S is for Ssssss
Australians do love to stir visitors with the threat of its slithery, snapping, stinging, stabbing venomous critters. You might even say it’s a national hobby. Yes, we also have those cuddly koalas and cute kangaroos but it’s the surreptitious creatures that strike fear into many hearts, visitors and locals alike.
Add that to an Aussie’s love of the beach and you’ve got a very unfortunate combination, especially in Australia’s Far North where there’s even more of them, or as one daughter once said “I’m going where there are fewer creatures to kill me“: she’d had enough of stingers, salties and king brown snakes! But the Territory was under her skin and she came back.
Now that we’re up to the letter S, you’ve seen a lot of gorgeous places that you might want to add to your Bucket List. Today’s post is the warning notice that comes with your booking….you know, the contract’s small print. You’ll soon realise why so many of us prefer the pool to the beach if we live above the Tropic of Capricorn. So what have you got to be afraid aware of? Apart from the length of this post, that is.
A box jellyfish. Image from Wikipedia.
These are the party poopers of the natural world of our Tropical zone…you look out at those magnificent blue seas but swimming is hazardous. Apparently stingers are also literate because they only hang around in the months with an R in the name (September to April). We’re not talking blue bottles here, even though those can deliver a nasty sting to be remedied with your mother’s old blue bag from the washing. The box jellyfish of the tropical waters can/may kill you or, at a minimum, deliver an incredibly painful sting. Deaths may be rare but I know personally of at least one case where a small child died. Vinegar over the sting helps, but not going in the water helps even more.
Some beaches on the north east coast of Queensland are protected with stinger nets, but unfortunately the Top End of the NT and WA have such tidal extremes that nets are impossible.
I snapped this croc at Crocodylus Park. You get the picture!
Saltwater crocs abound in our waterways, especially since culling became illegal. All river systems, the ocean and many billabongs provide them with a lovely home and food source. They’re there and they’re dangerous…seriously dangerous. The local rag newspaper keeps track of how many are removed from Darwin Harbour each year: we’re already up to 59 this year….and that’s just the ones they’ve trapped.
Visitors to town can visit Crocosaurus Cove where you get an example of the fierceness and strength of their jaws –their “snap factor”. Where else might one’s small grandchildren automatically ask if there are crocs in a waterway and know that crocs will take their prey in a death roll underwater before stashing it under a log?
And if you’re camping make sure you’re not too close to a waterway unless you fancy being “human en croute” for Mr or Ms Croc.
If you’ve visiting Darwin, do add the Museum to your touring list. It’s an excellent tourist venue and you can see all these scary creatures safely preserved where they can’t hurt you! A popular feature is Sweetheart the saltwater croc which has an interesting story. (Have a coffee or lunch or smoko in the Cornucopia Cafe while you’re there and enjoy the great view of the Sea).
A king brown or mulga snake, common around the Top End. Image from Wikipedia.
Australia apparently has more venomous snakes than anywhere else in the world (too far for St Patrick to get here it seems!). I grew up around a fair few snakes because we lived near a creek with natural bush. I have great respect, and a high degree of loathing, for them. My Dad’s advice was always to stand very still for a short while, then ever so slowly walk backwards for a way. My addition was “then run like hell”. This training proved very helpful one day at the beach when I found myself, in bare feet, less than a foot from a mercifully snoozy death adder. Mind you, I didn’t much like all my fellow wood-collectors screaming and shrieking at the same time.
When walking in the bush it certainly pays to keep your eyes peeled (and wear shoes!) as a sunning-itself snake can look remarkably like a fallen branch. Not to mention there are some cracker water snakes, all of which are venomous if the museum is to be believed.
Mercifully there are a lot of anti-venenes available for the most prevalent snakes.
The other scary water creature is the shark which is certainly out there in the tropical waters but takes a lower profile thanks to the stingers and salties. Further south, where they’re the main water hazard they have a well deserved reputation for dangerous attacks. Perth seems especially vulnerable. Coastal Queensland has some shark nets out past the surf which are monitored.
Spiders, Shells, Stonefish
Did you think I’d finished with scaring you?
We have more than our share of poisonous Spiders but really they tend to be played down in the larger scheme of things. Not to say they’re not potentially dangerous!
A stonefish in an aquarium is far more obvious than in the natural world. Image from Wikipedia.
I love collecting Shells but even these have life-threatening potential. In my pre-ecologically-aware youth I used to collect shells from the reef at Magnetic Island. Cone shells have a barb that shoots out if you pick them up so you need to learn the correct way to do so (with the narrow end facing away).
Stonefish are another hazard of tropical waters and especially around Queensland’s north. They’re the ugliest creatures you might see and extremely difficult to spot at low tide huddled in the dark sand or mud. Stand on one and you’ll know all about it! Hence why wearing shoes is wise when roaming the reef at low tide.
Scared yet? How about some gardening?
Perhaps all these hazards of the natural world have frightened you off and you think a nice safe spot of gardening will do the trick.
Well no, because during the Wet Season there’s another hazard: Nightcliff Gardening Disease (after a Darwin suburb) is its common name but more correctly it’s Melioidosis. Most people aren’t susceptible but those with poor immunity or perhaps diabetes are at risk of infection and subsequently amputation or even death.
S is for the Stuart Highway
My original plan had been to talk about the Stuart Highway, aka The Track, which runs from Darwin south to Alice Springs then Adelaide. However, I decided to make S a more fun post and I’ll share the important history of the Track after the A to Z is finished. If you want to see where it is, and just how pivotal it is to touring the Territory: you can see the highway represented by a steady stream of yellow flags.
Why visit: For all that these risks are real, plainly they’re also not statistically high or Australia would have an even smaller population! It’s all a matter of common Sense and taking appropriate precautions. Surely all those wonderful Sights and Scenery outweigh a few risks.
A galah. Image from Wikipedia.
Silly galah: a foolish person, might be affectionate, or not. After our vivacious and slightly silly pink and grey bird of the same name. Not too dissimilar to “as silly as a two bob (cheap) watch”
Shrapnel: small coins/change (I’ve got so much shrapnel in my purse my handbag is heavy).
Station: This is an important one! In this context it’s a large property for grazing animals. These are NOT called ranches in Australia.
Stockman: a person who works on a station rounding up cattle etc.
Sanger short of a picnic: a bit mad or crazy, not “all there”.
Snake in the grass: lying treacherous person
Scab: someone who works when other staff are on strike. This is a mega-insult. Alternatively “can I scab a few dollars off you” means “borrow”.
Skippy: Kangaroo or wallaby
Smoko: tea break –especially used by tradies or people on the land
Sweet: Not sure where this one came from but a more recent expression meaning “it’s all good” or “happy with that”
Join me Tomorrow as we Tarry in the Tropics.