Adelaide River crocodile guide Harry Bowman says farewell after 30 years
Harry Bowman has been the face of the Top End’s crocodile cruises for more than 30 years, but the time has come for him to say farewell to his “business partner” — Brutus the giant saltwater croc.
A legend of the Adelaide River, Mr Bowman reckons he would not be in business at all without his world-famous, five-metre mate.
Now nearing his 70s and looking forward to retirement, Mr Bowman started his tourism career trekking through the uncharted paths of Kakadu National Park and can look back at an “incredibly fulfilling career”.
“I would have to sit down for a few hours to come back with a list of my favourite experiences,” he said.
“I’ve always loved my thong-tan along my toes.
“I have always said those are my work boots — I have been very lucky to rock into work in a t-shirt with a huge smile every day,
“From Kakadu down to the banks of the Adelaide River, I have met so many wonderful people from around the world.
Mr Bowman said he wanted to “enjoy the next few years”.
“I have always said to myself ‘don’t leave it too bloody late’.”
A business partner named Brutus
Mr Bowman said he had relied on one colleague appearing alongside his tinny as often as possible — Brutus the saltie.
“I have come to know Brutus for the past 25 years,” Mr Bowman said.
“He would be as big as a trooper van now and he has lost most of his teeth.”
Mr Bowman said Brutus used to be a more healthy specimen a few years back but at one stage turned up “with a leg missing”.
“Doesn’t stop him. He knocks off a pig here and there and he would be around 90. Who knows he might even outlive me!”
Mr Bowman said learning to understand the crocodiles that inhabit the Adelaide river took time.
He said it was about building trust.
“When we first received our government permit to feed crocodiles, it took us weeks to lure them close enough to the boat.
“Believe it or not crocs can be pretty shy creatures,” he said.
“They spent about five weeks sussing us out and eventually came closer to grab at the bits of meat.
“A little while later they get to know and trust you. Now I give a few of them a scratch on the back of the head with a stick.”
Mr Bowman said there had only been a few incidents where he has had to get up-close and personal.
“A few years ago old Brutus had a vine wound around his guts and down his throat.
“He came up to the boat jumped up and as I gave him a scratch I noticed he was looking really crook.
“He’s my business partner so I can’t let him die with this vine down his throat.
“While he was up against the boat I shoved a small hook down to grab it out and pulled about two metres of vine out of his jaws.
“My tour was pretty grossed out to say the least, but I had to look after him and help him out. I couldn’t do this gig without Brutus.”
Tragedy on the riverbanks
Despite his admiration for Brutus and the rest of the river family, Mr Bowman said he witnessed one event which reminded him that crocodiles are dangerous predators.
“I was coming back from a day trip and I looked under the bridge over the river.
“There was a young bloke wading in the water with a fishing rod,” he said.
“I kick myself for not being a little more firm with this fella, but I told him to be careful and keep an eye out for crocs — especially one the locals nicknamed Michael Jackson.
“Only a few hours later that bloke was taken by Michael, and his wife watched the whole thing happen. I can still hear her screaming, it was horrific.”
Mr Bowman said he still felt some guilt for not coaxing the fisherman away from the riverbank.
“Two lives were lost that day because after the bloke was taken the cops came down and shot poor Michael Jackson,” he said.
“These creatures are apex predators, you can’t be too careful around them and there are no second chances with a croc.”
Although Mr Bowman has passed his company down to his son and plans to travel around Australia during his first year of retirement, he said he would not be giving up on crocs completely.
“We have quite a lot of croc memorabilia around the house, a few framed photos, some skulls and teeth. the grandkids love it,” he said.
“I won’t be saying goodbye to Brutus completely, I will still visit and join in on the tours occasionally and head down to say hello.”