Catching crocodiles never gets boring for Darwin born-and-bred local, Tommy Nichols. “I still love getting up in the morning and getting that adrenalin rush each time I catch a croc, especially a big one,” Tommy said.
“I’ve caught thousands of crocs over the years and, each time I do, I am helping the public stay safe, and that’s what keeps me motivated to go to work each day.”
Tommy has been at the forefront of crocodile management for almost two decades, but his career as a wildlife ranger almost didn’t happen.
“I was born at what was called the Palmerston Hospital back in those days (1953) up at Myilly Point and knew from a young age I wanted to be a wildlife ranger here in the Territory,” Tommy said. “I did an apprenticeship straight out of school and applied for the job as a wildlife ranger with the government four times before I got in. “Each time I missed out, it was some bloke from down south who got the job. “Eventually, the bosses at the time decided to give a local the gig, and here I am 32 years later, doing what I love doing.” Tommy started his career baiting dingos at Borroloola in the Gulf of Carpentaria before being transferred to Cape Don, at the tip of Cobourg Peninsula. He was the first ranger based at Cape Don after the Cobourg Marine Park was officially declared a conservation area in 1983, before becoming the first ranger to manage the newly-created Litchfield National Park in 1986. “And then this job came up, catching crocodiles, 19 years ago,” Tommy said. “It was the dawn of a new era in the Territory’s history of crocodile management. “The original crocodile management unit was me, and another bloke, Neville Haskins, and we did the whole lot including population surveys in most of the Top End’s main waterways, not just catching crocs. “It was a lot different back then to how things are now. Not only are there more crocs and humans; the focus on safety is more stringent than it’s ever been. “When we started croc management in 1996, we were in dinghies of about 3.8m long. So if we caught a decent-size croc, you’d have one bloke pulling it in while he was being held on to by the other bloke, just so you didn’t fall in. “After those early days, it became very obvious that we needed bigger, stronger and more stable boats with side railings if we were going to keep catching crocs, safely. “Simply put, the smaller the boat, the greater the risk of crocodile attack.”
The modern-day crocodile management unit comprises five members who check and rebait the many permanent and mobile croc traps in some of the Top End’s most popular waterways, while also responding to call outs from the public.
“One of the big differences I’ve noticed is how seriously the public takes their own safety, especially since the Parks and Wildlife Commission NT launched the Be Crocwise campaign in 2009. “Many great things have come out of it as people know more than ever to Be Crocwise when in or around Top End waters,” Tommy said. “This means understanding that crocs will see you before you see them and to report problem crocodiles to 0419 822859 in Darwin, or 0407 958405 in Katherine.”
While Tommy’s job is always varied, one day in April this year was a little different again; Prince Harry joined the team for the evening to hone his croc-catching skills! “It’s not every day you get to meet royalty so when I was told there was a small possibility of meeting Prince Harry while he was in Darwin, I did everything I could to make sure it happened, including keeping it a secret,” Tommy shared. “It was the first time any of us had met a member of the Royal Family and I know that catching a 3.1m saltie in Darwin Harbour was a big highlight for him too.” Watch Croc Wise video clip with Tommy Nichols www.becrocwise.nt.gov.au