FRIENDS and family of Laura publican Kevin Darmody have lined up to pay tribute to “Stumpy” after he was likely the victim of a preying crocodile on Saturday.
However, his close mate John Peiti, who was within earshot at the time of his disappearance in Lakefield National Park, said he didn’t believe the croc lunged out of the water to grab him.
“I heard Kev roaring about three times and I tried to look down to see what was going on,” said John.
“Next minute, I heard a big splash and I raced down. I reckon it only took me half a minute to get where he had been but there was no sign of him, just his thongs on the bank and nothing else.”
However, there was something else on the bank – a large goanna.
“I think Kev might have been roaring at this goanna and maybe he’s lost his balance and gone in (the water),” John said.
“I don’t think a croc has come out of the water and grabbed him because there was no water on the bank. The reports of a croc slide are not true.
“There was just no sign of him – no fishing rod, no hat.”
John, who was visiting Kev from Moruya in NSW, said he thought a croc was waiting in the water and grabbed him when he fell in.
“That’s the only explanation I can think of,” he told Cape York Weekly from the pub in Laura on Monday morning.
The Peninsula Hotel had begun to fill up with those keen to pay their respects to the man who had been the Laura publican for two decades.
Bron Jones, the former Laura State School principal, flew to Cairns on Sunday and filled a hire car with friends and family of Kev.
“When I was at the school he did so much for me and last year I came up to Laura and worked at the pub,” she said.
“I was all ready to come up again this year.”
Those plans were brought forward when news came through on Saturday night.
Bron said she was disgusted by some of the Facebook comments about Kev, many of whom said he should have been more careful in croc country.
“If anyone knew Kev they’d know that he was always one to give advice to tourists about being careful. He knew the risks and he wasn’t one to take risks,” she said.
With her in the car were two of Kev’s brothers in Pat and Dave Darmody.
One brother stayed home due to a pending heart operation, while his sister was encouraged to stay south until the dust settled.
Pat and Dave said they were still in shock that their brother was no longer with them.
“It’s just unbelievable. The amount of times he’s been fishing in that area with no problem … I’m stunned,” said Pat.
“He would have known the area as well as anyone.”
Dave said his brother, who grew up in Sutton on the outskirts of Canberra, first came to love northern Australia after he worked as a hunter and a tour guide on Bathurst Island.
“He and his mate had a pub down home and Kevin started looking for another one,” he said.
“He bought the original Laura Hotel and they say 20 years is a life sentence so he’s definitely done his time up here.
“I believe he ran this place more for his friends and visitors than for himself.”
A former bullrider, Kevin was well known on the rodeo circuit.
“The three of us travelled for years (for rodeo),” Pat said.
“He was a very good bullrider.”
The brothers said they had no immediate plans for a funeral and didn’t know what would happen to the pub.
“We’ve had so many people reach out to offer a hand, though,” Dave said.
“The phone hasn’t stopped ringing with people offering a kind word or some help.”
Peter Hannah said Stumpy was always one to lend a hand.
The president of the Pandanus Park Veterans Retreat, located about 100km from Laura on the Normanby River, said Kev would always help cook breakfast at their annual get-together.
“Every year he’d come out with 10kg of sausages and then help cook breakfast,” Mr Hannah said.
“I’d go to fix him up and he’d tell us not to worry about it. Then he’d put two bottles of rum on the table and leave, telling us he had a pub to run.”
The veterans gather every year on August 18 and Mr Hannah said this year would have extra meaning for those in attendance.
“I’d suggest we’ll have a service for him and perhaps get a plaque made up in his honour,” he said.
Former long-time Cooktown resident Jody Andrews, who now lives in South Australia, has been friends with Stumpy since the 90s.
She and her late husband Graeme first met him at Clancy’s pub in Canberra in 1994.
“He’s always been a friend to the veterans. All the bike clubs used to go there (Clancy)’s after the opening of the war memorial.
“He’s not a veteran himself, but would have had many mates who were.”
They crossed paths again more than a decade later – this time in Cape York.
“We went to Laura for the first time in 2006 and walked into the pub and we both went ‘what the hell are you doing here’. Then the friendship just renewed from there,” Ms Andrews said.
“Hearing about his passing brought back a lot of memories as Graeme and I were first on the scene with Arthur Booker (who was taken by a croc at Endeavour River Escape in 2008).
“We were caretakers at River Escape when it happened. His wife came and said he was missing and we were the first there.”
She said Stumpy was not everyone’s cup of tea but had a good heart.
“He can be spicy as hell and he was an old bronco and bullrider who knew how to stand his ground with anyone – skills which came into good measure as a publican.
“The whole thing is a real shock, He was so croc savvy and super conscious of the risks, always educating the tourists.
“He was loyal to a fault with his mates – he’ll always have your back.
“He loved the Laura pub and the tourists. I’ll never forget, one time we were staying there in a two-man tent and there’s Stumpy in the middle of the night in his jocks, it’s a full moon, and he’s got a bullwhip.
“One of the bulls had come into the campground and he’s cracking his whip.
“Even though he’s from Canberra he was a bushie at heart.
“We’ll miss him this year (at Pandanus). I was looking forward to spending a week with him.
“He’d bring all his staff and anyone at the campground up to the Long Tan Day service at Pandanus Park.
“I’d like to think Graeme was waiting for him at the gate with a beer. I wish (Kev) had gone on that bloody round-Australia trip he was wishing he could do because he was jealous when we left.”
Meanwhile, there has been no sighting of Kev or the crocodile suspected to be responsible for his disappearance.
His death – the first due to a croc in Cape York for more than a decade – has sparked a debate among state politicians regarding crocodile management.
Katter’s Australian Party has been pushing for a cull on crocs in the Far North, claiming they are pushing people out of waterways.
On Monday, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk was asked if she supported a crocodile cull.
“We know up north, it is croc country,” she said.
“If there is anything more that we can do in terms of crocodile management plans which are worked out with the councils, we will do that.”