Malcolm Douglas's death a tragic end to love story - The West Australian
Visitors always ask about Malcolm Douglas on our Broome and Around Malcolm Douglas Crocodile Park Tour. It’s with a sad heart and respect for Valerie, his wife that we compassionately share little detail of his tragic accident.
We however, love to add to our tours, just how Valerie and the family and staff are committed every single day to his cause and legacy.
Running tours at the Croc Park are a daily inspiration and every day is never the same.
This article provides some background to the dreadful passing of Malcolm but the shinning love that his adoring wife, Valerie has for him.
The West Australian
Saturday, 27 August 2011 10:06AM
Malcolm' Douglas’s Death a tragic end to love story
Sitting on her veranda behind Broome's Crocodile Park, Valerie Douglas absentmindedly strokes her dog, Boondi III, who gazes up at her adoringly.
"She sleeps on the bed with me - sometimes we lie there together and I cry and she licks my face," she says. "Sometimes I wish she could talk - she was the last one to see Malcolm alive."
It's been almost a year since Kimberley conservationist Malcolm Douglas died in a car accident at his wilderness park, and for Valerie his spirit still looms large.
It lingers especially around the battered, beige Toyota Landcruiser parked close to the house. When his body was discovered on September 23, 2010, Boondi III was sitting quietly by his side.
"Whenever I see one of those vehicles coming along the road, that particular make and colour, I think …" Valerie says, with a sharp intake of breath.
Malcolm's death was a sudden and tragic end to a love story which began in the 1960s when Valerie King, a farmer's daughter, met Malcolm Douglas, a charismatic stock and station agent in the Riverina region of NSW.
The pair hit it off, but love didn't blossom until they returned from their travels - three years in Europe for Valerie and Malcolm's epic journey around Australia with David Oldmeadow, resulting in the classic documentary, Across the Top.
The couple married and had two children, Lachlan and Mandy, now both in their 30s. Valerie says she often felt like a single mother as they grew up as Malcolm was by then making several films a year - he went on to produce more than 50.
When he returned from his long trips out bush, he would go straight to the studio and emerge only for meals. As his star rose, Valerie guarded her children's privacy fiercely and it wasn't until they were teenagers that they realised their dad was "a bit different": "He was a man who made really interesting films and ate witchetty grubs".
The couple first visited Broome in the mid-1970s, when Cable Beach was little more than a caravan park. Malcolm was hunting for a place to house rogue crocodiles, after becoming involved with them in the NT in the late 1960s.
He secured five acres of bush blocks and built a shed, a house and a shop before installing his first crocodile ponds. For years, he travelled between Sydney and Broome, sleeping in the shed between trips and adding crocodiles as they were caught.
The Broome Crocodile Park opened in 1983 and was an immediate hit with tourists from all over the world. After business flourished, the couple moved to Broome for good in 1994.
"I never planned to come and live in Broome - he said we'll put three to five years in and see how it goes and that was 20 years ago," Valerie says.
After people kept bringing them native animals, Malcolm decided to start a wildlife park on 30ha of land he'd acquired for his crocodile farm, 16km from Broome.
Starting by breeding 20 female crocodiles from Queensland with the wild crocs, Malcolm slowly turned his fledging farm into a commercial success.
Now, about 300 first-grade skins a year wing their way to France, where they are used to make couture handbags worth tens of thousands of dollars.
"Every year we'd improve and in the end, we were really good at it - about five years ago, the French said 'you are the best crocodile famers in the world'," Valerie says.
"That was the end of it for Malcolm - he'd proved his point and lost interest in it after that."
When Malcolm died, Valerie was in Sydney and looking for an apartment, intending to semi-retire there to spend more time with her children and grandchildren.
At the time, the marriage was going through a tough patch: she was suffering from undiagnosed diabetes and he was dealing with the aftermath of the prostrate cancer which almost killed him in 2003.
He was still a workaholic when she wanted to slow down and after more than four decades of supporting him, Valerie was exhausted and needed a break.
"I sacrificed everything for him - the children, our family life, myself. It was only in the last 10 years that I suddenly realised that he had never noticed that," she says.
"I felt I had done my bit for Malcolm and the businesses. He didn't need me anymore and I wasn't prepared to put the commitment in that he was putting in, all his expansions and great plans."
She admits he could also be "difficult" to work with: "He was very, very critical of people if they didn't measure up to his standards … but to be fair to Malcolm, most of the people who copped it from him really deserved it," she says.
After moving to Sydney, she could never have imagined she would not see him alive again. In the weeks after his death, she went into auto-pilot, trying to console her family and decide on the future of the businesses while dealing with her own grief.
As the sole beneficiary of Malcolm's estate, she was faced with an enormous task.
"He was talking about living until he was 110 and he had so many things yet to do, she says. "Nothing has been catalogued - we've got thousands and thousands of photos and it's just all jammed in cardboard boxes."
Among Malcolm's meagre personal belongings were a handful of Aboriginal artefacts and souvenirs and one "beautiful" suit he wore just twice in his life.
Valerie also had the upsetting task of putting down Boondi II, Malcolm's faithful sidekick, two days after he died: "She was upset because his boots were here on the veranda and she kept sniffing them and hanging around".
"After he died, she went down on the tiles and couldn't get up. We buried her out where Malcolm died - we were all having a bit of a sob, but it was nice."
Fiercely protective family and friends have rallied around Valerie in the past year, for which she is grateful. Mark Jones, who Malcolm regarded as a second son and was very close to, has taken over much of the day-to-day running of the businesses, giving her time to grieve.
"Mark is fantastic - he's my buffer against the world and that leaves me time to recover from Malcolm's death and time to think about where the business is going," she says.
Plans to close the crocodile farm and relocate animals from the Cable Beach Crocodile Park to refurbished ponds at the wilderness park before a major redevelopment of the site are now well underway.
"It's so good to be in total control now because I can control the expenditure - and I've never been able to do that before, because if I said to him we can't afford to do this big whatever it is you want to do, he would throw a little temper tantrum," Valerie says.
Today, she reflects fondly on her years with a man regarded by many as an Australian hero. She used to dream about sitting with him on rocking chairs on the porch, talking about the kids and the grandchildren, and is sad that will never come to pass.
"He was the most amazing man and I had the most wonderful time … I just know that he was the only person I ever wanted to be with, the only person I ever really loved," she says.
"He had a wonderful life - he did everything that he wanted to do. He just sailed straight through life … I just got dragged along in the backwash.
"Now that he's gone, I don't think in terms of the future because I don't know how much longer I've got. And how do you replace him - you can't."
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