When outback crusader Malcolm Douglas died, his wife Valerie was left to pick up the pieces. But rather than quietly retire, she’s pursuing his dreams with a zeal that’s given her a new lease on life.

Story By Fleur Bainger

Valerie Douglas has just come in from an all-nighter, and her blue eyes are sparkling. Far from Broome town’s throbbing nightspots, the sprightly 71-year-old resident has spent the night searching for bilbies on station country, travelling a few hours out of town on dirt tracks. And while the trip was in vain – not a trace of the endangered native marsupial was found – she’s clearly on a high from her after-dark adventure that very deliberately continues her late husband’s work.
Valerie is the widow of legendary adventurer, conservationist and documentary maker, Malcolm Douglas, and is still coming to terms with her new reality a year and a half after his untimely death. The 69 year old was alone on his Wilderness Wildlife Park, 16 kilometres out of Broome, when he was pinned to a tree by his four-wheel-drive and found too late by a staff member. The shock of the crocodile hunter-turned protector’s passing was felt across the country.
For Valerie, who had relocated to Sydney to be closer to her four grandchildren, his loss was devastating and meant she had some big decisions to make. The maker of more than 50 documentaries on outback Australia had plenty of unfinished business, with the expansion on his new 30-hectare wilderness park in full swing, a crocodile farm and tourist park to run and a rare and vulnerable species-breeding program to manage.
“He expected to have another 20 to 30 years up his sleeve to finish it all,” Valerie says. “So when he died it was a case of, ‘Well, who wants to do it?’ Nobody else stood up, and I was the last man standing.
“I’d always made all the financial decisions, but never where we were going and what we were doing,” she says. “But I found it came quite easily to me. Over the years he’d talked me through everything. It’s great because I feel confident knowing that I’m doing what he’d want me to do.”
Valerie first met Malcolm at a pub in the Riverina region of New South Wales in the early 1960s. She’d grown up on a sheep and rice farm in the tiny community of Moulamein; he had found work there as a stock and station agent. “I’d already gone to Sydney to live and I returned to spend a year in my local town to save money for the obligatory European trip, and met Malcolm,” she says. “I went overseas for three years, he went around Australia for four years and we kept in touch. When I got back we met up again and that was it.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #82

Outback Magazine: Apr/May 2012