It’s difficult to know where to begin. Whilst Elton John encouraged people to do the ‘crocodile rock’, even he would draw the line at the idea of climbing into an enclosure to give one of them a pat. In truth, the old children’s song had it right: never smile at a crocodile. And, much like Advance Australia Fair, there’s a little known second verse of ‘Never Smile at a Crocodile’ which, in addition to encouraging people not to flash their pearly whites at any member of the crocodylidae family, flat-out urges folks not to get half-cut and decide to slap one of them around. If only Michal Newman had been paying attention.
Newspapers are sometimes accused of sensationalizing things. Whilst this may be true from time to time, they handled the news of a crocodile attack on Mr Newman with a degree of understatement that can fairly be described as ‘beautiful.’ The attack occurred after Mr Newman climbed into the animal’s enclosure. The newspaper reports simply stated that he was ‘believed to have been drunk at the time.’
Fatso the crocodile lives at Broome’s crocodile park. Mr Newman usually lives in Perth but, on this particular evening, had taken up residence at a local tavern. That is, until he was ejected on the grounds of being drunk. In similar circumstances, many of us would probably head for home, notwithstanding a possible diversion for a souvlaki. Mr Newman, however, decided to go and pat a five metre reptile.
In his defence, Mr Newman noted that he believed that crocodiles were slow and stupid. Given the events that were to transpire, Fatso the crocodile could be forgiven for reaching a similar conclusion regarding Mr Newman.
Having entered the crocodile park, Mr Newman came across Fatso’s enclosure. According to reports, the crocodile was ‘growling’ in its pen. Frankly, that would have been enough to convince me that getting in was not such a great idea. However, Mr Newman is made of, if not sterner stuff, then certainly stuff with a higher alcohol content. After trying to touch the creature through the fence, Mr Newman decided that this was not enough and he went ‘over the wall’ in an attempt to get up close and personal.
In 1978, Dan Hill had a smash hit with a song that claimed, ‘Sometimes when we touch, the honesty’s too much.’ Whether Mr Newman was overwhelmed by honesty or the reptile’s razor sharp teeth as they sank into his leg is, frankly, anyone’s guess. Leaving aside the fact that the creature is a crocodile, that its name is ‘Fatso’ should, of itself, be considered something of a cause for caution. For myself, I make it a rule not to avoid altercations with anyone called ‘Fatso’, ‘Chopper’ or ‘The Enforcer’. In my experience, little good can ever come from such confrontations.
That said, the plan was faultless. Mr Newman decided that he would jump the fence, walk up behind the animal and sit on its back. He would then be well-placed to pat it to his heart’s content. With a plan like that, it’s difficult to see where it all went wrong. However, according to Mr Newman, before he had a chance to lay so much as a finger on it, the crocodile had turned and sunk its teeth into his leg.
Whilst Mr Newman was, without doubt, surprised, the crocodile was most probably disappointed. Poor Fatso must have thought all his Christmases had come at once and that he was about to chow down on some unsuspecting piece of fauna only to find he had an inebriated bogan stuck between his teeth. As Mr Newman tells it, he grabbed the fence and told the crocodile to let him go. Luckily, crocodiles are well known for their willingness to respond to such requests when put in the right way and released its grip. It was all Mr Newman needed to clamber back over the fence to safety and, naturally, back to the pub.
For whilst most mere mortals would probably head straight for the Casualty Department of their nearest hospital, Mr Newman decided that a different approach to pain relief was called for. He returned to the tavern and had a beer. Then, and only then, did he go to Hospital.
We all do stupid things. Frank Zappa put it best when he described us as ‘Dumb all over, a little ugly on the side.’ Truth is, for all the ridiculous and brain-meltingly, flabbergastingly stupid things we do, it’s important to have people like Michal Newman around. It helps put our own stupidity into perspective. Ever driven away from a petrol station with the petrol cap on the roof of the car? That’s nothing compared to leaping into a crocodile enclosure and trying to give it a hug. Forgot to pay your electricity bill on time? At least you didn’t have a five metre reptile lodge its incisors in your lower calve.
Max Walker once wrote a book entitled How to Kiss A Crocodile. I think I might send Mr Newman a copy to read during his convalescence so that, next time, he’ll be prepared. I’m sure he’ll be excited to receive it and dive right in. As for me, I think it only fair that both Mr Newman and Fatso should have something to sink their teeth into.