In the Space Between Life and Death
The Alex and Ronni Show - 16 January 2019

Reasons to Visit Australia

By Peter Tibbles, the TGB Elder Music Columnist

In this country we don't have any mammals that'll do you any damage. Okay, none that'll eat you, at least. No lions or tigers or leopards or bobcats. No bears. Nothing like that. Although, I wouldn't want to take on a big red kangaroo in a fair fight, or any fight if it comes to that.

There are some birds, though. Well, a bird. The cassowary. It's related to the emu, but it has a 6-foot long spike on each foot it uses to disembowel anyone it doesn't like. Mainly dogs and feral pigs, but people have been known to be attacked.

Then there are the snakes. This is probably what we're most famous for.

There are the prosaically named black snake and brown snake (but don't let their boring names fool you), the brown snake is especially venomous. Or the wonderfully (and appropriately) named death adder.

These all pale next to the tiger snake. People always say about animals that they won't attack you if you leave them alone. Not so with this bugger. They're just naturally aggressive.

They are also the most dangerous snake on the planet (talking about the venom), although some say the Taipan (another one of ours).

In the interest of this missive I looked up my book on dangerous things. It said there are more than 85 varieties of venomous snakes in the country (and 27 known venomous sea snakes). It's a wise thing to treat any snake as dangerous (even if you encounter one of the rare ones that isn't) as most of them are.

Okay, a topic I like to avoid – spiders. There's the red-backed spider and the funnel web spider that have both caused fatalities. And there's the white-tailed spider, which, although it doesn't cause fatalities, I believe those bitten by it wish it had.

There are others but I don't want to dwell on them.

There are many species of box jelly fish. They're all very nasty (and virtually invisible). Some can cause cardiac arrest in about 15 minutes. They've recently found another jelly fish that doesn't take anywhere near that amount of time to do the same.

Fortunately, for us folks down south, these only occur in northern waters, off the coast of Queensland, Northern Territory and the north part of Western Australia. It means you can't go swimming there between about November and April. Well, you can but you'd be pretty stupid.

We folks down south don't have that problem. Okay, there are sharks (and sting rays) down here, but they don't attack too many people so it's all right (apart from the people they gobble up, of course).

Let's not forget the stone-fish. These are found all around the coast and, as their name suggests, look like stones. They like shallow areas of the sea and remain stationary on the bottom until someone steps on them.

I defer to the book again. It says

"The stone-fish is the most venomous fish known. It immediately causes fearful pain and a person can become almost demented and thrash around in agony. A number die."

It also says that they can live out of the water for surprising lengths of time.

There’s the blue-ringed octopus which is very pretty. Its bite is painless and may seem harmless. However, the neurotoxins begin working immediately causing muscular weakness, numbness, cessation of breathing and death. This happens in minutes. There is no antidote.

Then there are the irukandji, sometimes known as “killer jellyfish”. There’s a good reason for that nickname. The problem with these is that they are tiny and essentially invisible. According to reports, irukandji jellyfish's stings are so severe they can cause fatal brain haemorrhages.

I won’t dwell further, you can look them up if you’re so inspired.

There are crocodiles, of course. Again, only in the north. It's only the salt water crocodiles that are a problem. They are protected, so they're having a fine old time breeding like mad.

They've been known to turn up in swimming pools in Darwin. That'd rather startle you, I imagine: wandering out of the house, diving into the pool and half way down thinking, "Oh shit".

The fresh water ones are vegetarians (okay, not really, and smaller – the salties are BIG buggers) and won't attack unless you annoy them, unlike the salties. Now, of course, who in their right mind would think "Lordy, I'm bored, I think I'll go out and annoy a crocodile"?

Ah, let's consider the plant kingdom. Not those poisonous berries and the like that every country has. No, we'll travel north (yet again) to FNQ (far north Queensland), somewhere around Cairns. I didn't know about these until about 20 years ago when I was up there.

We went for a trek through a national park. This had to be with a ranger. She pointed to a plant and said "Take a good look at this and don't touch it. I mean it. DON'T TOUCH IT".

