The Real Wolf Creek

By RodneyHatfieldJr for Into The Mind

Since practically everyone is under quarantine, the volume of movies being watched is astonishing. I am no different. I was scrolling down the movie guide and came across Wolf Creek. Last time I watched it was over 5 years ago. So I decided to give it another go. To be honest it isn't some cinematic masterpiece, it is a pretty generic slasher film. But what caught my eye is the tagline "Based on true events". I am a sucker for history, especially horror related history. So I sat and rewatched it to refresh my memory, and then started researching the true events. This is what I found.

The beautiful Wolfe Creek National Park in the Western Australian Outback has enthusiastically received so much attention, even though the movie title misspells it. The remote meteorite crater on the edge of the Kimberley and the Great Sandy Desert is named after a nearby creek. And that creek is named after Robert Wolfe, prospector and storekeeper from Halls Creek. (Australia apparently love creeks)


In the Wolf Creek movie story three young backpackers return from a hike in Wolf Creek National Park in the Australian Outback to find their car won't start. They accept needed help from a local bushman. He tows their car to his camp, an abandoned old mine site. They spend the night there, wake up the next morning and this is when they realise he is not the kind bushman they thought. The genuine horror begins.

The movie carried a tagline saying “Based on true events.” So what is the true Wolf Creek story? How close is the movie to Australian Outback reality?


The true Wolf Creek story happened about two thousand kilometers (1242 miles) from Wolfe Creek National Park, and not in Western Australia, but in the Northern Territory. On July 14, 2001, British tourists Peter Falconio and Joanne Lees travelled on the Stuart Highway from Alice Springs in the direction of Darwin. It was night time. Half way between Alice Springs and Tennant Creek, just outside Barrow Creek, a mechanic called Bradley John Murdoch managed to make them pull over and falsely informed them that sparks were coming out of the exhaust of their van.

Peter went to the back of the van with Murdoch to have a look, and Joanne was asked to rev the engine. She later said she thought she heard a shot. Then Murdoch, holding a gun, came to her window. He handcuffed her hands and forcibly dragged her into his four wheel drive. At that point he disappeared for a while. It is assumed that he dealt with Peter's body during that time. That's when Joanne managed to escape. She hid in the bush as Murdoch was searching for her with his dog.

Ultimately, he gave up his search. Joanne waited for hours, making sure he was really gone and wasn't coming back. When she finally staggered back onto the highway two truck drivers stopped and aided her. Murdoch was caught in the largest Northern Territory police investigation ever. He had been in Alice Springs the same day as Joanne and Peter. He had also visited the same fast-food outlet. Whether he targeted them at random or followed them from Alice Springs is unknown. He claims he wasn't even near Barrow Creek, had taken the Tanami Road instead. Tanami Road is a rough bush track from Alice Springs to Western Australia. It runs past Wolfe Creek National Park.

Many questions remain. No weapon or body was found. The motive is unclear, too. But speculations revolve around paranoia and aggression induced by his heavy amphetamine use. Murdoch was a self-confessed drifter, drug runner, and regularly transported large amounts of cannabis between Alice Springs and Broome in Western Australia. His lawyers couldn't explain how his DNA had ended up on the makeshift handcuffs that Joanne was tied up with, if he'd been nowhere near her. After a two-month trial he was found guilty in December 2005. The verdict by the jury was unanimous. Murdoch will serve at least 28 years of a life sentence. Five years after her ordeal, Joanne released her book "No Turning Back" in October 2006.

And that's it, the Wolf Creek true story. Or is it? Well, not exactly. The true story above is not the only one that influenced the Wolf Creek movie. The character of Mick Taylor, the seemingly friendly and helpful bush bloke, is modelled on Ivan Milat. Milat was a serial killer who picked up hitchhikers and hauled them into the woods where he tortured and executed them. These murders took place in the 1990s in New South Wales, not in the Outback. Milat, too, was caught and sentenced to life in prison.

You should also keep in mind that writer/director Greg McLean weaved the original story years before as a conventional and purely fictional slasher flick set in the Australian Outback. He only became aware of the true cases afterwards, and took ideas and cues from them and incorporated them into his story. The line "based on true events" undoubtedly helps marketing the film, but it is misleading.

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