Malcolm Douglas killed in car crash: reports
Malcolm Douglas killed in car crash: reports

Celebrated wildlife expert and quintessential bushman Malcolm Douglas has died after a car crash in the Broome wilderness park he made famous through TV shows and documentaries over the past four decades.

The 69-year-old famed Kimberley conservationist died from massive chest injuries after somehow becoming pinned between his Toyota Landcruiser and a tree, according to police.

Broome Det-Sgt Brett Baddock said the death appeared to be an unfortunate accident and there were no suspicious circumstances.

Unusually, Mr Douglas appeared to have become pinned between the car and the driver’s side door after the vehicle collided with a tree.

Det Baddock said no other people had been in the vehicle at the time.

"Mr Douglas was outside the vehicle and was pinned between the vehicle and a tree."

Workers at the farm discovered Mr Douglas’ body and contacted an ambulance and police about 6.30am. He was found to be dead at the scene with massive chest injuries.

The vehicle was undamaged in the incident.

"Obviously the employees are greatly saddened and disturbed by the tragic loss," he said.

"We’re conducting a thorough investigation on behalf of the coroner."

MrDouglas family is due to release a statement this afternoon.

Although originally from Melbourne, Mr Douglas had lived in Broome since 1978.

His involvement with crocodiles began in the late 1960s when he was one of the many young men making a living shooting them in the Northern Territory.

Mr Douglas had been unwell in recent weeks, spending time in Broome hospital being treated for blood poisoning caused when he stepped on an oyster.

Mr Douglas was born in Beechworth, north of Melbourne, and spent part of his childhood in the Victorian capital while his father was a headmaster in Frankston.

For a while, the family lived in Nauru.

He worked as a Riverina stock agent before becoming a filmmaker.

Peter Woods, a film-maker who has know Douglas for about 20 years and has helped him make documentaries on the plight of Australia’s bilbies said he had last spoken to Douglas two days ago and he was still "full of life".

"He’s been helping us do a documentary for Channel 7 to promote the Mandurah Boat Show and he was awesome as usual," he said.

"He was going to come to South Australia with us as well to raise more money for his bilbies, because that was his passion in life... he was just so passionate about trying to save native animals.

"He's awesome – you can't help get enthralled."

A passionate campaigner for the Kimberley environment, Douglas had dreamed of erecting a fence right across the Dampier Peninsula to keep feral cats and foxes out so it could flourish with native wildlife.

But Woods said he had been worried about Douglas in recent weeks and had implored him to take it easy.

In 2003, Douglas had narrowly survived a bout of prostate cancer and had been unwell again recently, spending time in Broome hospital being treated for blood poisoning after he stepped on an oyster.

"He's been crook in hospital and I've actually been telling him to slow down a bit... he’s been roaring off to check out bilby holes in Halls Creek, he's been looking after the crocodile park and his animals and been going flat out.

"When other people have said to him - why don’t you slow down and retire? He’'d say 'why do I want to – I love what I do'," Woods said.

"I told him to look after himself... he would say 'you can rest when you’re dead'.

"He was close to 70 and he had more life in him than young people... he was full of life... the most compassionate person you could ever imagine.

"He was very down to earth - a hands on sort of person - and nothing was too much. If you showed friendship towards Malcolm, he gives it back tenfold."

Douglas is survived by his wife Valerie, two children and several grandchildren.

In a 2006 interview with Griffin Longley of The West Australian, Mr Douglas recounted how his career as a filmmaker had its genesis in 1966.

On returning to his hometown of Melbourne after two years touring Australia in a short-wheel-based Land Rover with a friend, David Oldmeadow, Douglas was talked into giving slide shows of his travels at local scout halls. At the last hall the scout master asked the audience for donations, and the penny dropped.

"There was money all over the table and the scout master bagged it all up and said, 'Thanks very much - this will go towards the next jamboree’, and we barely had enough fuel to get home. And I said, Jesus, if we can do that on a slide night, why don’t we make a film?"

The pair bought an old Bolex camera with a wide-angle lens and some of the new colour film that had only just reached the market and headed back out into the bush to shoot their first film. Across the Top was released in 1967. The two-and-a-half-hour film quickly outgrew the scout halls and would go on to become an Australian adventure/documentary classic.

Malcolm Douglas' vehicle removed from the crash scene. Pic: Ingetje Tadros

The Broome Crocodile Park opened in 1983 to enormous success, with tourists from all over the world flocking to the park to see and feed his crocodiles.

Later in life, Mr Douglas was often overshadowed by the popularity of The Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin, who garnered global popularity with his exuberant demeanour and fearless behaviour.

However Mr Douglas was alway seen as the man who set the mould for adventurers to come.

"What you see is what you get," he said in a 2009 interview.

"I’m not fake and I don’t pre-plan takes, it’s all real. There’s no helicopter on standby if something goes wrong. In places like the Kimberley one mistake and you’re dead."

He was virtually an overnight success after his first wildlife show, Across The Top, was screened in 1976.

"I was filming Aboriginal people killing kangaroos and drinking the blood because there wasn’t any water," he said.

"No-one had seen anything like it and they loved it."

Mr Douglas was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2004 and told he had 18 months to live.

But just as he overcame the merciless terrain of the Australian outback and its venomous snakes and volatile crocs, Mr Douglas beat his predatory disease.

"It changes your attitude too," he told the ABC while battling his illness.

"You try and remain calmer. You try and appreciate life. You appreciate every day, you know? Because, from now on, I could have been dead, and I’m, you know ... I’m still kickin’."

Douglas is survived by his wife Valerie and two adult children, Amanda and Lachlan.

Malcolm Douglas with a rufous bettong. Pic: Flip Prior

The West Australian

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