What is Wilderness? Different Views in the Movie "Crocodile Dundee"

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2011

16 Pages, Grade: 2,3


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Australia (Part 1)
2.1. Mick Dundee
2.2. Sue Charleton
2.3. Hunters
2.4. Aborigines

3. New York (Part 2)
3.1. Mick Dundee
3.2. Sue Charlton
3.3. Richard, the Boyfriend
3.4. Gus, the Driver

4. Conclusion

Works cited

1. Introduction

In short, the United States Wilderness Act of 1964 defines Wilderness as “[…] an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammelled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”(Wilderness Act 121). However altogether it took ten pages to describe and define Wilderness in said Wilderness Act. Roderick Nash, the author of Wilderness and the American Mind states that the “[…] usual dictionary sense of the word implies hostility on man’s part […]” (Nash 4), and looking at the definition of Wilderness in Webster’s Dictionary supports this statement: “a tract of land, or a region, uncultivated and uninhabited by human beings, whether a forest or a wide, barren plain […].” (Link 1). Both definitions define wilderness as a place where humans are absent.

Etymologically speaking wilderness, deriving from the Anglo-Saxon word wild-deor, means the place of wild beasts (Nash 2). So describing wilderness, the place of wild beasts, as an area that humans are absent from is definitely not wrong, but there is more to the term wilderness than the etymological meaning. For example Michael Lewis, the author of American Wilderness- A New History, tries to distinguish wilderness from wildnis, by claiming, that it has to be “large on a human scale” rather than merely a few plants or animals in the backyard (Lewis 6). So according to him, wilderness is not just a question of what is in the area, but also how large an area has to be in order for it to be defined as wilderness, an aspect also regarded in the United States Wilderness Act of 1964 which states that in order for an area to be defined as wilderness it has to have “at least five thousand acres of land [or be] of sufficient size as to make practicable its preservation and use in an unimpaired condition”(Wilderness Act 121). So the Wilderness Act takes both the size of an area and the etymologically implied meaning of the word wilderness, namely the absence of humans, into consideration. An aspect neglected by this act however, is the most relevant one. It is an aspect that diminishes the definitions given above, best described in the words of Nash: “One man’s wilderness may be another’s roadside picnic ground”(Nash 1), implying that wilderness is not something that can be defined by its size or the absence of humans, but by how different people consider different areas or environments to be wilderness. Originally in Western civilization wilderness was depicted as being a threat, a “place of exile [and even] associated with Satan”(Gerard 61).

The movie Crocodile Dundee, although displaying the bush as a dangerous place also has numerous scenes in which they film the beauty of the bush. So wilderness no longer has to be dangerous, but can be anything people want it to be.

Crocodile Dundee and the extreme change of environment in the movie - from the bush to the city - is an example that can show how different people have different perceptions of wilderness, depending on how and where they grew up: a New York City girl versus a man born and raised in the Australian outback.

2. Australia (Part 1)

2.1. Mick Dundee

“[…] wilderness was conceived as a region where a person was likely to get into a disordered, confused, or “wild” condition. […] The image is that of a man in an alien environment where the civilization that normally orders and controls his life is absent.” (Nash 2).

This quote gives an image that seems to perfectly describe Michael J. ‘Crocodile’ Dundee and his mates in the pub in Walkabout Creek. To someone from the city like in this case Sue, these men may seem ‘wild’, like animals and definitely in a disordered condition compared to New York’s high society that Sue is used to.

Dundee may at first seem like the typical man of the Australian outback, however, for him being born and raised in the Australian outback, meant being raised by Aborigines. A white man who was raised as an Aborigine, therefore he understands and respects the land the same way the Aborigines do. He has a different perception of wilderness not only compared to city people, but even compared to the other inhabitants of Walkabout Creek, for example Wally. When Wally tries to pick up Dundee and Sue he cannot find them and he cries out for them to which Dundee only responds with: “Bloody Wally, he’s only been here a dozen times, he’s probably lost!”(Movie 40:20) which shows that he obviously does not know his way around the outback. Whereas Dundee found his way to the place where he was bitten by the crocodile and all the way to Echo Lake where he had dragged himself after he had already been bitten, making the audience believe what Wally said when he claimed “we’re a pretty tough breed up here”(Movie 05:45).