It seems that it's an interesting evolutionary product. Its leaves are covered in tiny silicon barbs and you only have to touch them and they stick into your skin. They are apparently extremely painful. As they are silicon based rather than carbon they don't rot away and over time some people have been known to have them stuck in their skin for years, driving them crazy with the pain.

It's been said that it's a wonder that any Australians manage to live to adulthood.

After all this, I can see you packing your bags, ringing Qantas and winging off to try the wonderful adventures in the land of Oz.


Yikes, Peter!! My son and family (only grandchildren, and toddlers) are moving to AU this year - somewhere north of Sydney. I'm going to guess most folks live there "in spite of..." and consider the pluses outweigh the minuses.

But will I visit, can I sleep at night knowing slithering, poisonous critters might be just outside the windows and doors, and could take a fancy to a robust, but old woman who's half-deaf, can no longer run and most likely would freeze on the spot?

Yes, I'll go, soon as you write a follow-up to this on how to avoid, or scare them.

Thanks for this, I think.

Wow, Peter, that's quite the sales pitch! And yet, Australia is the first overseas trip my husband and I took after retirement. We stayed in the Cairns area and did day trips to the nearby areas for three weeks, including some snorkeling with the required protective wetsuits at the Great Barrier Reef. We loved the adventure of it all and will be telling stories to family and friends for the rest of our lives. We included enough guided walks and such to be wary and totally fascinated!

Thanks for the Tuesday story and laughs and all you do to add so many interesting notes on Sundays. In fact, your story reminds me of the Camp Granada song.

Cheers, Peter!

Re the cassowary, Peter, I do hope you meant to say the spikes on its feet are six INCHES long. Six-foot-long spikes would really be something to see!

I’m convinced. Of what, I’ll let you guess.

My daughter spent a semester in northern Australia with a group that teaches survival skills. She was camping the entire time! She shook the spiders out of her boots before she put them on (it’s not the big ones you worry about, mom). They took 3 people to get water—2 to watch both sides for crocodiles and one to actually get the water.
I had looked up and learned about all these things while she was gone (is it good to be that informed via internet?!) and was completely wigged out. Thanks for bringing it all back, Peter!
BTW, my daughter came back a more mature, self confident young woman. I was a wreck.

Wow...I'll just stay here in Southern California with the rattlesnakes, and the venomous brown spiders - not to forget the rainy day crazy driver danger on the roads.

Most of these examples are excellent reasons for living in Victoria.
I used to live in Victoria, but now have to make do with visits. Alas.

Thanks for this evocative piece!


Oh shoot - you just ruined our plans to emigrate to your fair country if -rump remained in power.

I love your sense of humor, (Or is it humour in Aussie land?) I'll bet that Norma comes to lunch for your repartee more than the food.

Okay, that did it. If this country tanks, I'm moving to Canada, not Australia. Or maybe I'll just stay here and wait for Yellowstone to explode.

Thanks for the funny sales pitch, Australia was the first country we visited when I retired and we have been there 7 times in the last 12 years. My daughter moved there 22 years ago and became an Australian in 2005. She loves the country as do my wife and me.

We once saw a brown snake on our way from Sydney to Melbourne and we were warned to stay far away, which we did. The Australians are warm welcoming and wonderful people and the country has amazing vistas, and worth a visit.

Such an interesting piece you have written, Mr. Tibbles. Although I am unlikely to afford a trip to Australia, your dangerous creatures would not deter me. There are dangers everywhere in this world, and one must be prudent. Sadly, in the USA, one of our great dangers is gun violence, which is something you wise Australians did something about.

Well, you managed to scare me! I always thought if I visited Australia that I would stay in the cities, well away from cassowaries and snakes and so on. But I wonder, are there chiggers and poison ivy in Oz? Disease carrying ticks?

But as Shirley said, at least you don't have lunatics with guns. They kill many more than brown snakes.

Well if Bill Bryson’s “In A Sunburned Country” didn’t do it, your post certainly put the lid on any desire to visit the wonders of your land down under! Lol! But still.....

