In fairness to my readers, I should point out that this graphic is not entirely accurate. It’s somewhat out of date—Steve Irwin should be replaced by Bindi Irwin. And presumably afraid that they wouldn’t be believed, the mapmakers seem to have deliberately downplayed some of the dangers of Australia, and omitted others entirely. While fires are listed, neither floods nor hail the size of grapefruit appear. Nor is Tony Abbott given a look, though these days there is a real danger of being mowed down by him on his bicycle while he is distracted plotting a US-style religious right shake-up of Australian politics. Likewise, there is no mention of hoons or bogans. Crocodiles are shown, but their propensity for hanging out in swimming pools is inexplicably omitted.
The fact that Australia has some nasty snakes and giant crocodiles and killer sharks is well known. That it also has the meanest and most painful plant in the world, less so. The stinging tree—found mostly in Queensland—has tiny silicon hairs covering the leaves and fruit of the plant, which break off in the skin if you brush against it and then can’t be removed. The effect is apparently extraordinarily unpleasant. When I lived in Far North Queensland, a story was making the rounds of a fellow who brushed against a stinging tree with a very sensitive part of his anatomy while taking a leak along the dirt road running north from Cape Tribulation (the name is a bit of a giveaway). Even given the nature of the affected area, apparently the pain was so great that amputation was seriously considered.
And though the nature of Australia’s snake population (see here or here or here) is known in vague and general terms—largest number of species of venomous snakes, snakes with the deadliest venom, yada yada yada—people outside of Australia simply have no concept of the truth, and this map does not begin to convey the true horror of the situation. Australia has lots of venomous snakes, sure—so does the US. But in Australia, they are common—even in major cities. My son’s school in the center of the nation’s capital had to be shut down twice one year because snakes were hunting the playground. They cut down all the bushes and laid down a gravel cordon sanitaire around the school in an effort to limit such incursions. Going for a walk in Melbourne or Adelaide? Watch out for brown snakes. Going for a swim in the summer resort area south of Sydney? That stick in the water might be a red-bellied black snake.
And don’t even get me started on Taipans. Yes, they are the most venomous snake in the world. (Of the top five most venomous snakes—wait for it—all of them are Australian.) But scary as it may be, that factoid fails to convey the full nature of the Taipan. This is a snake on steroids, whacked out on crystal meth. It’s not lounging around in the sun, torpid and sleepy like a rattlesnake. It’s fast and mean. It will look you up in the phone book, come to your house and bite you when you answer the door bell—and it’s over 2 metres long! Forget sharks with frickin’ lasers—it’s the most venomous snake in the world, highly energetic and over 2 metres long!
Speaking of sharks with frickin’ lasers, these are no longer limited to the waters around Adelaide as the map claims. They have been implicated in a number of boat fires and explosions in Queensland waters, including a couple that engulfed boats carrying refugees and asylum seekers. There are rumors that Pauline Hanson, Australia’s answer to Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, may be behind these attacks by sharks with frickin’ lasers on illegal immigrations, but there has also been talk of the Royal Australian Navy recruiting the sharks as a low cost but deadly addition to the fleet, a deterrent against invasion by Indonesia.
Then there’s the Sydney Funnel-web Spider, which also has been shortchanged by the mapmakers, who simply describe them as “giant.” They are indeed giant—up to 4.5cm for just the body—but they are also black, aggressive, and have powerful fangs. They hide in burrows and crevices in yards throughout the Sydney area, and leap out at people (no kidding). If no one comes into the backyard for them to leap at, the males often wander into houses, looking for a fight—a true fact. (Sydney males of other species tend to wander into pubs rather than homes for this purpose.)
Of course, despite these phenomenal and totally freakish dangers (crocodiles in swimming pools, stinging trees, sharks with frickin’ lasers!), Australia is also a country of tremendous joy and beauty, and there are things about it I will greatly miss…