Former crocodile hunter John Preston pictured hunting in this photograph, which is not dated.
Former crocodile hunter John Preston pictured hunting in this photograph, which is not dated. Contributed

Former crocodile hunter rubbishes calls for culls

A FORMER crocodile hunter who built a business selling skins and claims he used to swim with the marine predators has rubbished dramatic calls for culls.

"I just wonder how bloody silly these people are. They think a crocodile would crawl out of the river and chase them down," John Preston exclaimed.

The 86-year-old, who grew up on a cane farm at Mount Pelion, north of Mackay, began shooting crocodiles for their skins at age 14, and still has all his appendages, as he jokingly demonstrated.

Mr Preston was so successful hiding in the mud or mangroves or aboard a tin canoe or wooden dinghy, wielding a .22 and then .303 rifle, that he was able to buy his own cane farm in the area before he turned 19.

"I was told years ago I'd never come home for dinner, but I walked in the door every time," he laughed.

Crocodile hunting was legal in Queensland until 1974 when legislation protecting salt and freshwater crocodiles came into force. That legislative measure has led to a boom in crocodile numbers, some have claimed, increasing risks of attacks along our shores.

However, scientists across the state, including University of Queensland researcher Associate Professor Bryan Fry, have downplayed that risk and said numbers of the apex predators are recovering after they were slaughtered wholesale in previous years.


John Preston, 86, of North Mackay spent several decades hunting crocodiles when it was legal in Queensland.
John Preston, 86, of North Mackay spent several decades hunting crocodiles when it was legal in Queensland. Luke Mortimer

The Safer Waterways Bill, which seeks to establish an authority in Cairns with the power to cull, has been discussed across the north, including Mackay, this week.

Mr Preston, who now lives in North Mackay, claims to have once come across a crocodile measuring about 5.4 metres (18 foot) in Murray Creek, believes the Greens lead Senate candidate Larissa Waters' comments on ABC's Q&A television show on Monday came "closer to the mark" than many realise.

Ms Waters suggested Australians need to "learn to live with our natural environment", later adding "well, many of the people that are taken by crocs have often had a couple to drink and they're going into the water after dark".

Her comments were met with loud jeers from some of the live audience at Mackay Entertainment and Convention Centre (MECC). However, Mr Preston believes silly behaviour and a lack of understanding about avoiding attacks is a factor.

Many politicians, Mr Preston believes, are out of touch regarding the prevalence and likelihood of attacks and are dramatising the situation.

He took exception to Bob Katter's claim a person is torn to pieces by a crocodile every three months in North Queensland, which is false.

"It's loose talk, as far as I'm concerned," Mr Preston said, adding that avoiding an attack is easy with a little bit of common-sense.

"I've been amongst them. I grew up with them. They are cunning and dangerous for those who lose sight that they are cold-blooded and unforgiving.

"They are definitely dangerous, but just respect them and keep your distance and you'll be okay."

Mr Preston pointed out Australia is jam-packed with creatures that potentially can kill us, whether it was an irujankdi jellyfish, redback spider or great white shark, to name just a few.


Former crocodile hunter John Preston pictured at age 17.
Former crocodile hunter John Preston, of Mackay, pictured at age 17. Contributed

He described avoiding the "boss of the creek", and any harm that may come from crossing their path, as second nature if you've been raised in 'croc country'.

"If you understand them, they're not dangerous. That's what I found anyway. If I was culling, you'd only take out the ones that are savage," he said.

Mr Preston, who claims to have swum with 1.8m metre (six foot) crocodiles in his heyday without issue, said he'd seen clueless swimmers in areas known to house the largest and most aggressive of the reptiles.

"I've come across a lot of people who disrespect the crocodiles in my life. I was clued up, because I grew up with them," he said.

"You just need to understand how they act. The little fellows, they're no trouble. The six-footers will keep away. You start getting much bigger and you're in trouble."

In some respects, Mr Preston's comments echo the Queensland Government's Crocwise guidelines. The government states the public must "take responsibility for your own safety" and to "expect crocodiles in all North Queensland waterways, even if there is no warning sign".

Visit online for a long list of safety tips.