'North Queenslanders are living in a croc Jurassic Park'
STUART Waugh felt safer 20 metres from a carnivorous leopard seal snaking its way towards him in Antarctica than he does living 100 metres from one of North Queensland's major rivers.
"Crocodiles, mate," he says. "We're living in a Jurassic Park up here in North Queensland."
Mr Waugh was one of the speakers at a public hearing into the Safer Waterways Bill held in Townsville on Tuesday, with another held in Mackay yesterday.
The retired Townsville Airport technical services manager lives 100 metres from the Ross River, where crocs are regularly sighted.
"I've lived here 30 years but it's only been in recent years the croc problem has got so bad," Mr Waugh says.
"I want to take my daughter fishing but I can't, there's a very good chance we'll get taken by a crocodile. I don't want to walk my dog at Pallarenda Beach because crocs patrol that beach."
The 72-year-old says as well as public safety, the saltie problem is causing grief for the state's tourism.
"They closed The Strand due to croc sightings, one of the premier attractions of Townsville," Mr Waugh says.
"While the crocodiles are in that area, the council closes the beach and if tourists know there's crocs in the water, they won't go in the water."
He says eventually, tourists just won't return. "Are we serious about tourism? All these advertisements, young people surfing, swimming, beach volleyball... where the bloody hell are you? In the future it could be 'Holiday in Queensland: Great one day, get eaten the next."
Mr Waugh says he's "used to apex predators" having spent a year at Casey Station in Antarctica in 1976 where he was "stalked twice" by carnivorous leopard seals and encountered killer whales.
He recalls one encounter, where he was walking alone along a frozen bit of ocean.
"I was about 20 metres from the edge, the next minute I heard - plop - a very large noise," Mr Waugh says intently.
"I turned around and a leopard seal hauled itself out of the water and looked straight at me, and then snaked towards me like a snake would do along the ground, very fast... I was out of there quick."
He says he's "probably one of very few people in this world" that's been stalked by a leopard seal, but he says he wasn't afraid as he was on solid ground, not in their territory in the water.
"Crocodiles are a totally different story," Mr Waugh says. "They can run faster than I can run. They might be more interested in dogs but they can take humans, too."
The proposed Katter's Australian Party Safer Waterways Bill 2018 would make it mandatory for "rogue" crocodiles to be removed from Queensland's populated waterways if the reptiles posed a threat to human safety.
Crocs south of the Boyne River
A map showing confirmed and reported sightings of crocodiles south of their accepted range.
In 2016, a 4.7-metre saltwater crocodile was caught by wildlife officers on The Strand. It took five rangers, one boat, police and onlookers willing to pitch in to remove the one-eyed croc in a mission that ended close to midnight on February 3.
"We have short memories but this happened and it can happen again in all other susceptible populated areas of Queensland," Mr Waugh says. "What would have happened if that croc had been relocated to the waterways of southeast Queensland, the Gold Coast, the north coast, the Brisbane River or Moreton Bay? There would have been an enormous outcry.
"People would not tolerate it. Politicians would not tolerate it. Why do the rest of the people of Queensland have to tolerate it and put up with crocodiles in their backyard?"
Mr Waugh says if the problem isn't rectified, he wouldn't be surprised if crocodiles were sighted as far south as the Gold Coast, cruising the surf beaches as they often do at Mackay's Eimeo Beach and The Strand.
"I don't think the people of Queensland should have to be fearful of going into the water and being taken by a crocodile," he says.
"Why should I, and all other humans, have to always think crocodile when we go near a waterway in Queensland?
"I cannot take my child - and other humans cannot take their children and grandchildren - swimming, fishing and walking near waterways and enjoying these and other pursuits."
But Mr Waugh is clear on his position on culling: It should only be a last resort.
"I suggest that all crocodiles found within a 150km radius exclusion zone around any human habitation be removed and relocated to a special crocodile sanctuary to be created in a pristine, uninhabited, remote environment, such as can be found at Cape York in Queensland," he says.
"It can be managed by rangers like is done at Kakadu in the Northern Territory and like the great wildlife parks of Africa.
"It will ensure the preservation of the species, and provide a resource location for commercial exploitation and it will become a significant tourist attraction there."
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