Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Australia is out to get you

I've noticed that it's difficult to have a casual conversation here in Australia without somehow getting on the subject of "all the things that can kill you here". We spent NYE at the house of a couple friends, Mark and Matty, who live very close to Coogee Beach. Matty's family was there, and this being Australia we quickly found ourselves discussing lethal sharks, spiders, and snakes. 

Now, no one ever comes right out and says "How are you enjoying Sydney so far? By the way, mate, there's a ton of shit here that will kill you." Rather, you always stumble on the subject unintentionally.

In our case, we got started due to the the helicopters that kept swooping low over the beach. "Shark patrol," Paul, Matty's dad, said. "The bottom of the ocean is white sand all the way out to the end of the shelf where it drops off, so you can see sharks against it pretty easily."

When we told people we were moving here, everyone said "Don't get eaten by sharks." What's ironic is that Florida has way more shark attacks than anywhere else -- 268 sharks attacks over the past decade, accounting for almost 40% of the world's total, while Australia "only" had 115.

Where Australia does win out is with fatal attacks, 13 here versus 4 for Florida. Your survival chances are much better when a Lemon Shark takes a nip on your calf than when a Great White eats your torso. The shark threat here certainly isn't idle. In 2009 a Navy diver lost a hand and part of his leg to aggressive Bull Sharks, which prowl the Sydney harbor and have been found 40 miles up the river that empties into the harbor. A day after that incident a surfer was attacked at Bondi.

Having sufficiently covered sharks, we next moved on to spiders. After hearing about Sharon's encounter with a Huntsman, Paul displayed a finger and pointed out two white bumps. "Scars from the Hunstman's fangs," he said. When you use the word "fangs" to describe a spider's biting apparatus, you know you're dealing with a big sonofabitch.

"I was bitten by a Huntsman 20 years ago," he continued. "I pulled down my car visor and one fell down on my chest. When I grabbed it to throw it out the window, it bit me. When it gets really cold I still lose feeling in my finger." They may not be lethal, but they still carry a punch. Oh, and they can jump. He had seen one in the kitchen the previous night and it was jumping away from him, before finally turning and standing its ground.

Then we heard about the White-tailed Spider, whose venom can cause gangrene. At that moment, our friend Alex spotted a White-tail on the ceiling and calmly trapped it in a glass. He was going to toss it off the balcony, but Sharon and his wife Michelle both took turns screaming "Kill it! Kill it!" They weren't interested in being charitable after learning of its danger. Nothing ruins a good party like gangrene.

The spider excitement behind us, Sharon and I told how we were going hiking in the Blue Mountains, about an hour west of Sydney, when her sister comes in February. "Watch out for snakes," we were warned. And that's how we got to talking about snakes. 

There are about 100 venomous snakes in Australia, and 12 whose venom can kill you. Of the ten deadliest snakes in the world, six reside in Australia. This includes numbers one, the Inland Taipan, and two, the Eastern Brown Snake. Paul once met a guy with an enormous ulcer on his calf and asked what happened. This guy had been bitten by a Brown Snake 18 months earlier and was only now beginning to heal, and he still had the ulcer to show for it. The Brown Snake's venom kills your tissue. He had almost lost the leg and was lucky to be alive.

This converation pattern repeated itself at a friend's engagement party I attended a week ago, but this time instead of stopping at animals we also covered flash floods and fires. It was a very comprehensive discussion.

Fortunately, this is a well documented phenomenon. If you go to Google and type in "things in Australia that" the four auto-complete suggestions provided are:
"things in Australia that are not trying to kill you" (stay away from everything else)
"things in Australia that will kill you" (don't bother resisting; you will be killed if you go)
"things in Australia that can kill you" (able to kill, but not necessarily interested)
"things in Australia that could kill you" (yes, it's possible to kill you)

Consider yourself warned.


  1. This is hilarious! I recall hearing some of these tales from Alex when he first started living there. Keep on surviving guys!

  2. We have a good story about leeches when hiking, both in Blue Mountains and up in Ku-Ring Gai. They can't kill you but they might be even worse than sharks and spiders. Next time we catch up remind me...

  3. Ha! If you don't survive an attack from one of these animals (and get an awesome scar) you are officially unmanly.

    What about cool animals that won't kill you? Ridden a kangaroo yet? Fed a baby to a dingo? Fondled a wallaby?