Latvia’s Crocodile Harry: Inspiration for Hollywood

  • 2015-12-02
  • By Michael Mustillo

ADELAIDE, Australia - This vast, antipodean island is famous for its unforgiving and beautiful “outback.” Kangaroos populate the plains, Koalas hang in the trees, and Kookaburras flutter through the skies above. While venomous snakes often slither quietly through the reeds, ready to strike at a moment’s notice, it is in Australia’s long and winding rivers where you really have to watch out, as lurking beneath the surface could be the smiling face of a deadly crocodile.

The dangers of crocodiles are well known here, so well known that in earlier times, crocodile hunters would often become celebrities, renowned throughout Australia for their courage and skill.

The most famous of them all was “Crocodile Harry” — and curiously, he was a Latvian who hailed from the village of Dundaga in the region of Kurzeme, 124 kilometers from Riga (a distance many Australians would describe as “close” to Latvia’s capital).

Known primarily for its 13th century medieval castle, the village of Dundaga commemorates Crocodile Harry — whose Latvian name is Arvids Blumentals — with a massive two-ton concrete sculpture of one the largest of all living reptiles and terrestrial predators in the world, the most dangerous extant crocodilian to humans — a saltwater crocodile. It remains an enigma to many baffled visitors of the town. Visitors who may be unaware of the Dundaga’s infamous son,  who was born there in 1925, but emigrated to Australia in 1951.

Depicted with wide glaring eyes, with sharp long teeth housed in a long snouted muzzle,  and in a crouching attack position, this sculpture represents a  formidable and opportunistic hyper carnivorous, ambush predator. It is in memory of all of Dundaga’s strong men. And the strongest was Blumentals — so reads the plaque attached to the sculpture.

Blumentals was known to a chameleon character, adapting quickly to his new environment — and the difference between the two environments could hardly be more pronounced. Moving from Latvia’s boreal forests to Australia’s dusty outback could not have been easy. And culturally, the change required for Blumental must have been enormous. Setting off to Australia was a path taken by many Latvians in the years after World War Two, but hunting crocodiles in the outback means that all too often, you’re on your own. Even his name provided difficulties. Arvids was a hard name for Australians to pronounce. So he changed it to Harry.

10,000 crocs

Blumenthals’ larger than life adventurous story may seem like a good piece of bush folklore, particularly to Australians. But whether real or just perhaps made up, his exploits have appeared in newspaper articles and magazines across the world.  

Numerous documentary films — they say as many as 30 — and countless TV features have been made about Blumenthal’s colourful life.
Crocodile Harry allegedly killed a whopping 10,000 crocodiles over a 13-year period while in Australia. Blumenthal also caught “smaller” crocodiles — which were  up to two metres in length — with only his bare hands.

Hollywood star

It has been noted that Blumenthal may have been the prototype to the 1986 Hollywood comedy film “Crocodile Dundee.” But this gets you into controversial waters, as it has been widely disputed. The film was  set in the Australian Outback, and starred the Australian actor Paul Hogan in the lead role of the weathered Mick Dundee, a crocodile hunter.  
Crocodile hunting was banned in Australia in 1968, which saw Blumentals settling in opal town of Coober Pedy, in the state of South Australia. A town considered the opal mining capital of the world.

In Coober Pedy (an anglicised version of the Aboriginal words “kupa piti,” meaning “white man in a hole”)  the former Latvian Crocodile Hunter  tried his hand at opal mining, and was to rapidly achieve legendary status with his exploits.

It was in Coober Pedy that he excavated his extravagant and bizarre underground dugout (a home typical of Coober Pedy), which was to become one of the town’s most prominent and popular tourist attractions. It was proposed for heritage listing in 2007.

Known as  the Crocodile Nest, Blumenthals’ dugout, constructed in an underground cave carved out of a hillside, is situated 5 kilometres from the town’s centre near the Four Mile Opal Field.
Blumentals directed all his creative energy into his  dugout, which featured tribal graffiti  covered walls, festooned with women’s under garments, and signatures of over 1,000 virgins scrawled on the walls by female visitors who stayed in his dugout.

It is also adorned with weird sculptures created by Blumentals’ own hands. His clutter filled residence was featured in the 1985 Australian post-apocalyptic action adventure film Mad Max 3 — “Beyond Thunderdome,” which starred Mel Gibson, and Tina Turner.

Near the entrance of the dugout, the film crew upon concluding filming erected a sculpture which they named “The Orchestra.”

When the wind blows the sculpture reverberates in the stillness of the desert in a performance of  eclectic sounds.

The death certificate records Von Blumentals Arvids (Croc Harry) death on Oct. 13, 2006. He was to later declare himself a Latvian Baron, forced to leave Latvia at the conclusion of  the Second World War.

Buried in plot 234 of Cobber Pedy’s Boot Hill Cemetery. Blumentals was 81 years of age when he died of heart failure.  A simple cross with the words Crocodile Harry is written on his grave.