The hazards of life Down Under: What it’s like living in a country where everything wants to eat you
As scientists, introverts and Australians everywhere have discovered over the past thousand or so years, fear is a rather interesting phenomenon.
When I was fourteen, my family embarked on a three-month long road trip around Australia, because, you know, my standard issue repertoire of spider and snake phobias wasn’t expansive enough.
By the end of the trip, I could add a plethora of new potential hazards to the ever-growing list: crocodiles, sharks, stingrays, stingers (yes, they are different animals with different, unique ways to kill you), shamelessly immodest Swedish backpackers named Sven, and Grey Nomads with tyre tread to burn and photo books full of grandchildren and their boast-worthy exploits.
But, most interestingly, as base jumpers everywhere will confide in you, there’s an odd sense of exhilaration to living life on the edge, rather like the time my husband managed to open a packet of carrot-flavoured crackers at both ends.
When you take your life in your hands like that, every day, opening yourself up to the unknown and all the possibilities – part of you just …
… stops caring.
After witnessing every terror-inspiring thing the Outback had to offer, including roadside bathrooms that would give even the most carefree person a germ phobia and lifetime hand sanitiser addiction, I found myself strangely free.
Thanks to a brief trip to a Northern Territory hospital, I was familiar with the eight stages and colours of dehydration [just as a shortcut for the novice traveller, brown = bad].
I was acquainted with the real-world implications of “free camping” (nothing in life is EVER free, and if it is free, there's a reason) and I quickly understood that Northern Territory waterfalls were a kind of European tourist shorthand for nudist beaches. I learnt that there are places where your social status is determined by how many extra channels you have on your CB radio and if you can pick up the Royal Flying Doctor Service channel.
The farther west we travelled, the more unnecessary syllables fell off the English language like hay bales off an open-topped road train. “Specifically” became “pacifically”. “Katherine” became “Kath-rin”. And why not, when it’s so hot that each extra syllable is enough to break a sweat?
The more I see of Australia, the more I realise that we are simply a people who have learned to live with great fear. The rest of the world seems to see us as an easy-going, crocodile-wrestling kind of people, like Crocodile Dundee or Steve Irwin, but when you really think about it, how could we be anything else?
When you live in a land that boasts over a hundred of the world’s most venomous snakes and forty species of funnel-web spiders alone, wouldn’t you get down and wrestle a crocodile every now and then?
(At least we have Medicare.)
What seems like something you’d grease your bike chain with is to us a veritable breakfast spread, and an astounding source of B vitamins to boot.
(At least we have Tim Tams.)
And when every day could be your last, why not make overly buttered bread sprinkled with 100s and 1000s a national food?
After all, Bunnings sausage sizzles only come around on the weekends.