Aged just 18, Will flew from America to Australia to escape the pressures of the real world. He wanted an adventure – and he certainly got one. Once in Australia, Will and a new friend walked from the Prince Regent River to King Cascade, in the Kimberley, a journey never before attempted by white men. Yet when a boat failed to pick them up it turned into a life-and-death struggle. Swimming With Crocodiles is a book about being lost in the Outback for 60 days, friendship and how hunger affects the mind.
How did you decide to stop waiting for the boat and start trekking? There was a moment in King Cascade, the place where we were waiting for that darn boat to come in, when I said to Geoff ‘I’m just going to have a little time and think about things’. I went to a pool in the creek there and thought: ‘Chaffey how are you going to get yourself out of this?’ and I tried to look at it logically. You’re in the middle of Outback Australia, you haven’t seen another human – or any signs of a human – for very long, you don’t have any maps for where you need to go. But you realise it is not that bad, it could be worse. I started to understand that we had to walk 250 kilometres to this remote cattle station, which was going to be really hard to find, but we just had to do it.
What was it like, hanging out that long with another person – did you ever loose it? Yes, we did go a bit crazy when we were really hungry and we had run out of all the food. There is a saying that ‘the civilized man is nine missed meals away from murder’ and we were quite a few meals further away than that. There was this one point when Geoff broke my fishing rod, I could have just killed him right then.
So did the thought of Cannibalism ever occur? No doubt if Geoff would have died I would have eaten him for sure, without feeling bad about it.
And vice versa? He absolutely would have eaten me as well, we even talked about it. But we got through it; surprisingly, it wasn’t too hard living out there for two months. I didn’t feel uncomfortable. You know, I could cut my hair with my Swiss army knife scissors for example. By the end it was very stressful though.
Did you think about food a lot? In my journal I wrote five pages about it. Green beans, cheese and tomato sandwich, ice cream, cake, lemon-meringue pie… After a couple of weeks of starvation you basically just think about food, you don’t even think about sex. We were definitely in that stage, for sure.
In your book, you quite often go for a dip with freshwater crocodiles. Are they really that harmless? Freshies live mainly on fish, small lizards and birds. Their snout is much narrower, and while they do have teeth and can grow over three meters, humans really aren’t part of their diet. You’ll do many things when you are nineteen that you wouldn’t do later. I am not sure I would swim in a pool with five freshwater crocodiles today as I did back then. Just about anywhere you swim in freshwater, there will be freshwater crocodiles, so it is almost unavoidable.
In what ways do you think the experience changed you? I don’t worry about the small stuff anymore, you know, people get upset about what colour their drapes are; does the rug match the furniture? It is now pretty obvious to me that you only do go around once. It has also given me a really big appreciation of the nature world, I just love sleeping under the stars as much as possible.
How do you feel about being back here? It has been great. I just had a conversation with the taxi driver about how magical it all is. My plan has always been to move back to Australia, but some other parts of my life haven’t quite fallen into place yet to get that done. But it is happening.
In what way do you hope your book inspires people? Overall, I think that for travellers today, it is all about taking the pictures and then jumping on that tour-bus again, heading for the next destination. That is just kind of a surface travel. It is not until you start facing challenges and dilemmas that your real travel begins. I hope my book can inspire travellers to start riding on the back of the bus holding onto suction cups.
Swimming with crocodiles: An Australian Adventure is published by Pan Macmillian and out now.