When Dundee says “up North in the Never Never where the land is harsh and bare”(Movie 08:51), he is referring to the Kakadu National Park where most of the first part of the movie was filmed, “a timeless landscape of wetlands, distant sandstone escarpments, and countless miles of baking red earth”(Link 2). Of course this environment is also filled with numerous animals, both dangerous and harmless, though it seems no animal can truly harm Dundee, simply because he knows how to handle the wild, including its animals. For example the wild water buffalo in the middle of the road - putting aside the fact whether or not this trick does work in real life - is supposed to prove that Dundee understands the wilderness and its creatures like no other white man by doing something Sue finds miraculous, even if Wally tells Sue it is merely an “old bushman’s trick” (Movie 14:34).

Amongst other things Dundee tries to introduce Sue to the native cuisine of the outback. For example he collects yams, grubs and sugar ants, and grills a goanna like a suckling pig over the fire and asks her if she wants it medium or well done. She is reluctant to try it and after asking him if he would not be having any, he says to her: “Well, you can live on it, but it tastes like shit.” (Movie 38:17).

Dundee’s exact relation to crocodiles is not clear. Crocodile hunting is illegal in Australia, after they almost became extinct in the late 1970s (Link 3). This form of wilderness preservation, however, is not accepted by everyone, due to the crocodile being a dangerous animal which does on occasions attack humans (Link 4). On the one hand Dundee is offended by the man in the pub calling him a “croc poacher” (Movie 09:51), but on the other hand when he shows Sue his boat in which the crocodile attacked him he reacts suspicious when Sue asks him about the shell casings she finds in the boat. One does not get the impression that Sue believes him when he says that he was fishing for barramundi and that it is a big fish and therefore the reason why he had a gun with him at the time and thus, the shell casings in his boat. However, knowing that Dundee might be killing crocodiles illegally obviously seemed less wrong to her, than the hunters shooting the kangaroos. It becomes apparent that in her upbringing in the city she only learns to love furry and ‘cuddly’ animals like kangaroos and not crocodiles because they are ‘dangerous’, ignoring the fact that kangaroos can in fact also be dangerous.

Dundee is no ordinary bush man or fisherman. Of course, he is not the only non- Aborigine who knows how to survive in the bush, but being raised by Aborigines he has a different understanding of the land than any of the other men we meet in the pub. Comparing him to Wally, for example, shows that living in a place like Walkabout Creek does not teach you the things Dundee knows.

2.2. Sue Charleton

Before Sue flies out to Walkabout Creek, she tells her boyfriend at home not to worry about her, saying: “I’m a New Yorker!” (Movie 01:37), implying that as a New Yorker you are also a tough breed. However, it does not take her long to realise that being a New Yorker is not of help in Walkabout Creek and in the bush with Dundee. The best example for this is the brown snake at the ‘camp’. Dundee sees the snake, grabs it and kills it without hesitating or any sign of fear and continues talking as though nothing special had just happened, whereas Sue is totally paralysed. He grew up around snakes and obviously knows how to handle them, but she grew up in the city and is not used to deadly snakes slithering around her sleeping place at night.

Sue is in an environment that for her definitely is wilderness, she talks about the outback having a “strange emptiness” (Movie 26:05) to it and that one feels alone in it. However, she is eager to prove herself in this unknown environment, especially when Dundee tells her that she would not survive out here on her own. It does not take her long to get into danger after going off on her own. She wants to fill her water bottle in a lake or river. Although she knows that there are crocodiles in these wetlands, she was not raised to always beware of crocodiles, so after not thinking for a moment she gets in serious trouble when a crocodile shoots out of the water and grabs the bottle hanging around her neck. After being saved by Dundee, she has to admit to him that he was right and that the bush is “no place for a city girl.” (Movie 31:51). At this point Dundee tells her that he has never been to a city before and that Wally told him that “living in the city can be just as dangerous.” (Movie 31:57).


Excerpt out of 16 pages


What is Wilderness? Different Views in the Movie "Crocodile Dundee"
Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
435 KB
Wilderness, Crocodile Dundee, Outback, Australia, Mick Dundee
Quote paper
Kathrin Metzger (Author), 2011, What is Wilderness? Different Views in the Movie "Crocodile Dundee", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/283548


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