Warning: This Continent May Be Hazardous To
my entry from Port Augusta a few weeks ago, I described a wonderfully humorous book about Australia called
"In a Sunburned Country" written by the American travel author, Bill
Bryson. In his book, Bryson talked about some of the things that can kill
you here in Australia, such as Taipan snakes, red-back spiders, salt-water crocodiles and
Great White sharks.
I've had run-ins with a few other things here during the past month that Bryson
didn't mention, including Red Gum Trees (see
March 5, 2002) and a group of pushy kangaroos at Grampians National
Park (see News: March
1, 2002). By the way, if you're ever confronted by a surly
kangaroo, be sure to look him straight in the eye and show him who's boss... and
never, ever let him see you sweat. That strategy seemed to work pretty
well for me.
Spinifex -- don't mess with it unless you like acupuncture
few weeks later during my drive across the Outback, I had several close
encounters with another nasty specimen: spinifex. I can't
remember if Bryson mentioned spinifex, but it's an innocuous looking bush with
green shoots similar to lawn grass. Don't mess with spinifex though,
because as I discovered, it's very pointy and can even draw blood -- and it
hurts like heck.
Spinifex is pretty, but it's also like a stationary porcupine.
that I'm on the coast, I have to contend with another nasty critter: the box jellyfish. These things are a lot more venomous than their North
American counterpart, the Portuguese man-of-war. I have vivid memories of
a Portuguese man-of-war, having stepped on one in Florida when I was
four years old, an event that is permanently etched in my mind -- not to mention
my foot. Box jellyfish are even nastier and, from what I've heard, one
tiny sting from a microscopic box jellyfish barb feels like a burning cigarette
being pushed deep into your flesh. Occasionally, a swimmer will get
ensnared in the 10-foot long tentacles of a box jellyfish, which isn't a pretty
thing to see -- or hear.
As I recall, Bryson
discussed the box jellyfish, or "stinger," at great length in his book. In fact,
I believe it was during a visit
to this very same city, Port Douglas. There's a beach here about four
miles long (which, not surprisingly, is called "Four Mile Beach"), but
nobody goes swimming in the ocean between October and May because of the box jellyfishes which float around here during that time of year. Actually,
the one place you can swim on Four Mile Beach is within the
"stinger net," a rope net enclosure with floats attached that extends
out into the ocean, about 50 yards on a side, supposedly designed to keep out
the box jellyfish. I thought about swimming in
it a few days ago but noticed
that the high waves were easily crashing over the
top of it, so I figured it probably wasn't doing a very good job of keeping the
stingers out. It wasn't doing a good job of keeping other nasty things
out, either, because they caught a 3-foot long shark inside the stinger net
I learned last summer in South Dakota when I visited the world's only Vinegar Museum
(see News: September 15, 2001),
the best antidote for a box jellyfish sting is vinegar. And sure enough,
as I walked down the beach today and passed by the stinger net, I saw a big
bottle of vinegar there with big red letters that said
"VINEGAR." If you're unlucky enough to get stung by a box jellyfish
and don't happen to have vinegar handy, I understand that peeing on
the afflicted area also works. I could make some jokes about that, but
then my website would lose its PG rating.
was no swimming today in the ocean, though, because the stinger net was rolled
up, waiting for repairs. The lifeguards had posted a big sign on the beach
saying "NO SWIMMING," so everyone, including myself, walked along the
beach and kept a healthy distance from the water. In amazement, though, I
saw a guy who was about 20 years old walk towards the ocean, fling off his
shirt, and dive in. As he frolicked in the water, a small crowd gathered
to watch him out of morbid curiosity -- including myself, I must admit.
Young Neptune was proving either his masculinity or his stupidity, I guess, but
either way he provided us with 10 minutes of free entertainment after which he
calmly emerged from the water, put on his shirt, and disappeared into the
coconut grove. That was a shame, because I really had to pee.
jellyfish, sharks, and crocodiles are enough to worry about in coastal
Queensland, but last night I was reading in my Frommer's Guide about another
deadly creature here: the cassowary. A cassowary is a small, cute,
flightless bird, which looks like a peacock. It's a distant relative of
Australia's other much more ubiquitous and much larger flightless bird, the emu
(which is pronounced either "e-moo" or "e-mew," depending on who you talk
to). Cassowaries are an endangered species which, based on what I read in
Frommer's, may or may not be a bad thing. That's because, according to Frommer's,
these cute-looking cassowaries can and have killed humans with their powerful claws.
Here's Frommer's advice if you confront a cassowary: "Back slowly
away and hide behind a tree." As I recall, they used that same
strategy in "Jurassic Park" and look what happened.
though, cassowaries are pretty, little birds -- at least, when they're not
attacking with their killer claws. I even hope to see a cassowary before I
leave, although preferably when I'm standing near a tree.
left: You can see the
stinger net here (near the bottom of the picture) on Four Mile Beach in Port
center: The next day they took the stinger net down for
repairs. As the sign says, no swimming...
right: ...and this is why. You don't want to mess with
a box jellyfish. After reading this sign, I, um, decided to stay away from the
Travels (2001-02) >
Story List >
Australia Stories >
Warning: This Continent May Be Hazardous To Your