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Nov 8, 2017

He was a tough old bastard that Ronny Ball.

Vale Ron Ball: He was the Wild Man from Wildboar, a crack shot buffalo hunter and meat producer; defined by his cut off Toyota, dusty old Akubra, trusted 308 rifle and busted arse swag.

Bob Gosford — Likes birds and people, not necessarily in that order.

Bob Gosford

Likes birds and people, not necessarily in that order.

This is an obituary for Charles Ronald Ball (Ron Ball) who passed away on the weekend. It was written by his daughter Liz Martin and republished here with her kind permission.

R.I.P. RON BALL (Charles Ronald Ball).

It is with sadness I report that my Dad, Ron Ball, passed away peacefully in Katherine NT earlier today. Dad was a real character of the Territory; a bloke from the bush who loomed large in the lives of many. A few years ago I ran into an old aboriginal woman who told me “He’s a tough old bastard that Ronny Ball”. I smiled, she was so right. She inspired me to write this poem. Ronny Ball was our Dad and we loved him and he will never be forgotten. My thoughts and love are with his beautiful wife Kathleen and my six siblings.

Vale Ron Ball.

Buck jumper, horse breaker, cattle drover, stockman, snake catcher, buffalo shooter, wild boar hunter, crocodile wrestler, barramundi poacher, meat inspector and finally, tour guide.

For Dad, it was a never ending story of bulldust, mud, blood and buffalo guts. It was life in the fast lane but in an outback context. He was forever looking for that next exciting ride!

He was bucked by horses, charged by wounded buffalo, gored in the groin by an old scrub bull, been bitten by snakes and suffered the indignity of leeches on his dangly things.

He’s been everywhere in the Territory Man!

From Marrakai to Melville Island and Manyallaluk, from Top Springs, Beatrice Hill, Darwin and Katherine, to the Desert Block and Alice Springs.

He was a tough old bastard that Ronny Ball.

To him life was one big challenge that he loved to beat into submission.

He sailed his yachts, he shot his guns and raced his cars. He loved his EH Holdens … and then, he wrote books. He worked bloody hard. If you couldn’t keep up you didn’t count. He didn’t suffer fools easily and was known as much for his fiery bad temper as he was for his rustic good looks.

There was a time he’d rather have a fight than a feed. He’d argue the point, swing a punch, and wrestle, scuffle, bash and thrash a few worthy adversaries around the flat.

A couple of scrub bashed, shiny skinned hot tinnies salvaged from the back of the ute or a well worn pannican of ‘corrugated’ rum mixed with powdered milk could cause that. He was a tough old bastard that Ronny Ball. He taught from the school of hard knocks.

He wanted his pound of flesh and we gave it and then gave more. He was a hard task master.

We learned the world was far from fair. But he gave us strength to buck the system, the stubbornness and determination to never give up and the hide and audacity to say ‘fuck you’ to any one, any time, any where.

He was the Wild Man from Wildboar, a crack shot buffalo hunter and meat producer; defined by his cut off Toyota, dusty old Akubra, trusted 308 rifle and busted arse swag.

He fed us buffalo meat, barramundi, mud crabs, mussels and forbidden feasts like Burdekin duck stew and coal cooked wild scrub turkey.

He could put together a pretty good tucker bag.

He was a tough old bastard that Ronny Ball, but he was our Dad and we will always love him.

Vale Ron Ball.


Ron Ball will be farewelled by an informal service at the Katherine Council Chambers at 2pm on 11 November 2017 followed by a drink at the Katherine Hotel.

All welcome.


You can hear more of Ron Ball’s story in his own words here at the Godinymayin Yijard Rivers Arts and Culture Centre’s Unique Katherine region stories page. There is a fascinating 2004 report from The Telegraph (UK) that reckons Ron Ball was “the real Crocodile Dundee” and of course—if you can find a copy— you can read Ron’s book A Pom in the Outback, published by Banksia Books in 2002.

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One thought on “He was a tough old bastard that Ronny Ball.