So glad you’ve survived all these years to keep us informed and enlightened by your musical knowledge!

May your house be safe from tigers...and other beasties...

OMG--not exactly a Chamber of Commerce commercial! I've thought of visiting Australia, but physical and financial limitations put that beyond me now. Maybe it's just as well since I can't run fast and would likely freeze in my tracks if I saw any of the creatures/plants you describe. The consequences could be even worse if I didn't see them!

So here I will stay in the drizzly (though not this January day, oddly enough) Pacific Northwest. I think Australia is a lovely country, though, and definitely has a more effective solution to the gun problem than we do.

You’re right, Diane, six inches long.
Although the cassowary stands about 6 foot in height (give or take).

Wow, I wonder how my Aussie friend and her husband have made it into their 70's without any of these things attacking them. We've been penpals for 60 years, since we were teenagers.

I have always thought that Australia would be a lovely and exotic place to visit, especially since seeing the film, My Brilliant Career and purchasing a CD recording of sounds from Kakadu billabong decades ago. Perhaps it's best that I've continued to appreciate your country vicariously, and from afar. I am not a fan of things that sting or bite and try to kill me. Thanks for the heads up, and may you and the assistant musicologist continue to evade these beasties.

P.S. -- I Just wanted to comment also on the inclusion of bobcats in your opening paragraph. Though they can be dangerous, they are actually not much bigger than a large domestic cat, and are rarely seen because of their shy nature and tendency to avoid humans. Though they can become aggressive if rabid or feeling threatened, or when defending cubs, they are nothing like lions, tigers, leopards or bears and would be very unlikely to even try to eat a person. A friend of mine has established a bobcat foundation to advocate for educating people about this animal, and reducing the hunting of them for their pelts, or just for sport, and I feel obligated to speak up in case anyone here might think they pose the same danger as mountain lions or the other larger cats.

A promotion to entice adventure seekers to visit Australia if I ever read one! But....why no mention of the vicious Koala Bear?

Silly me. I have always thought of Australia as a strange down under country overrun by charming but harmless creatures with funny names—the Platypus, Dingos, Wallabies, the mysterious Tasmanian Devil, not to mention Kookaburras, Koalas and Kangaroos plus the ubiquitous crossword puzzle critter, the Emu. Being easily freaked out by slithering as well as poisonous things, I guess it’s good that my traveling days are over.

Emma, the platypus is the only mammal that is venomous. You really don’t want it to sink its spur into you. I forgot to mention it.

What an hilarious post! Thanks!

Jellies, and spiders and snakes, oh, my! Peter, you made me google to see what a cassowary looks like. That sweet blue face and those long eyelashes! Who would think it could be such a danger. And to think you Aussies manage to survive amongst all these dangers whilst walking around upside down! I would love to visit — maybe one day. My husband spend a few weeks working in Sydney some years ago and fell in love with it. Thanks for the laughs — and scares!

How ironic that with all the dangers you list, it was a normally placid sting ray that did in Steve Irwin. You just never know...

Of course, the really endearing feature of Australia is how much enjoyment we get out of telling the world about our dangerous critters. But most of us don't encounter them much - or aggravate them. OK, you do have to be careful in some areas, but guns are a lot worse! Having said that, sting rays can be nasty in Melbourne. They lie under sand and woe betide those who tread on them - extremely painful. But Steve Irwin was right out of luck, looking like a predator as he swam over one. And yes, Darlene, it's humour here.

Coincidentally, there was a program on television this week about dangerous Australian animals. One featured was something called itchy grubs. They suspend themselves by a silk from leaves and get on you as you bend to go under branches. Yikes! Have you had personal experience with these?

We trekked through the Kimberleys last summer/winter and saw some of those snakes and crocs. Remarkable country. Tough place/tough people.

I thought the 20 hour plane ride was the challenge. Oh no, it is the animals you must educate your self about before the plane lands .

Here's a photo that's said to sum up the essence of Australia.

Turns out it's a fake, that is, a combination of two real but non-coincident images. It's still great.

Oh . . . no links. I'll try a hyperlink

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