I spotted it just as I was about to climb into bed: a three inch black thing scuttling on eight legs across the floor towards me at hyper speed.
Now, I’m not arachnophobic by any means, and I’m not one to flush spiders down the plughole, but here I was in Byron Bay and I was well aware that Australia boasts so many of the world’s deadliest creatures. And that, quite honestly, did freak me out a little. Was this visitor one of the nasties?
I heard that funnel webs, red backs and white-tailed spiders were the ones to worry about, but in truth, I didn’t really know what I was actually looking for. Not to worry then, I guess.
My first introduction to Australian wildlife was the wonderfully fat leech that I found wriggling around in my sock post-Blue Mountain hike. It had had a good munch on my ankle, leaving me with an itch that bled easily. Nice. I was also warned about ticks. But neither of these seemed unique to Australia. Hiking in the UK bore the same risks.
Pretty, pretty ugly or pest?
Cane toads, on the other hand, are a unique to Australia, or rather the problem of cane toads is pretty unique to Australia. The kids of the family that I was staying with found one in their garden. He was bagged up, ready to be destroyed by the time I got to see him Sound harsh? Not as bad as the story another friend told me about golf clubbing the things when she was a kid. Really. And whilst I was staying in Byron, the local council invited everyone along for a ‘cane toad muster in Mullum’. These creatures are definitely considered pests by a large majority.
Whilst I act blasé about getting taken by a shark, it is a thought that occasionally smacks me in the face when I’m bobbing about in the water. Luckily, I’m not as worried as my friend Dund who can’t even deal with shark pictures, and I do think it would be one hell of a story for my family if I died that way, but really, I’d rather not.
Although Lonely Planet states: ‘The risk of shark attacks in Australian waters is no greater than any other countries with extensive coastlines’, it is a reality of swimming and surfing these waters. Whilst I was in Byron, there were a few spottings on the southern beaches and in 2011 there was a marked increase in shark attacks on the Australian coastlines, three of which were fatal. Other things I’d been warned to look out for were stone fish, jellyfish, sea urchins and stingrays. Oh, and the brown snake that decided to take a swim with the surfers one day.
So onto snakes. Since I stroked a snakeskin in a museum in Middlesbrough, UK when I was a kid, I’ve had a real aversion to these scaly creatures. Australia has six of the top ten most deadly snakes in the world. Why I chose to spend time here, then, is anyone’s guess. New Zealand was a safer option for sure. But during my six weeks in Australia, I didn’t actually see a single snake. Phew. (And a little disappointment).
Crocodiles were another of Australia’s ‘one to avoid’ that I easily managed to avoid by just not going too far north. Not this time at least. But I’m one to face my fears, so maybe one day.
And bugs and beasties aside? There are some dangerous plants over Australia way too. Such as the stinging tree. Think massive stinging nettles. Don’t let their heart shaped leaves fool you because their hairy barbs can stick in for up to two months. And when in the rainforest, also steer clear of the long, mean Wait-a-While Vine whose harsh hooks…well… hook into you and stay stuck.
And what about that spider? ’It could have been a Huntsmen’, said my neighbour Daniella the following day. ‘It’s the small ones you want to worry about, but they prefer damp, leafy spots, not bedrooms’.
On that particularly night, anyone I might have gone to for advice was already in bed so I took matters into my own hands, turning my room upside down, shaking out absolutely everything and checking every inch of the room. But spidey had done a great hidey job. Enough was enough. I was tired. Crawl over my face if you must, spider, but just, god dammit, let me sleep.