Australian Legends

melissa whillas

Posted on September 12 2023

Francis Birtles Australian Legend

The Outback Maverick: Rod Ansell - The Man from The Bush

Today, we’re paying a homage to a lesser known Australian legend: Rod Ansell. A true blue Aussie legend who gave way to that classic archetype of the man from the bush. His image of the croc-wrestling, outback-wandering, larger-than-life character gave rise to Paul Hogan’s Crocodile Dundee character, and was the personification of that cheeky Aussie charm. As a brand that is all about outdoorsmen, endurance and spirit, Rod Ansell is one of our idols. 

Rod Ansell: The Birth of a Bush Legend

Mate, let's start at the beginning. Rod Ansell was born in the sunburnt country – Australia – back in 1954. He was born in Queensland, but hailed from the Northern Territory where he moved to when he was 15. From an early age, it was clear that Rod wasn't your average Joey. He had a wild streak, a thirst for adventure, and a knack for living life on the edge. But little did he know, his destiny was about to take a turn that would bring him a whole lotta pain, and then fame in his later years.

Surviving Solo in the Wild: The Crocodile Dundee Before Crocodile Dundee

Alright, picture this: it's 1977, Star Wars was packing out cinemas, Elvis had just kicked the bucket, and our Rod Ansell decides to venture deep into the Northern Territory bush for a solo hunting and fishing expedition. Fair dinkum, who needs mates when you've got your trusty rifle, your two bull terriers and a thirst for the great outdoors? Rod was the ultimate man from the bush, living off the land. He took on crocs, tackled wild boars, and wrestled with Mother Nature herself.

But here's the kicker – Rod's solo jaunt turned into a real-life survival saga. Having been capsized on the Victoria River stranded in the unforgiving wilderness, he battled against the odds, faced hunger, and even fought off a croc attack. In his own trademark way, he kept the head of the croc until he was found. Talk about a souvenir! He survived by hunting wild buffalo and cattle, resorting to drinking blood at times to stave off dehydration. He survived doing this for 56 days, before he was found by two stockmen. Apparently, he kept this ordeal under wraps in fear of upsetting his mother - now that’s a good son! 

Fame and Fortune for the Country Boy

Alright, so you're probably thinking, "Geez, this Rod fella’s story can't get any crazier, right?" Dead wrong! Hold onto your hats, because here comes the plot twist of all plot twists. Remember that little ol' movie called "Crocodile Dundee" that took the world by storm? Well, believe it or not, it was inspired by none other than old mate himself!

Yep, you read that right. Rod's outback escapades caught the eye of Hollywood bigwigs when he attended a interview in the Big Smoke of Sydney in 1981 with British journalist Michael Parkinson.The people in the showbiz were mystified by Rod, who attended the interview barefoot, and preferred to sleep in a sleeping bag on the floor of his five star hotel. These charming attributes caught the eye of Paul Hogan, and the rest is history. Now, while Paul Hogan may have donned the iconic hat on the silver screen, everything from his way of talking, all the way to his knowledge of Urapunga language, a Indigenous language from Arnhem Land, was from Rod. 

The Legend Lives On: A Legacy Carved in Aussie Grit

Sadly, all legends must come to an end, and Rod Ansell's tale is no exception. In 1999, this outback maverick met an untimely end, leaving behind a legacy that's as wild and untamed as the very land he called home. But fear not, because his spirit lives on in the hearts of every true-blue Aussie who's ever dared to take on the great unknown.

So, there you have it – the rollercoaster ride that was Rod Ansell's life. From surviving solo in the wild to inspiring a Hollywood hit, this bloke's story is the stuff of legends. So, next time you're trekking through the bush or having a barbie with your mates, raise a tinny to Rod Ansell – the true-blue Aussie who lived life on his own terms and left an indelible mark on the land Down Under. We certainly will!