  1. Bob Gosford

    This is taken from the (UK) Telegraph:
    Meet Ron Ball, the real Crocodile Dundee
    By Nicki Grihault
    10:45AM BST 26 Jul 2004
    The first thing I noticed about Ron Ball was his kindly face under an Akubra hat. The second thing, was a missing finger.
    “A buffalo took that,” he said in a drawl that surprisingly still holds hints of his Welsh origins despite almost 50 years in Australia. Ron has lived a typical outback life working as cattle drover, pioneering buffalo shooter, crocodile hunter, horse breaker and stockman. As a tour guide to remote areas of the Northern Territory his reputation then spread, earning him the nickname, “the real Crocodile Dundee”.
    Life has taken a few bites out of Ron, who in his search for adventure in the rugged outback lost a kneecap and a tooth to horse breaking as well as a piece of his nose to skin cancer. Nothing in his childhood in South Wales had prepared him for life in Australia. The nearest he had come to wildlife, was feeding the carthorses by the River Usk.
    From a Welsh seafaring family, the second youngest of six children, he, like his brothers, had entered naval service. But, at 17, intensely curious about the mysterious outback, he jumped ship with a mate in Townsville, Northern Queensland, earning the wrath of his father, who, having served in both World Wars, didn’t speak to him for six years.
    “Even though we were in the wrong,” says Ron. “I have never regretted that move. I fell in love with Australia straight away.” However, the deserters were in for a shock. “We thought the mysterious outback we were seeking couldn’t be far out of the city limits,” he explains in his book, Pom in the Outback, published in 2002, which detail his exploits. “In our fond imaginings we had been thinking of cowboys complete with silver mounted saddles, six guns and silver spurs. The fact that there were no roads, hadn’t even occurred to us.”
    With no money, they cut cane in Queensland, before, in search of a better job, they attended a cattle sale.
    “We were struck dumb by the hustle, noise and the dust,” says Ron. “The whole thing mesmerised me. It was love at first sight, assuming you can fall in love with a yard full of half wild, pretty smelly cattle!”
    Gone were the dreams of silver mounted saddles, but Ron, couldn’t give up the dream of finding the ‘real’ Australia, which seemed closer, the further he got from civilisation. So he travelled with his swag from station to station, collecting adventures and skills. He arrived in the Northern Territory in 1948 and has never left.
    Starting with lowly jobs, as a ‘jackaroo’, Ron worked his way up in cattle station life. For much of the Sixties he worked as a cattle drover, taking cattle on the four month, 600 mile journey from Tennant Creek to Queensland.
    He was head stockman of a cattle station when he married Yvonne, a “dinki di Aussie bushwoman” in 1965.
    They had five children, all of whom could “drive, shoot and catch fish as soon as they could walk”. Still an illegal immigrant when they married, after serving in the Australian army in Korea, in 1968 he was made ‘Immigrant of the Year’.
    Ron got into buffalo hunting at the beginning of a new era where these animals, released into the wild after settlements had dissolved, were hunted for their meat. Days were long, from 4.30am to 7pm, but he became one of Australia’s most famous buffalo shooters.
    He also hunted crocodiles, at night by boat and with a harpoon and rope in the old days, but then with a gun.
    “You have to coax a crocodile up near the boat to get a good shot,” says Ron. A crocodile’s nervous system can be working 15 minutes after he’s dead, and he tells the tale of his friend Butch, who, sat on the head of a 9 foot ‘dead’ croc. The croc’s jaw fell open and tipped him over the side of the boat.
    Catastrophe struck in 1974 when cyclone Tracy hit Darwin and blew everything Ron had worked for away. He lost over a million dollars of buildings and this and the buffalo eradication programme heralded the end of his business. It also signalled the end of his 20 year marriage to Yvonne.
    “All I had to sell was bullshit, so I became a tour guide,” chuckles Ron philosophically. He stopped doing tours when he was 70, but although he was too modest to tell me, is still known and respected as one of the top tour guides in the Territory. He also speaks Miali, one of the local languages.
    As in the film, Crocodile Dundee, he met his youthful, American second wife on one of his trips. When I point out the parallel, he quips, “Paul Hogan’s got good taste”.
    Although a psychology professor and artist, Kathleen “fitted into the Aussie bush like a finger in glove,” Ron says proudly.
    They married in 1996 and she came to live with him at Manyallaluk, an aboriginal community near Katherine, where they helped develop sustainable tourism and an aboriginal arts centre.
    Someone on one of his tours exclaimed, “Forget Paul Hogan, I think I’ve found the real Crocodile Dundee – and he’s a Pom!” so I pose the question I’ve been dying to ask – did he wrestle with crocodiles, like they did in the film? “Wrestle? No, I’m a practising coward,” he laughs.
    Ron showed Paul Hogan around the outback. “Don’t compare me with that bloke!” he says. “I mean, he seemed nice enough, but he’s no bushman. When he got out of the airplane, he looked around and said, ‘Oh shit’. He’d certainly never seen a crocodile.”
    Ron’s been back home, just once, but regrets not seeing his parents before they died. “My hometown couldn’t be more different,” he says when describing how disorientating it had been to come from the crowded streets of Newport to the wide open spaces of the outback.
    “It’s a totally different lifestyle in Australia, and I’ve followed this life for over 50 years. This is a harsh, but wonderful country. After all, where else could you spend months at a time on horseback?”
    Ron is now 75, and lives with Kathleen in the outback town of Katherine. He now does part time guiding, at National Trust property O’Keefe House, used as an officers’ mess during World War Two.
    He’s also working on two more books: Buffalo in the Outback – an expose of the buffalo meat industry up until culling in the 1980s – and Crocodile in the Outback.
    He still heads out into the more remote areas of the Northern Territory at any opportunity he tells me, with a twinkle in his eye. A real Crocodile Dundee.

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