Icons of the Industry

Rex Hunt: The man behind the hype!
By J. Mondora

A few years back I was on-board the game fishing cruiser “Jo Jo” taking pictures and beside me on the bridge was Chris Leishman, who is a financial advisor with the very successful Trinity Financial Services here at Cairns. Chris quietly asked, “In your lifetime how many men do you think have really influenced Australians?”

I replied, “Two. One is Paul Clitheroe, who, through his writings and TV shows (The ‘Money’ Show), has gotten the average Australian thinking about his finances from cot to grave, especially regarding a successful retirement.  The other is Rex Hunt who has half the kids in Australia kissing fish and letting them go, and of course those kids will teach their kids that, and of course that is great for the fishery.”

Well, Chris told Clitheroe what I had said and a couple of weeks later I received a copy of his latest book signed thus “John, thanks for the kind words, here’s another 100,000 – enjoy!”

As far as Rex Hunt goes, I first met him in a restaurant in Darwin. I was with a group of fishermen and Rex was in another group and of course the whole bloody restaurant knew who he was. This was at the height of his career when the TV show “Rex Hunt’s Fishing Adventures” was beaming to most countries of the world.

We all eventually introduced ourselves and he said to me, “Come outside where it’s quiet. I want to talk to you.” Outside he asked, “Tell me about Tinaroo.” And I told him all about it and finished with, “You should do some TV over there Rex – shows on the big barra, stocking fingerlings, electro-fishing, redclaw, plus sooties of course”.
He nodded and came back with, “That’s why I’m asking you all about it. Will you be part of the shows when we set it up?”
And I nodded, and that folks is how I ended up on a few of Rex Hunt’s Fishing Adventures.

When it all happened I launched Raptor and with Rex, a camera and a sound man, plus the director on board I headed out from the ramp. I went about one hundred metres and stopped the motor and said to Rex, “Rex a lot of people have told me you can be a mean bastard and will give me a bad time. If that is true best tell me now and I’ll swim back and you can have the frigging boat, ’cause I don’t need crap from anyone.”
He stared at me for about 10 seconds with that steely glint and replied, “Have any of those people who told you that ever met me? I’ve been reading your stuff all my life and I respect you, so why the hell would I want to give you a bad time? Do you see what I have to put up with at times?”

And that folks is exactly what happened. We shook hands again, and started all over and we had a great time the whole week we were there filming and we made some great TV segments – well Rex did. I was in awe at how professional he was, and very seldom did he do a second take. His crew were amazing, I can tell you.

I watched him sign thousands of autographs and he never once did not smile and he did it like you were his hero, not the other way round. Half the kids on the Atherton Tableland turned up (along with their parents and grandparents) to let fingerlings go for one segment and after it was all over he got up into the back of a ute and this is what he said virtually word for word.
The kids were in their school uniforms and Rex addressed them like a teacher with “Kids when I was born I was so ugly the doctor slapped my mother. I was so dumb at school I had to repeat kindergarten (Rex is as sharp as ten tacks), but kids, through hard work and determination I have done well. I could even buy that school now, and all of you can do the same. Love your parents, work hard, and you’ll be successful, probably a lot more than I have been”.

Well you could have heard a pin drop, and by this time the crowd was huge. The kids and their parents had eyes like golf balls and Rex signed another heap of autographs. The kids’ teachers were most impressed I can tell you.
Now I hadn’t seen Rex for probably nine or ten years ’till just a few weeks back when he turned up at The Tackle Trade Show on the Gold Coast. He was going to the cocktail party and was just starting up the stairs when I walked over to him and said, “Remember me you big, bearded bastard?”
He looked, rolled his eyes, and laughingly replied, “Jeez it’s Mondora. Hey, you’re the star of my new book. In fact there’s a whole chapter devoted to you.”
With grave suspicion I asked, “What’s it called?”, and he grinned like a rat with a gold tooth and said, “C@%!$ I Have Met” (you work it out).

We had a long chat and the next day we sat down in the Fish and Boat stand at the show and I asked him about his life, and here is a very brief overview of Rex Hunt. He is a huge man, probably 6 foot 4 or 5 and around 110 kilos, and he’s now in his early sixties, but the fire in his belly burns like it always has.

