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The story behind the biggest crocodile ever caught in Australia: How a petite Polish immigrant with perfectly manicured nails nailed an 8.6metre monster

Daily Mail logo Daily Mail 30/09/2019 Charlotte Karp For Daily Mail Australia
© Associated Newspapers Ltd

A struggling immigrant family's lives were changed forever when the glamorous matriarch picked up a rifle and shot a crocodile between the eyes. 

Krystyna 'Krys' Pawlowski had no choice but to kill the beast that day in 1955 in Kaumba, in Queensland's Gulf Country - the reptile was creeping up on her three-year-old daughter, Barbara. 

'My brother came out and saw it and yelled "Barbara, crocodile!" and my mother grabbed a rifle and shot it between the eyes,' Krys's son George Pawlowski told Daily Mail Australia. 

a man holding a lobster © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited That shot would make the family famous because at 8.6 metres, the reptile was, and still is, the biggest ever killed or captured in Australia.

The Polish immigrants, who came to Australia in 1949 and had been struggling to get by, realised they'd struck gold when they took the beast to be skinned.  

'An old-timer in the town helped us skin the crocodile and we sent it off to a dealer in Brisbane and finished off getting 10 pounds for it,' Mr Pawlowski said. 

a person standing next to a tree: Barbara (pictured) escaped death a grizzly death as an infant and went on to be a crocodile handler © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Barbara (pictured) escaped death a grizzly death as an infant and went on to be a crocodile handler 'In those days 13 pounds was the basic weekly wage, so Dad (Ron Pawlowski) thought they were on to something.'

Krys would go to find fame as 'One Shot', the petite 5'4'' crocodile hunter who would kill up to 10,000 reptiles over a 15-year hunting career with her husband - all while wearing long red nails. 

Legend had it the mother-of-three only missed three shots in her lifetime and was able to hit a moving crocodile with ease - despite having never fired a rifle before she arrived in Australia just six years before her famous crocodile kill.  a man sitting on a table: Ron (pictured) praised his wife for her hunting skills at every opportunity © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Ron (pictured) praised his wife for her hunting skills at every opportunity

She was also able to skin the reptiles faster than anyone else, and she would usually do it right after the kill - on the spot amid the mangroves and mosquitoes.

a person sitting on a bench next to a body of water: Krys (pictured) was able to kin the reptiles faster than anyone else, and would usually do it right after the kill © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Krys (pictured) was able to kin the reptiles faster than anyone else, and would usually do it right after the kill

'She was better than me with a pistol and she was much better with a rifle at moving targets from a boat,' Ron once told reporters.

'We both could hit a bottle top at 100 yards, but Krys could shoot through the same hole the second time.'

a group of people sitting at a beach: After taking the 8.6-metre monster down, Ron built a small boat out of scraps and called it 'Joey' and the family (pictured) started their new lives as crocodile hunters © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited After taking the 8.6-metre monster down, Ron built a small boat out of scraps and called it 'Joey' and the family (pictured) started their new lives as crocodile hunters After taking the 8.6-metre monster down, Ron built a small boat out of scraps and called it 'Joey' and the family started their new lives as crocodile hunters.

Krys became an international celebrity known for her blonde hair, glamorous style, impeccable aim, and taxidermy expertise. 

'My parents were both legends in their own right, but my mother was something else,' Mr Pawloski recalled.

a tree in front of a house: Pictured: The family home of legendary crocodile hunting family © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Pictured: The family home of legendary crocodile hunting family

'She'd be up to her waist in thick mud but she always had lipstick on and the red nail polish - I think it contrasted with what she did for a living, and made her feel a bit different.'

He also explained fashion was important to his croc-hunter mother, and said she'd get home and change out of her muddy greens into traditional 50s dresses to relax around the house.

'Even though I spend hours, day and night, wading thigh-deep through mud and swamps, it's good to catch a glint of my nail polish as I pull the trigger of the rifle,' Krys once told reporters in Brisbane, champagne in-hand. 

Mr Pawlowski backed up his father's claim and said his mother actively refused to be 'put down' by her male counterparts.

'There was this guy up north who said no one could skin a croc faster than him.

'They had a competition one day, and she'd skinned the croc, cleaned it, salted it, rolled it up and was having a coffee before he was anywhere near finishing.'

a man sitting at a beach: Despite having never shot a rifle prior to immigrating to Australia, the petite 5'4 © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Despite having never shot a rifle prior to immigrating to Australia, the petite 5'4

Mr Pawlowski said his parent's profession rubbed off on his siblings, and recalled finding his brother Stefan hovering over one of the deadly creatures one day.

'He was so proud of himself for taking down such a big one, but I looked at him and said "that's the closest I've seen anyone to a croc that's still alive".

'And it was - it's two eyes were open and staring at me. I've never seen anyone move so quickly - he screamed and jumped up, and shot it again to make sure it was dead.'

a man and a woman standing next to a fence: Mr Pawlowski said his family's greatest legacy is their work with conservation (pictured: the family crocodile conversation park) © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Mr Pawlowski said his family's greatest legacy is their work with conservation (pictured: the family crocodile conversation park) Despite the obvious dangers with croc hunter parents, Mr Pawlowski insisted he never felt as though his life was at risk.

'We never felt threatened,' he said.

'You know, people ask what my life as a crocodile hunter's kid was like and how dangerous it was and all that, but it was just life.' 

a close up of a reptile: Pictured: the skull of the third largest crocodile Krys shot © Provided by Associated Newspapers Limited Pictured: the skull of the third largest crocodile Krys shot

Mr Pawlowski explained that crocodiles weren't aggressive when he was a child, claiming they largely left he and his family alone.

'Tourists have agitated the crocodiles by not reading the signs, or by baiting them in the hopes that they'll jump out of the water - they've been taught to do that.' 

Over time, Mr Pawlowski said his parents tired of shooting the creatures and began to work on conservation.

'Back then, conservation wasn't really something people spoke about,' he shared.

'They were shooting a lot of them and realised it was threatening the reptiles, so they set up the first crocodile conservation farms in the country, and possibly the world.' 

Mr Pawlowski said his family's greatest legacy is their work with conservation, and explained their work laid the foundations for conservation all over the world.

He is writing a book on his experiences growing up surrounded by saltwater crocodiles.

Pictures: The wildlfie of planet earth



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