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Robbers, killers and cane toads.

  • Posted by Jojo Page
  • September 4, 2011 5:51 AM AEST
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I think it is fair to say, that your DVD collection doesn’t have to be studded with ‘Crocodile Dundee’ to know that Australia is home to a lot of exotic animals. If we are going to give into the stereotype-I write as I look outside at London’s silver sky and sip upon my Earl Grey- it is easy to list kookaburras, kangaroos, wallabies and koalas and think that this these are the sum of the southern hemisphere. But what I think the really amazing thing is, is the casual nature that natives will refer to the extensive and incredible kingdom of animals in Aus. One of my last stops of travel was in Sydney, and when staying with a friend on the harbour he casually referenced the ‘funnel web spider’-a spider that actually rears up on its back 4 legs-the front 4 poised to kill any human that it comes across-and yes, they are most common in Sydney. Or the fact that I can tell you that at ‘Adora Downs’ a ranch I was guest at in mid-Queensland, their kitchen is home to wooden spoons, pots, pans, and kangaroos that hop in from the garden. Of course, I am just listing my own experiences with animals that supposedly everyone could claim are in Australia without having to trek. But I write this wanting to share with you the awe at the creatures that I gradually became immune too as my day to day life encompassed the creatures that most Aussie’s will grow up.

 

I don’t like sharks. The thought of them, and their power has always scared me. But.... An animal that I think I dislike even more, are crocodiles. When I was in Litchfield, which is a national park in Darwin, we visited a swamp. I want to describe what the ‘boat’ looked like, but I don’t think the word ‘boat’ does justice to how thankful I was to that beautiful vessel that lay between us and these hulking beasts. Seating about 20 of us, me and my friend sat a row back from the front, and the guide stood at the back steering the engine. Mark, we learned did this tour 15 times a day, and understandably any task that you have to repeat that much does get a little dull. But should there still be a slightly monotonous tone to your spiel, when this ‘task’ is to see how close the boat will get to a waiting croc?! Even though, you trust, that Mark was fully in control of the situation, and the words are still ringing in your ears ‘they will move off confronted by anything bigger’ AND that Craig the Crocodile can’t see your teeny muscle of a heart jiving madly under your t-shirt… The front of the boat-which was roughly a metre and a half in front of the first seats-was another mere metre in front of the reptile before he finally moved. Facing us head on, the dingy was slowly edging towards him. He was completely stationary, the armour of scales on his back could have been sharpened by an artist’s pen. Our hands were squeezing one another as if trying to become one. Everyone, was very, very quiet. When suddenly, the planks of his jaws were lobbed through the air in profile as, having lost the battle in size, he heaved himself off to his private underwater world-not to be seen by us. There were screams. Mark didn’t react, probably the 28th time already today that he had been allowed so close. Hey, you’ve got to bring the bacon in some how.

 

Another man across the year that made my fear of a harmless animal feel particularly puny, was James. My first camping trip in Australia was also in Queensland, and after the day of hiking and tent construction it was just me and James around the camp fire as the others slept. I say me and James, but the darkness was so dense, that if we hadn’t have been talking philosophically as camp fires seem to encourage; ‘so, would you prefer to be blind, or deaf?’ I wouldn’t have known he was there. The sky was like a chalk board in blackness, and there were so many stars it looked as though a tube of glitter had spilled and scattered. Fruit bats wing span occasionally acted as shadow puppets. And then there was something else. ‘What’s that James?’ I said to the small squeeks around us, more curious than fear. ‘Those are just the possums’. (Remember as well, apart from the dying fires amber hues, I can’t see anything.)

Then there was something else else. It was an orchestra of deep croaks, suddenly there around us, like the darkness had just spat them out. And they were everywhere-what sounded like close and far, as if the leaves and bits on the ground were suddenly groaning. I waited, expecting James to continue on from my possum enquiry. Nothing. So again, ‘um James, what’s that?’ Fear defiantly outweighing questioning now. Pause. ‘That?’ As if he had only just heard the creaky roar that was now engulfing us. ‘Oh, that’s just wild pigs’. Silly Jojo, just wild pigs.

 

But I think the animal that I experienced most in the year, were cane toads. If you are like me, you separate the delicate ‘frog’ to ‘toads’ as being different-more rare- creatures. There is something quite simple about frogs, but toads seem a lot uglier and bulbous and that if big enough they could probably kill someone just by sitting on them. The more northerly parts of Australia are currently fighting the pest of cane toads. They are brown, squishy as if they are made of part trifle, and noted as a ‘pest’ as they are killing off green frogs and other smaller animals. I don’t have any particular story involving the disliked cane toad to tell, apart from that when out walking around at night, you had to watch for shadowy lumps on the ground as it might be a cane toad. Don’t misunderstand me though, I adore the quirky quintessential shades of England. But still-what do we have to look for when out past 9? Not getting mugged, and making sure your iPod is secure when bustling through Portabello. And what do Australians need to watch out for on their evening jog? Armies of cane toads.             

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