He used to sit on the Mordialloc Pier when just out of nappies watching the leather jackets and that’s where his passion for fishing was born, and he takes his grand kids there now folks. He was a police cadet at 16 years and eventually made Sergeant.

After one week in which he got shot, and then had to tell a mother that her son had just killed himself in a car, he resigned. He simply couldn’t handle giving wide eyed mother’s grim news like that – who could actually??
Rex was one of the best AFL players ever born and made his name in this sport. He helped win three grand finals and two premierships and in September 1975 he started in radio and has just done his 2000th show on football.

He then bought a tackle shop and in 1989 was approached to do television. I know why, as he sure is an imposing character with a great sense of humour. He first did a show called Angling Action which aired at 6.30 am. But there was a spike in ratings and for next 17 odd years he did fishing and football shows for TV.

The incredibly successful Rex Hunt’s Fishing Adventures ran for years and is still running all over Europe. This show took Rex to dizzying heights; to the stage where he had trouble walking down the streets of London would you believe?

He is passionate about getting kids off their bums in front of the TV set or playing bloody computer games, and out into the great outdoors fishing and running around doing what kids should be doing. He simply loves kids and he has done a lot, and achieved a lot, with kids (remember up on the Tableland).
In fact he told me, and our wide-eyed young editor, to get off our rectums and do all in our power to get kids fishing. Rex had many classic statements about kids, and I will always remember this one – “If you place a fishing rod in the hand of a kid, he or she won’t be run over painting graffiti on a train carriage!”

He has been married to wife Lyn for 44 years and has kids and grand kids he simply adores. In fact his son in law is TV fishing host Lee Raynor and boy can Lee learn from “the old fellow”.

At the Tackle Trade Show Rex was so proud when a fine young man came up to him and said, “Rex my Dad used to make me watch your fishing show when I was 6 or 7, and now I’m 23 and have my own tackle business and I owe it all to you.” Isn’t that a great story and a testament to the power of television.

I finished the interview with, “Why did you retire? You could be bigger and better than ever. You’re certainly still ugly enough.”
He grinned at that and sighed, “John we all have to know when it’s time to quit, and for me it was time to go.”
Now that statement has got me thinking I can tell you. I have been writing for over 40 years, and perhaps it’s time for me to go. But I still enjoy doing it, and I hope you enjoy reading it, but when my peers (that is you by the way) start to say “It’s time old fellow” I’ll hang up this keyboard and walk into the sunset.

I really respect Rex Hunt for what he has achieved, but more so for what he has put back into the fishery, and here’s his sign off blurb: “Yibbida, Yibbida, and thank your mother for the rabbits. That’s all folks”.
And from me?? Till next time you be kind to each other now.

A few minutes with Rex
In his short time at the Fish and Boat stand Rex dropped a lot of wisdom. Here’s his top six:

1. “Fishing media needs to get back to their roots and start targeting non-fishing people again. Just get back to the basics like Huck Finn. I look around and see all this competition over who can make the best lure or rubber and really we should be pushing fishing to the masses.”

2. “I think new role models are needed to appeal to the young kids. There’s a lot of ‘cast it out wiggle, wooble, wibble, twitch and freespool etc’, but there’s not enough ‘hook a worm on a hook, drop it down and catch a grunter – Yibbida, Yibbida that’s what it’s all about folks’.”

3. “It’s good to come back here and push the message, but in one way or another I’ll be pushing fishing till I’m pushing daisies.”

4. “These day’s John, there are families on holidays and the kids are playing on their game stations and catching fish with a keyboard. What a load of …”

5. “I remember walking down the street in London and a bobby [English copper] stopped us as we were crossing the road and said, ‘Yabba-dabba-do gov. You have a good day Mr Hunt.’ I couldn’t believe it. I’m like, ‘It’s yibbida, yibbida mate. I’m not Fred Flintstone!'”
And lastly,

6. “Alright John, I’d best be off. I’ve got instructions from my granddaughter that I have to go across the road to Pacific Fair to pick up a Dora the Explorer doll.”
Rex Hunt and John Mondora

2011 Tackle Show-176 Gold Coast

Rex Hunt & John Mondora at the Fish & Boat stall at the Tackle Show discussing how to get children involved in fishing— Rex’s favourite topic