Whenever I travel outside Australia, one of the most common questions I’m asked about living in this country is, ‘How do you survive?’
Somehow, what with the over-excited nature documentaries made by folks like the Discovery Channel, foreigners seem to have the impression that we Australians live in houses crawling with every creepy, poisonous and otherwise deadly creature known to (wo)man.
It’s true that Australia is home to a frightening number of venomous snakes; we also have a few scary spiders, and in some waters you may be unlucky enough to come across a crocodile or a shark (or poisonous jellyfish or those icky stonefish that are pretty much undetectable when they lie in among the rocks).
But here’s the reality for an inner-city Melburnian: the number of deadly creatures you’re likely to encounter in a year will probably be zilch. The most credible threat comes from the Redback spider, a member of the widow family. These little critters can be deadly, but since the invention of a commercially available anti-venom in 1956 there have been no deaths attributed to this spider. (I remember seeing plenty of Redbacks at my suburban childhood home, but as you see I’m still very much alive and kicking.)
Don’t get me wrong. It’s always a good idea to get schooled up on possible dangers if you’re heading into the bush. Stomp your feet if you’re walking through snake territory. Shake out your shoes before putting them on, just to makes sure nothing nasty has made its home there. Avoid swimming in the sea at dawn and dusk; that’s a shark’s favourite playtime. And probably best not to jump into any old river if you’re in the northern states – best check for crocodile dangers first.
But honestly, you’re at much greater risk driving a car in your home country than being poisoned or eaten by an animal here in Melbourne. The only danger is dying of fright – like I almost do every time I find a Huntsman spider in my house. They’re relatively harmless but they’re big, hairy and freaking scary nonetheless. (Apologies for the crappy photo, but I really didn’t want to get any closer than I had to…)