March 19, 2009


When a person passes away aged in the 80’s – it’s often said they had a good innings. But when a child or teenager dies, death becomes about the cruel lost opportunity or the loss of hope for the future. 
I’ve recently covered the death of three kids whose innings was cut short. All the deaths were preventable accidents, each tragic in their own personal way. A teenage girl killed by a friend driving drunk, a teenage boy drowned in a flooded creek and the last – an 11 year old girl attacked by a three metre saltwater crocodile while swimming with friends.   

11 year old - Briony Goodsell

11 year old - Briony Goodsell

Looking at their photographs – they’re beautiful kids and just that ..kids! They made choices clear thinking adults wouldn’t think twice about. When told an 11 year old girl had been taken by a crocodile, listening to the six am radio news, I thought how could that occur? ‘Tragic Misadventure’.

BrionyGoodsell should never have been inside the Black Jungle Swamp nature reserve, swimming with her 7 year old sister, girlfriend 10 and a boy 12. But, kids will be kids. They were just having fun.



Anyone who has lived in the Northern Territory knows an encounter with a saltwater crocodile is likely 99% fatal. At every Top End boat ramp crocodile signswarn of the danger. Oozing mystery – up close crocodiles are fascinating creatures, able to hold their breath underwater for hours – the saltie, a pre-austric killing machine is an Abrams tank! Like the Abrams’ ability to run on a variety of fuels ..asaltie can live in fresh or salt water – that’s what makes it so dangerous. Briony Goodsell didn’t stand a chance.

When the search began to try and locate her – police called in the best of the best. Tommy Nichols. A Parks and Wildlife ranger and when it comes to crocs, he has first hand experience what a saltie can do – literally. Tommy’s left hand was mauled by a saltwater crocodile years ago, a thumb and index finger is all that’s left.

Six hours into the search – 450 meters down stream they found several pieces of Briony. Tommy told the Tactical Response officers, that’s it .. don’t expect to find anymore. Intuition and experience said the saltie had moved on. The reptile didn’t care Briony’s mother was in a near-by house waiting for news of a miracle.

“Kids are always crossing boundaries – it’s part of growing up, unfortunately this crossing the boundary is quite unforgiving” .. is how Crocodile expert Professor Graeme Webb described Briony’s death. Kids being kids.

Charlene O'Sullivan with her two girls

Charlene O'Sullivan with her two girls

Just as cruel as the loss of her child, Charlene O’Sullivan has to deal with the knowledge the crocodile responsible for her childs attack will never be found. Estimated to be three metres in length – it has slipped, swam and crawled its way down stream to the Adelaide River system, where 100’s of saltwater crocodiles call home.

And even with Tommy’s expertise – he admits “To be perfectly honest .. all three meter croc’s look the same .. I couldn’t guarantee that we’d get the correct crocodile”.

Nature being nature .. who knows what fate awaits the killer crocodile in the wild – just as fate chose it was time for Briony and the two other kids.

(Photographs courtesy Charlene O’Sullivan)


(Footage courtesy National Nine News, Darwin)