Rod Ansell Crocodile Hunter

Aviation Maverick and Aussie Legend: Charles Kingsford Smith's Unbelievable Journey

As an Australian owned outfitter that caters to those who can’t handle sitting indoors twiddling their thumbs, there are few people that have influenced our character than the legend himself, Charles Kingsford Smith. When it comes to figures key to the Australian identity, Kingsford Smith’s escapades in the early half of the 20th century are hard to trump. In this article, we’ll be doing a retrospective on the bloke that to this day attracts pride in the collective Aussie identity.

Early Days: Born to Fly

Charles Kingsford Smith, or "Smithy" as his mates fondly called him, was born with aviation fuel in his veins. Born on February 9, 1897, in Brisbane, he was relocated to Sydney, then to Canada, then back to Sydney, already proving himself as a bit of a worldly traveller. Educated at Sydney Technical College, now the University of Technology Sydney, he was a trained engineer, but his service in the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War initiated his role as an aviator. Following the war, he became a pilot for West Australian Airlines, and his future was set in stone.

The Sky's the Limit: Record-Breaking Feats

Fast forward a bit, and he was breaking records left, right and centre. In 1927, he and his mate Charles T.P. Ulm flew around Australia in less than 11 days, a record at the time. In 1928, he and Ulm piloted the Southern Cross on a treacherous trans-Pacific flight from Oakland, California to Brisbane. Stopping in Honolulu and Fiji, this expedition put the two of them on the map, in an era where flights of this scale were unheard of. 

In October 1933, he pulled off a solo flight that's like something out of a adventure novel. He zoomed from England to Australia in just seven days and five hours. Yep, you heard right – a solo flight that'd make any road trip feel like a Sunday arvo stroll.

But our boy didn't stop there. The next year, 1934, he teamed up with his mate P.G. Taylor and flew like a pair of birds on a mission from Brisbane to San Francisco. I mean, who needs Qantas when you've got Kingsford Smith and Taylor giving it a crack?

Now, here's where it gets a bit mysterious. Fast forward to 1935, and Smithy takes off on a flight from London back to our sunny shores. Everything's going smooth as silk until they pass over Calcutta (yep, the one that's now Kolkata). And here's the twist – poof! Like a magician's disappearing act, Kingsford Smith and his Aussie compadre Thomas Pethybridge vanish into thin air. Gone without a trace, leaving behind his legacy in the Australian identity, and his likeness on the 20 buck bill for a few decades.  

Charles Kingsford Smith Australian Aviator

A True Aussie Legend: Smithy's Enduring Legacy

So, there you have it, fellas – the unbelievable tale of Charles Kingsford Smith, a true-blue legend who proved that the sky was no limit for an Aussie with a dream. From heart-pounding flights to record-breaking feats, Smithy showed us that with a bit of grit, determination, and a knack for daring adventure, you can conquer the skies and beyond. At Kakadu, we channel his adventurous spirit and dapper demeanor, where you can rock the type of clothing that would make Smithy proud as!

Unstoppable Adventurer and Aussie Renaissance Man: The Legendary Francis Birtles

When one mentions Australian exploration, many names come to mind: Kingsford-Smith, Burke and Wills, and the like. However, in our eyes, Francis Birtles was a explorer of a generation, who ought to get more than a passing mention. The man was a machine; at multiple points, he donned different professions and skills, and dominated them all. Today, we’ll be doing a deep dive into who we consider a bloody stellar idol, and a man whose spirit we feel resonates with any keen explorer. 

Early Days

Born in 1881 in Fitzroy, Melbourne, young Francis grew up in Wandin North, 45km east of the Melbourne CBD. He grew up like any true Aussie boy– climbing trees, exploring the great outdoors, and getting a feel of the land. At 15, he put down the school books and joined the merchant navy as an apprentice. He decided to jump ship at Cape Town, South Africa, and tried enlisting with the Australian Forces. When that plan hit a roadblock, he joined the South African Mounted Irregular Forces (SAMIF). Imagine his resume: apprentice, sailor, trooper – this bloke was as versatile as a Swiss Army knife. 

