Traditional owners plead for visitors to respect nature after Bloomfield crocodile attack: ABC

ABC Far North / By Christopher Testa

Link to story on ABC HERE

When wildlife officers shot dead a 4.2-metre saltwater crocodile near the community she calls home, a devastated Kathleen Walker called her sister to share the news.

Key points:

  • Traditional owners in Wujal Wujal are devastated about the death of a crocodile in the Bloomfield River
  • Wildlife officers say they killed the croc as it would have associated humans with a food source after attacking a man
  • Elders are pleading with visitors to the far north to respect nature and wildlife

The crocodile had killed a pet dog after launching itself at the dog’s owner near a boat ramp on the Bloomfield River.

The incident — captured on pixellated video footage that was later shared online — lasted less than a minute.

But for the Kuku Yalanji traditional owners of the area, the sadness will last much longer.

“We are all like one family,” Aunty Kathleen said from Wujal Wujal, about 160 kilometres north of Cairns.

“This is like my elder brother got shot, or maybe my son or my cousin.”

The Department of Environment and Science was unequivocal about the need to remove the crocodile from the river after the attack, concerned it had learnt to associate humans with food.

Aunty Kathleen, who would have preferred the crocodile be relocated rather than killed, said greater respect for wildlife and the wishes of traditional owners would have prevented the need for any action at all.

A photo of a woman with a palm tree in the background
Aunty Kathleen Walker is an elder and traditional owner in the Wujal Wujal community of Far North Queensland.(Supplied)

“People should respect and listen because we, black people, try and help and say to people not to get hurt by the crocodile,” the traditional owner said.

“Now the croc is gone, shot, and we are very sad to see that.

“If you’re going swimming, teasing, that’s what the crocodile will do – they’ll bite you.”

Aunty Kathleen said she was concerned the removal of a crocodile would lead to another reptile moving in, whose behaviour traditional owners would be unfamiliar with.

“I’m worried about the kids now,” she said.

‘People do not listen’

Authorities have reminded people about the importance of croc safety since last week’s attack, as has the man who was bitten.

Since then, an unrelated Instagram video depicting a man jumping into what was captioned “croc-infested waters” in North Queensland has also drawn criticism from conservationists.

Signage at a boat ramp along a tropical river
The crocodile was shot near the Bloomfield River boat ramp, where it had attacked a man and his dog.(Supplied: Department of Environment and Science)

Francis Walker, Aunty Kathleen’s sister and a tour manager in the Bloomfield area, said guides were often having to warn visitors against attempting risky behaviour around creeks and waterfalls or to respect sacred sites.

“When we’re there, we see people and say, ‘Don’t go swimming, read the sign’ but in most cases, people do not listen,” she said.

“What do we do? We can put a lot of signage about sacred sites, we can put signage about the crocodile but it comes back down to education.”

A sign in front of a creek, warning that a crocodile has been spotted recently and people should stay away from the water's edge
Crocodile danger signage, such as this in Kowanyama, is common across North Queensland.(ABC Far North: Holly Richardson)

Francis Walker said visitors should ask Aboriginal people for safety information when on country.

“We know some of our totems are dangerous but we’ve lived here for so long and we know that in our river we do have crocodiles,” she said.

“And yes, the numbers of crocodiles in the river have increased but we still have great respect. We still go hunting and gathering along the river.

“Bama [Aboriginal people] still do that — that’s our lifestyle.

A woman with a red and white shirt standing in front of a tropical palm
Francis Walker runs tours around the Bloomfield River in Far North Queensland.(Supplied)

“And it’s always nice, now and then, to see the croc, going past, doing their thing. We’re doing our thing.

“It takes people … to bring a different mindset on how people look at crocodiles.”

Cynthia Lui, a state MP whose vast electorate of Cook includes the Bloomfield, said there “needs to be further discussion” about how to deter people “from putting themselves in dangerous situations”.

“Nobody wants to see lives lost and, certainly, there was a pet involved in this and the croc,” Ms Lui said.

“There are always going to be crocs in our river systems, that’s a given.”

Last week’s crocodile attack was the first on a human in Queensland since November 2021.