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Australian conservationist and adventurer Malcolm Douglas

By David Hague

Conservationist, adventurer and raconteur Malcolm Douglas is well known to most Australians and many overseas via his Channel 7 films on Australia and the stunning Kimberley in particular. David Hague took a spin through Broome recently and caught up with Malcolm for a chat.

I don't think I have ever seen anyone move so fast in my life. Between Malcolm Douglas and the biggest crocodile I have ever seen was only a waist high cyclone fence. In one hand he held a Sony Z7 camera and the other was a big ball tethered to a thick piece of rope. Minutes before, we were looking at a pond of green, filthy water that was perfectly still. We were inside one of the pens that Malcolm Douglas has on his property near Cable Beach in Broome in the north-west of Western Australia where not only can tourists get up close and personal with the crocs, but Malcolm also has a flourishing conservation and crocodile farming business in place.

I was inside the main gate of the pen (with much trepidation I can assure you) and digital still camera primed. Malcolm hurled the tethered ball into the water and once it had settled, gave it a huge pull. I was prepared for something, but even then I was almost caught out as a huge reptilian body hurtled itself out of the water, all teeth and anger, aimed straight at Malcolm. As I said, his turn of speed was simply amazing as he side stepped out of the way as the croc smashed into the cyclone fencing. All this while filming as well!


Malcolm Douglas aims his Sony Z7 at the giant Croc

It was then I realised I had involuntarily taken half a dozen steps backward! Crocodiles have always terrified me, but after that show of speed and strength, I now had a healthy respect as well. Earlier in the day, Malcolm had kindly offered me some time to chat about his work and his passion. I was actually very lucky to get this. The appointment had been made a week before, but last night, a tree on the property had fallen across one of the pens, potentially allowing some of these ancient animals to wonder around and have a look at the tourists - from  very close up.

Malcolm and his team had had the unenviable job of securing the critter before fixing the pen. It was now 2:00pm, and even though it was May and the dry season, it was oppressively humid to this southerner. I found out what humid really was later in the afternoon when he took me through one of the farm hatcheries where the roof of the cages are covered by polythene and water flows freely.

Sitting on his verandah - the house is at the very rear of the park nestled under some trees - we could hear the sounds of animal life all around us.  On the tape I used to record the interview, the clear chirruping of a family of local magpie geese can clearly be heard. I promised Malcolm that as his day had been interrupted by the falling tree, I would only take a minimal amount of time and get out of there to let him get on with the important things. By the time we had finished, Malcolm had very kindly donated almost two hours of his time, given me the grand tour of his studio, the farm, the pens and given a running commentary!
I had seen many of the Malcolm Douglas Adventures TV series, and indeed, as I lived in the Kimberley as a youngster until I was 18, had in fact been lucky enough to visit a lot of the spots shown in the films. (I can honestly say I am one of the very few people who have stood on the bottom of Lake Argyle near Kununurra - before the Ord River Dam was built).

Malcolm is now the veteran of more than 50 films, with his first being made in 1967 - a documentary about travelling from Darwin in the Northern Territory to Cape York, the northern most tip of Australia in Queensland. His current project involves a plan to save the bilby (a tiny marsupial. Kangaroos, wombat, wallabies etc., are all marsupials and indigenous to Australia) from extinction and just after I left, he was off to the Great Sandy Desert to find these elusive and rare creatures for yet another documentary with a working title of "The Last of the Bilbies." His studio has posters he has designed urging the public to take notice of their plight. During our talk he is also passionate about and laments the loss of the aboriginal (native Australian) indigenous way of life; "It's gone he says. We can never film it again. All that 16mm film is in the archives, but the real thing will never come back. Currently made documentaries are just re-enactments."

On the very large desk sits his editing machine. Malcolm is Mac-based and uses Final Cut Studio to put together his films. Make no bones, there is no large crew here. He is completely self-taught and apart from a assistant out in the field, Malcolm's projects are put together by him - a solo effort right down to burning the DVDs and packing the contents for the enormous amounts he sells through the shop front at the Park, and via the Internet from his online shop-- around 20 to 50 a day.

He has been faithful to Channel 7 for much of his filming career except for a short stint with a 13 part series with Channel 9 when media mogul and famed Las Vegas gambler, Kerry Packer first bought the station. In fact, Malcolm believes no one in Australian television has been on as long as he has with the exception of funnyman and compere Bert Newton. One series, Across the Top, has the privilege of being one of the highest rated programs on 7 ever (excepting the news) with a viewing audience of 1.5 million says Malcolm. As well as Australia, his films are sold to Europe and to a lesser extent, the United States.

His major camera is a Sony FX7; it is probably the most battered looking piece of video equipment I have ever seen, but never misses a beat. I swear there was a croc tooth embedded in the side! Considering some of the places and locations that camera has been hauled to, it's not surprising, and is a wonderful testament to Sony's equipment and its ability to take punishment beyond the realms of a nice air-conditioned studio.
He doesn't bother with external sound these days, instead taking everything to camera, it's just too fiddly he says and the mics available these days for on-camera work are good enough.

At the end of the day, the imagery tells the full story of Malcolm's talent and love of the country in equal dollops. Perhaps a quote sums it up; "Film making is easy these days, but there is a trap people fall into. Because cameras - especially HD cameras - are so affordable yes, people think that having a good Sony or Canon automatically makes them a good filmmaker."

The biggest problem he has he says is that of finding time. He is constantly in demand - as well as the constraints of the croc farm he is off to the desert, taking tours and a million other things it seems. While I was there, he got a phone call from someone in Halls Creek (also in the Kimberley) wanting to paint his portrait for the Archibald Prize, Australia's most famous portrait painting competition! You'll never get him to sit still long enough his wife says. That I can believe.


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David is the owner and publisher of Australian Videocamera. He has a background in media dating back to 1979 when he first got involved with photojournalism in motorsport, and went from there into technology via a 5 year stint with Tandy Computers.

Moving back to WA, David wrote scripts for Computer Television for video training for the just released Windows and Office 95 among others, and was then lured to Sydney to create web sites for the newly commercial Internet in 1995, building hundreds of sites under contract to OzEmail including Coates Hire, Hertz Queensland, John Williamson, the NSW Board of Studies and many, many more.

David can be contacted via  david@auscamonline.com


Related Keywords:filmmaking, Australian Crocodiles , Cable Beach , Broome, Malcolm Douglas Adventures TV

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