Francis Birtles Australian Explorer

Pedal Power 

Returning to the land down under after the end of the Boer War, Birtles decided he wasn't done with the thrill of adventure. Armed with a bicycle and a fearless spirit, he pedaled from Fremantle, Western Australia, to Melbourne, making sure everyone knew he was the real deal. And just to keep life interesting, he cycled from Sydney to Darwin, through deserts and heart-pounding landscapes, capturing it all on camera. He would fit right into the 2020s!

Oh, but wait, there's more! In 1910, he circled the entire continent of Australia on his trusty bike, not once, but twice. And just when you thought he would hang up the latex, he kept going, crossing the continent seven times. 

From Two Wheels to Four

In 1912, Birtles decided that bicycles were just a warm-up act. So, he hopped into a single-cylinder Brush car with his mate Syd Ferguson and, of all things, a terrier named Rex. Yep, you heard that right – a doggo was part of the crew. They pulled off the first west-to-east crossing of the continent, proving that even dogs were up for a bit of Outback shenanigans. 

Fast forward to 1921 – a year of ambitious surveys and fiery mishaps. While working for the Prime Minister's Department on a survey mission for a proposed north-south railway, Birtles and his mate Roy Fry had a close encounter with flames when their car decided to ignite itself near Elsey station. Nothing says "adventure" like a car barbecue, am I right? Despite this fairly major complication, Birtles showed his perseverance by finishing the survey from the air.

The Making of the Legend of the Sundowner

Birtles first encountered the car that would ultimately define him, the Bean 14, in 1924. As part of a promotional stunt for the Bean Motor Company, he drove from Sydney to Darwin and back non-stop. Because, you know, nothing says "promo" like surviving a harrowing road trip that saw him travel just 300km in five days across the Gulf country. Bet your daily commute suddenly seems like a piece of cake, doesn't it? With the car breaking down multiple times on this outing, one would consider he would be put off slightly. 

However, the car would stick around for arguably his magnum opus in 1927 - London to Australia by car. He wasn't content with a simple road trip; he was out to break records, like he had been his whole life. Birtles gave the Bean 14 a makeover that involved drilling holes in the chassis, slapping on extra fuel tanks, and mounting spare tires like they were trophies. His ride was ready for action, and action it got.

Off he went, leaving London with a send-off party that included aviator Bert Hinkler and the 1927 Miss Australia. Through mud, snow, and radiator leaks that could put a waterfall to shame, Birtles made his way across Europe, surviving a stint as a spy suspect in Turkey, and even getting stuck in British-imposed quarantine in Baghdad. But hey, who needs a smooth ride when you're aiming for adventure, right?

Birtles' journey took him through places that had never seen a car, let alone one being pushed to its limits. From snow-melt floods to bandits giving chase, nothing could stop this determined bloke. He even managed to contract malaria along the way – twice! Talk about an unexpected souvenir.

As if that wasn't enough, Birtles picked up a Canadian cyclist named Percy Stollery in Calcutta. Together, they tackled the Ganges River in a half-submerged car and embarked on a near-impossible journey through the Naga Hills – a place where roads were more myth than reality.

So, after 25,000 kilometers, multiple near-death experiences, and a fair bit of malaria, Birtles and Stollery reached Darwin, Australia. But don't let the distance fool you; this adventure took them a whopping nine months and five days. 

The Legend Lives On

So, to all you Aussie blokes out there, if you're ever feeling like life's getting a bit dull, just remember Francis Birtles. The bloke who pedaled, drove, and rode his way into the annals of Australian history with a wink, a smile, and an unquenchable thirst for the next big adventure. Cheers to you, Francis Birtles – the true-blue larrikin who proved that there's no such thing as a "normal" journey when you're living life down under.

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