Australia sure is full of weird animals. In the years I lived there I faced near death on a daily basis.
My first walk in the forest (or ‘bush’ as they call it down under) near Sydney started out fine. It was a beautiful day for a walk along the track by a river. I noticed what looked like nylon fishing line strung across the track in several places. I tried to clear it out of the way. It was really tough. And sticky. Suddenly I realised what it was and froze. This was not fishing line. It was spiders silk, way thicker than any reasonable spider could spin. I felt a sudden dread, like Bilbo Baggins in Mirkwood. Moving very slowly I looked around in fear, hoping not to see the giant web spinners. But sure enough, there they were, dangling from the trees above, several huge golden orb spiders peering down at me from the branches with many eyes, plotting my doom.
When I pointed them out with a trembling finger, my Australian friends laughed in their harsh, goblin like voices and said they were harmless, and that I was a wuss. Thus was I introduced to two of the many unfriendly species in that barren land.
Some of those Australian animals really are dangerous. Once I almost trod on a taipan – one of the six most venomous snakes in the world, of which Australia hosts five.
In our office we discovered a nest of funnelweb spiders whose bite is so deadly that they have not bothered to develop an antivenin because it kills you so quickly that there would be no time to get to the medicine.
And its not just poison you have to worry about. One fine day a friend of mine was swimming off his boat in the Northern Territory. He climbed back on board and seconds later a giant crocodile reared out of the water – it was longer than the boat – about 14 foot. It had been coming for him under the water.
And the ants! I’m sure that Australian ants are all escapees from science fiction movies. In New Zealand ants are small and cute and evolved on our home planet. They are black and harmless, and spend their days off modestly lifting bits of leaf many times their own body weight to impress the queen girl ant.
Australian ants arouse no feelings of sympathy as they vie with one another to see who can deliver the most vicious bite, and who can be more gaudy coloured and huge. Green tree ants, bull ants, red soldier ants – ants ants ants! It’s like a foreign world where giant bugs rule, and the few surviving humans cower and hide in a sparse patch of shade while legions of arthropods march across the horizon, mopping up the last pockets of human resistance.
Of course there are cute animals in Australia too. I encountered a curious echidna on a path, a shy platypus plying the surface of a cold lake, vast herds of kangaroos bounding across the plain, a curious rock wallaby in the snow, possums pinching sandwiches from our picnic, slow witted koalas fighting in slow motion in a towering gum tree, and constellations of iridescent fish on the Great Barrier Reef.
There’s one thing you don’t get to appreciate much living in England. Our world is full of weird wild animals. At least it used to be, and it surely should be – after all, wasn’t it designed like that? It saddens me to think that many of these beautiful, strange, cute, terrifying or vicious creatures will soon be gone forever. Humans can be pretty wild too – I know some teenagers that are far more dangerous than a crocodile.