he wanted to.
“It might sound macabre, but he was a very, very good shot,” McCall said. His decision to take his anger out on the police was, according to psychiatrist Robert Parker, was because of his paranoid psychotic state.
His Mental State
And that state, of course, was created and further fueled by his amphetamine use. His behaviour prior was “consistent with amphetamine intoxication with restlessness, hyper-vigilance, anxiety, anger and impaired judgement.”
Ansell’s legacy may have been majorly tainted by his final act, but it turns out that there’s more fame to be had for the late bushman, even after his death. Apparently, a pair of handsome and famous Australian brothers have a connection to him. I’m sure you’ve heard of the Hemsworth brothers…
The Hemsworth Brothers Connection
Luke Hemsworth, the eldest brother, told HuffPost about who he thinks invented swagger: Crocodile Dundee. There had been rumors that they were related to the ‘guy who inspired Paul Hogan’s character in Crocodile Dundee.’
As it turns out, the rumors were true. “I was related to — my mom’s sister married a guy called Rod Ansell, who’s notorious as one of the people who has inspired that story,” Hemsworth confirmed. Funnily enough, Hemsworth even bought Paul Hogan’s house in Malibu, making the Dundee connection even deeper.