Deadly Australia

After six months in Australia I’m still not sure what can kill you and what can’t. It’s no good asking the Australians. If they want to have a bit of fun with you then those spiders you saw when you were clearing out the tool shed were poisonous. You’re lucky you got out alive. The moment it’s time to get back to work they want to know why you’re making such a fuss about them.

The thing is, just because something’s poisonous doesn’t mean that it’s deadly. But since I didn’t grow up here, I don’t know which of Australia’s many snakes and spiders fall into the latter category. As a result, I have a healthy fear of all fanged creatures.

A few days ago we had a huntsman spider in the house. I looked it up on Wikipedia and found out that the bite of a huntsman spider will make you unwell but won’t kill you. It didn’t seem dangerous enough to call the farmer whose house we were staying in for help, nor harmless enough for me to want to attempt removing it myself. One of the other backpackers tried to catch it with a bucket and the cardboard inner tube of a kitchen roll but it moved so quickly she soon gave up, worried that it might hide behind a piece of furniture. Spiders that you can see are less scary than those that you can’t but that you know are there anyway. She called the farmer up to the house and – I didn’t see this bit but heard about it afterwards –he chased the spider around the living room and out the door with a broom.

That same bucket and cardboard kitchen roll tube which were ineffective against the huntsman had already been used to rid us of another unwanted creature in the house. One night I was sitting on my unmade bed when a mouse ran across the mattress. I’ve stayed in houses with mice before so I wasn’t scared. I got into bed and turned off the light. Then I began to wonder, is there rabies in Australia? It doesn’t seem nearly so important for me to Google that now as it did at 2am when the mouse was scratching around under the bed. Besides, it’s gone now. We put a piece of cheese in the cardboard roll and balanced it on a chair over the bucket. The mouse walked right into our very primitive trap. We relocated it to a field far away from the house where it might get eaten by one of the deadly poisonous snakes we have here on the farm.

That’s right. Deadly poisonous snakes. What is a good distance to keep between you and the angry, injured tiger snake that the dog has been worrying in its jaws and tossed on the grass in front of you? I thought the biggest distance I could quickly achieve without spilling my pail of tomatoes seemed about right. But even when it comes to lethal snakes the Australians are surprisingly relaxed. They hung around considerably closer to the thrashing tiger snake than I did, I think. It was hard to tell because I positioned myself so that they were directly between me and it.

At least if you do get bitten by a poisonous snake or spider, or by a rabid mouse, there is a lifesaving shot. It’s just that you might have only twenty minutes to get it. I met a backpacker here who told me he wanted to go diving with sharks. Even I know that a shark will kill you. There’s no antidote for a shark bite. I told him he was mad. Especially since at the time when I met him he was out of action due to spider bite that left him unable to walk on his swollen and painful leg. You would think that one encounter with a deadly creature would be enough for anyone. I suppose that’s something I should be grateful for: the chances of me running into a shark around the house are pretty slim.


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