Australia – It won’t kill you

Growing up, our family would never have been accused of being hard core campers. Camping always involved a houseboat and often required a sneaky trip back to town to use the facilities. I know, I know, as country people we should be hanging our heads in shame.

Nevertheless, we did sleep in tents, we got rained on at Easter and burnt to a crisp in the summer. We sat around campfires, toasted marshmallows and spent days lazing on the river. In our neck of the woods life revolved around the water, as a child this meant nagging your parents (or their friends) for another water ski or wake boarding opportunity. We’d look for random fish popping out of the water and laze around in deck chairs late in the afternoon while the pelicans cruised in at sunset to settle for the night.

When we began living overseas and would talk to people about Australia and my hometown and how we stayed entertained, I noticed a familiar theme in people’s questions. “Did anyone you know get attacked by sharks?” I’d explain that no, we lived on the river “Oh, so you’re more likely to get bitten by a crocodile?”

It didn’t take me long to realize that Australia had itself a bit of a reputation. Thanks to Steve Irwin, Paul Hogan and National Geographic, my new friends appeared to believe that upon touching Australian soil they were in serious danger. They were certain that funnel web spiders dropped from the trees, snakes slithered through shopping centres and sharks circled under the Sydney Harbour Bridge. And who can blame them? A quick google search will bring you hundreds of articles about the “dangers of down under” – but is it really that unsafe?

Every Aussie knows that you don’t leave food out in the kitchen unless you want a trail of ants to visit. We give our shoes a shake before putting them on if we’ve left them outside. The garden shed is bound to have a few spiders and I wouldn’t ever put my hands in the middle of the wood heap without wearing gloves – but is any of this death defying behaviour?

Recently a Scottish girlfriend of mine has moved to Perth. I have giggled at many of her Facebook status updates over Australia’s bugs and grubs. I now have visions of her in khakis with a snake catcher in one hand and a Crocodile Dundee knife in the other, in preparation for a trip to the mall. An article on breakfast television about funnel web spiders has left her a little jumpy, a recent lizard spotting while out for a stroll almost required a new set of underwear for the journey. Which maybe say’s something about your average Australian’s conditioning. Perhaps we don’t really notice the bugs? And if the bugs aren’t noticing us when they’re unprovoked, is it really that dangerous? Yes, we may have the 10 deadliest snakes, but I wonder how many Australians could actually identify them?

We’ve all heard the story, wherever you stand in London you’re 8 feet away from a rat (I believe in the olden days the term was PLAGUE), but I’ve managed to get out of London a few times with all fingers and toes attached. In Canada, even though I went up to the mountains and got on all fours with a fish in my mouth in the middle of the river, I was lucky enough not to be eaten by a bear. Okay, maybe I wasn’t in the river with the fish – but I was up in the mountains. In Indonesia, the Komodo dragons kept their distance, in Libya not one scorpion nipped at my ankles, the monkeys were overly curious in Malaysia, and I once ran backwards with a child in a stroller at a speed rivaling Usain Bolt to escape from the most enormous snake I’ve seen in Kuala Lumpur – but I’m here to tell the tale.

This morning I had to giggle at the discovery that we now not only have the most deadly snakes and venomous spiders but our beaches have joined the most DEADLY list (particularly if you can’t swim, nor read the sign telling you to stay within the flags, but why let the details get in the way of a good story). According to the Huffington Post you will now also be eaten by dingoes.

I’m trying to recall the last time I saw a family being chased by a wild pack of dingoes while out walking along the beach. Oh, that’s right. NEVER.

If you’ve managed to survive the recent infestation of bedbugs in New York, the bears of Canada and the rats in London – I reckon you’ll be perfectly safe having a beer in Bondi.

Just watch out for the Drop Bears though.

They’re lethal.

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  1. Gawd I remember the stories my Dad used to spin about Drop Bears when I was little. He used to be a teacher and take the students on school camps out bush. Scared the utter crap out of them 🙂

  2. You need to add Bill Bryson’s book about Australia to your list!

  3. How did I miss knowing Australia resembles an African safari! I mean, Crocodile Dundee was a little rough around the edges, but there was not a lot of civilization around him. You have one fan of the country here. My friend is visiting soon, while she can still do all that walking!, and I expect her back in the same condition she left.

  4. What the heck is a Drop Bear? I’ve lived here since 1953 and I’ve never heard of them.

  5. Yeah, I don’t know what it’s all about either…So we have a few creepy crawlies and reptiles. big deal! We don’t have any animals that can actually eat us 🙂

  6. I dunno. Since they have less to eat in their own habitats, a lot of wild and dangerous critters are coming closer into towns and cities. Would you believe wild coyotes are now a not uncommon sight here in downtown Chicago. Last winter a woman round the corner from me was walking her two small dogs at about 6.30am. She turned round the see THREE coyotes chasing her. She shouted and two of them backed off but the biggest one was fearless and chased her back into her house. I haven’t been out since. 😉

  7. I have been fortunate and lived in three states and one territory of Australia. I never saw a snake outside a zoo. That is until we moved to NJ and found iridescent blue snakes in our backyard. They were quite freaky so we tossed them over the neighbours yard.

  8. I’ve had a snake in the house once, when my baby was 6wks old and it was my partner’s first day back at work! After I calmly left the room with my baby and tried to shut it in the room it slithered out again…we bolted out the front door and then my protective but very silly beagle started attacking it – despite my hysterical screaming for her to come to me from the front door (she probably figured she was safer with the snake lol!). She got to spend an afternoon at the vets to make sure she hadn’t been bitten (it was a dugite) and I spent the afternoon rolling up every extension cord, the vacuum cleaner hose, etc that was making me jump out of my skin every time it entered the corner of my eye! So, one close encounter in my 32 years I’d say is not too bad 🙂

  9. I’m going to buck the trend here and admit that I saw a python in a neighbour’s backyard last week (this was the third python and fifth snake I’ve seen here in 5 years) and, a month ago, I found two funnel web spiders under my hosepipe. I’ve previously found a funnel web in my shoe (left in the house!) and I’ve seen redbacks on my garden wall. I don’t live in the Outback, I live in a Sydney suburb but I take your point that a lot of places have nasty critters in the local environment and, as long as you’re careful, they’ll usually let you be and carry on with their own business. My biggest fear is having young children around this kind of stuff – I’ll educate them and stop them playing in any wood piles but the fear of a snake or spider bite will always be at the back of my mind. I think Australia’s reputation is fair – there are a lot of nasties here – but probably a bit easy to overstate and overhype; an easy target for journos and bloggers. But it all depends on what you’d prefer? A rat on the streets of London or a king brown snake at the end of your drive 😉

  10. I stayed with relatives on a farm in Northern New South Wales, and watched with awe as they strode through the bush without testing for snakes. Then remembered they’d brought up 4 boys here, who rampaged all over the place without coming to harm. So I did a little rampaging of my own, lived to tell the tale.

    And yes, I, too, came across snakes in Malaysia. And leeches – I could live in a world without leeches.

  11. I’m an expat Aussie and kids (Canadian born) have been back many times. Last trip, we did some camping and my family got them all wound up about drop bears and hoop snakes. Laughed! I did.

  12. Oh I love Drop Bears! Always good for a wind up they are *lol*

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