Mother of girl killed by crocodile in NT speaks out against culling the animals

Charlene O’Sullivan’s daughter Briony was killed by a crocodile in an NT watering hole

A mother whose young daughter was killed by a crocodile as she swam with friends has urged the Northern Territory government not to expand culling of the feared predators.

Briony Goodsell, 11, was cooling off in a creek at Lambells Lagoon near Humpty Doo, south-east of Darwin, with her sister and two friends on a hot Sunday afternoon in March 2009 when she jumped in the water and failed to resurface.

A coroner found the girl had been taken by a 3.2m saltwater crocodile.

Her mum, Charlene O’Sullivan, said despite her still ‘fresh’ heartbreak more than a decade on, education programs were the best way to keep people safe.

Briony’s death sparked a program by NT authorities to remove all crocodiles within a 50km radius of Darwin, with the more aggressive ones culled and others moved on.

The family previously called for a cull of every crocodile within 100km of Darwin, but Ms O’Sullivan, who went on to start her own crocodile farm to sell handbags and jewellery, said she now believes that safety education, relocating problem crocs, and egg harvesting are more effective.

‘It’s still very traumatic, and it’s still very deep-seated in our hearts,’ Ms O’Sullivan told the ABC.

‘(But culling) is going to be giving a false sense of security… my biggest thing has always been education.’

Briony (pictured) had been swimming with her sister and two friends when she failed to resurface

Briony (pictured) had been swimming with her sister and two friends when she failed to resurface

The crocodile responsible for the attack was never located but, in his findings, coroner Greg Cavanagh said he was confident of the cause of death.

The area where the children had been swimming, Black Jungle Swamp, was known to have crocodiles and her companions had seen a large bubble immediately after Briony jumped into the water followed by the flash of a crocodile tail.

The children should not have been swimming there but, as it was put in news reports at the time, ‘kids will be kids’ and it was a ‘tragic misadventure’.

Several police officers who also had young children risked their own lives by wading chest deep into the creek in the hours after Briony disappeared and had to be dragged out by other officers hours later.

Her partial remains were found downstream the next day.

Despite evidence being given at the inquest that crocodile numbers had increased to up to 150,000 in the Northern Territory in the years before the attack, Mr Cavanagh concluded that culling would not work and would lead to complacency.

Mr Cavanagh said that as part of the Top End community, residents must acknowledge that dangerous, man-eating animals lived among humans.

‘There is a balance to be achieved between the ethical and sustainable treatment of crocodiles and the safety of the public,’ he said.

‘The current crocodile management plan prepared and approved by the Northern Territory government promises the community that there will be increased attention to, and efforts with regard to, public safety.

‘I recommend that the increased public safety measures which are set out in detail… are resourced and implemented,’ he said in his findings. 

There are about 500,000 crocodiles in the NT which is a huge surge in numbers over the past few decades but attacks have not increased

There are about 500,000 crocodiles in the NT which is a huge surge in numbers over the past few decades but attacks have not increased

Scientists told the ABC this week that despite crocodile numbers surging since hunting was banned in 1970s, the number of attacks have not increased.

Retiring chair of the Crocodile Specialist Group, Grahame Webb, said the NT government’s current program of removing aggressive crocodiles was effective.

He said the only way to make it 100 per cent safe was to completely eradicate crocodiles.

But he added the Northern Territory, which has the world’s biggest croc population, should be ensuring that resources are focused on tourist spots where people are told they can swim so that they are guaranteed to be crocodile free.

The Northern Territory chief minister has flagged that she is uncomfortable with the number of saltwater crocodiles in the territory as her government released a draft plan in February to manage crocodiles for the next 10 years.

Chief Minister Eva Lawler said the consultation paper for the government’s next saltwater crocodile management plan would ‘allow the public to have a say around crocodiles, including on culling’.


Some of the ways to stay safe in areas that may have saltwater crocodiles include: 

• Never swim in water where crocodiles may live even if there is no warning sign. Only swim in designated safe swimming areas. 

• Obey all crocodile warning signs — they are there for your safety and protection. 

• Always keep a watch for crocodiles. They will see you before you see them. 

• Never provoke, harass or interfere with crocodiles, even small ones. 

• Never feed crocodiles — it is illegal and dangerous. 

• Be extra vigilant around water at night and during the breeding season from September to April. 

• Avoid approaching the edge of the water and don’t paddle or wade at the edge of the water. 

• Stay well back from any crocodile slide marks. Crocodiles may be close by and may approach people and boats. 

• The smaller the boat, the greater the risk. 

• Always stand a minimum of five metres from the water’s edge when fishing. 

• Be especially vigilant when launching or retrieving your boat in saltwater crocodile habitat. 

• Do not lean over the edge of a boat or stand on logs overhanging water. 

• Never dangle your arms or legs over the side of a boat. If you fall out of a boat, get out of the water as quickly as possible. 

• Camp at least 2 metres above the high water mark and at least 50 metres from the water’s edge. Avoid places where native animals and domestic stock drink. 

• Avoid returning regularly to the same spot at the water’s edge to fill your bucket. 

• Dispose of food scraps, fish offal and other waste properly and away from your campsite. 

• Never leave food scraps, fish frames or bait at your campsite. Always check that previous campers have not left these behind. 

• Never prepare food, wash dishes or pursue any other activities near the water’s edge or adjacent sloping banks. Instead, fill up your bucket and move away from the edge of the water before you start any tasks.

Source: NT Government.