Origin Story & Metaphor

How the Crocodile Metaphor came to be

I tell my clients a story about a time many, many years ago, in far north-west Western Australia when I visited a Pearl Farm with my sister, on a boiling hot day, (42C,/104F) driving through choking red dust, in our little rented car.

This is the little red car we took on our adventure.

This was in the days before GPS satellite navigation, when most adventures started, as this one did with some directions scrawled on a table napkin by the waiter who served us our breakfast.

Our only “map”

As we drove further and further away from civilization, we started to fear we were really lost.

People can – and do, die out here from the extreme heat, and very few cars or trucks come through as the roads are so remote, so we knew full well, that we could be stranded out here for days or weeks without seeing another vehicle or person.

About 90 minutes into our adventure we saw this sign.

And we realized we had not anticipated how quickly we had become so vulnerable. Needless to say, we did NOT have MOST of the advised requirements to stay safe.

No extra fuel or water, no shovel, no spare tyre, no tow rope, and no first aid or tool kit.

Just two crazy city girls out in the middle of nowhere with no supplies.

My sister decided we should press on and not turn back.

This is us when we were little girls, she is always leading and I am always following, this was no different.

Us on a “horse ride machine” outside a supermarket

Now, if you knew my sister, you would know that her suggestion to keep going was not open for discussion, it was a decision – made for us both, and being the younger sister, I would of course agree.

Which I did…

Then we started seeing more disturbing signs along the road, like this one.

Finally, we arrived at the Pearl Farm sign …..

And I’ve never been so happy to see a sign in my whole life.

We met the owners, a young couple, John and Anna, who lived alone in this incredibly remote area, running their small pearl farming business together.

Now in this area, there are only 2 seasons… The WET (November until April) and The DRY (May until October)

When it is the WET season up here in Far North-west of Western Australia, the only way in and out is by boat or helicopter.

We were near Broome – near the Australian Flag on this map.

For 6 months, all the roads are submerged under many feet of water.

There is a bridge under all that water. Really, a whole bridge Image: Kimberley Australia

So, if they need any help, medical or otherwise they are days away from getting it.

What do you think the biggest problem would be in this situation?

Not enough food and fresh water?
No entertainment?
No supermarket?
No marriage counselling when you need it?


John told us the biggest problem they have is all the huge saltwater crocodiles that live up here next to them.

The “Salties” see John and Anna as food.

And as The Wet settles in, the water rises making their little piece of land a small island surrounded by massive man-eating crocodiles.

To manage their Pearl Farm, John and Anna have to row their little boat out to the Pearl lines, haul them up into the boat, scrub the moss and growth off them so they stay healthy and don’t get any bacterial infections.

Then, lower them back down into the murky water to spend more time making the pearls, each worth a small fortune.  

This takes hours and hours and needs to be done fairly regularly to keep the oysters healthy so they make good quality pearls.

This is all fairly straight forward and simple, yet backbreaking, and challenging manual labor in the intense heat and humidity.

If that wasn’t enough, John tells us, all this has to be done with the primary thought being that dozens of hungry saltwater crocodiles are constantly watching them and planning to eat them.

In the 1970’s the Australian Government stopped the legal hunting of crocodiles, to save them from extinction.

Since then, the population has exploded, and they have now overrun this area of Australia and are extremely dangerous and extremely large, often getting to over 6 meters (19+ feet).

In The Wet season ‘Crocs’ are often seen very close to the roads and can even be found in the streets and in people’s gardens. They can, however, be culled by the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries if they become a danger to local communities, or start eating farmer’s livestock. So, John goes on to explain that he and Anna cannot launch their little boat on any kind of regular routine.

The Crocs are watching for routines they can predict ahead of time, so they can position themselves near the boat and be there hours before John and Anna approach the launch spot.

They must keep their routine random, which isn’t as easy as it sounds.

John explains that Crocs are ambush hunters. The Crocodile lays in wait…..very patiently.

Crocodiles can turn their own metabolism way down. They can hold their breath from 4 – 15 minutes underwater, remaining invisible, for two hours if needed, and more if they aren’t stressed.

Crocodiles are cold-blooded, and very efficient at storing energy in their bodies, and they are capable of eating large meals at one time. This, and their ability to remain motionless for long periods, means they can go without food for as long as…three years!!!

The record observed time spent underwater for a Crocodile, is eight hours in freezing conditions; this is because crocodiles are cold-blooded and a cold crocodile uses less energy and oxygen so it can hold its breath longer than a warm one. They can actually put themselves into suspended animation. So, they can literally out-wait you and not even breathe or eat until they devour you.

This alligator is in Florida. His snout is above the frozen water, so he can breathe and remain alive in Winter, until the Spring thaw melts the water around him.

Image: news.com.au

They are always waiting, and watching you, learning about your habits, waiting for you to be vulnerable in a place he can count on you being at a certain time, so he can ambush attack you.

The Crocodile is the ultimate stalker, and ambush killer

And I thought how much like addiction this is.

ADDICTION is always waiting, and watching you, learning about your habits, waiting for you to be vulnerable in a place it can count on you being at a certain time, so it can ambush attack you.

  The Crocodile waits, and waits, and watches the addicted person for patterns of behaviour which it can predict ahead of time.

Then it positions itself invisibly – at the water’s edge (places the addicted person regularly goes), so when they go there, it can grab them, lightning-fast, drag them down, spin them in a death roll to kill them, and then devour them.

Sounds like addiction to me.

Patient, calculating, strategizing, cunning, a predator, single-minded, focused, relentless, and observant.

That’s how the metaphor was born.

The Theory Behind the Metaphor


Story-telling engages the sub-cortical brain, and opens creativity and other ways the addicted person can begin to plan how to avoid the addiction – Crocodile.



Metaphors are understood in a deep way. The way I use it is to introduce a new way to look at addiction, as an external animal which can be understood and outsmarted.


Those with addictions have been shamed, pushed away and stigmatised. Now, the Crocodile is the bad one, and the person who has been taken by  The Crodoile has a way to fight back with the help of others who have beaten it. I  call those of us who have “Crocodile Wranglers.”

Why externalise the addiction. Doesn’t that let the addict off the hook?

Yes, and no.

Externalising the addiction makes The Crocodile an entity that can be fought off.

The therapist/Crocodile Wrangler has strategies to trick the Crocodile and make the addict a Hero.

Believe it or not, this actually works.



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