The Tourist Guide to Not Dying in Australia
by CM Boots-Faubert
I am an expat Aussie which means I met a girl on a train and stayed.
One of the questions that I get asked a lot when someone meets me for the first time and learns that I am from Australia is about the dangerous no-see-ums, animals, and spiders that they have heard are simply everywhere in Oz.
Of course that is true but not true; I admit that there are dangerous beasts, bugs, and no-see-ums, but conflict with them is not inevitable, in fact from the youngest age we are taught certain rules for co-existence that come so naturally to us that we don't think about them, we just do them.
I can see how a visitor might find it disconcerting to realize that there are dangers that they have not been warned about, so I thought I would create this for anyone intending to visit Oz.
First and most important, you cannot let the potential for instant death (I am not kidding) keep you from having a good time. Really, millions of Australians enjoy life on a daily basis without dying - well, to be fair some of them die it is true, but not usually from what we are talking about here. In fact statistics suggest that you are more likely to die in a traffic accident than in a beastly encounter in Oz - especially if the guy going the wrong way through the rotary is a Yank!
Now I will deal with each of the potential God Tickets one at a time, and offer you what wisdom I have been gifted with thanks to parents, grandparents, my Scoutmaster, Mr. King who was my biology and natural sciences teacher in secondary school, and last but not least, the bloke who gave us the lecture on bush safety at the Scouting Jamboree.
All of these are certainly expert sources - I mean consider this, they all lived to be adults - which means they were not killed by any of these beasts - what more can you ask for? And with that said, here is your Tourist's Guide to Not Getting Killed in Australia!
Actually before we get started there is something else I wanted to add. You know we like tea in Australia - I live in New England now and they like tea there too, or at least they think they do. The problem is that most of them drink this rather nasty stuff called Orange Pekoe, usually sold under the brand name Lipton.
Do yourself a favor if you are a tea drinker right? Try out some of our brands - Billy Tea is good, so is PG Tips. I'm just saying that there is more to tea than meets the eye, and black tea is way better than Orange Pekoe any day. So is white tea for that matter, and then there are blends.
Look, tea is an excuse to be social, it's a chance to gnaw on a biscuit, so if you get invited to a tea, please don't say "I'd rather have a Coke" all right then?
The Sydney funnel-web spider (Atrax robustus) is a venomous mygalomorph spider with a bite capable of causing serious injury or death in humans if left untreated.
Spiders - The Best Thing to Start With
While there are many things to avoid, among the hardest are spiders because of where and how they live. There are a number of really dangerous ones, and before I go into their details I want to make a few points to you so that if you get bit you know what to do.
First - Kill the bastard so you can bring it with you to the hospital.
Listen mate this is really important because you are not likely to be able to recognize which one bit you, whereas we would know.
Because of that, when you arrive at the hospital they will have no choice but to hit you with a broad-spectrum shotgun approach - which means the antivenin of pretty much any spider types that they THINK might have bitten you.
You do not want to have that experience, because most of the cocktail they inject you with will cause other symptoms and problems. Maybe even kill you if you happen to be allergic to it, but how would you know that until you had the reaction? You see what I mean?
Second - Go to the hospital. This is not optional; you need to do that like right away. Going to the hospital pretty much guarantees your survival save for specific cases, and besides which the idea is not to die a painful death.
As a child I was taught to never put my hand where I cannot see. I was taught to never run through tall grass. I was taught to never approach a billabong, stream or river without checking carefully. Another thing I was taught was that if it is raining or has rained recently to follow the Look-Shake-Bang Rule. What is that?
Right well, some types of really dangerous spiders Funnelwebs (including one specific to Sydney and its environs), Redbacks, Whitetails, Black Fuzzies and etc. will come indoors when it rains out, and they like to hide in your socks and shoes which is why as a general rule we do not just kick them off and leave them on the floor.
But when you have done that, and you want to put them back on, first you need to look carefully then pick up your socks and shake them out. Finally look carefully at your shoes then pick them up and bang them out on the edge of something hard so that if there is a spider inside it will be dislodged and sent to the floor where you can kill it.
I am not going to go into descriptions or try to teach you how to tell the good from the bad, in fact that is not a good idea at all. It is a better idea for you to simply avoid all spiders and treat any that you do happen upon as instant death. That means paying attention in gardens, parks, and especially the bush but also in your home, hotel, or wherever else you are staying including a combi. You cannot be too careful when it comes to spiders, trust me on that.
Blue-ringed octopuses are among the deadliest animals in the sea. In Australia where blue-rings occur in shallow coastal waters and can be relatively common in areas frequented by beach-goers, there have been dozens of reported bites and several deaths.
The Blue-Ringed Octopus
The Blue-Ring is a small and very dangerous octopus that has a poison so powerful that it is considered to be more deadly than anything found on land.
That figures don’t it? I mean the sea is just full of tiny things that will kill you if you don’t pay attention! Luckily these are easy to identify if you are diving, and not likely to be around a swimming beach unnoticed.
If you do see somebody bit, you need to know the following:
First there is no antivenin for this beast. The only way to survive is long hours of heart massage and artificial respiration until the poison has worked its way out of the body.
Its bite might be painless but it is definitely deadly as its venom contains maculotoxin. This poison is 10,000 times as potent as cyanide, to put it in perspective for you.
Once bitten the victim’s central nervous system will be stopped as paralysis sets in. Within only a few minutes they will fall into full paralysis and they will stop breathing.
Before that happens they might throw up, and almost certainly will lose their sight, as well as other senses like hearing and speech. Paralysis is then followed by death.
If you do see someone get bit you should immediately apply compression to the wound as if it was a snakebite and call 000 (the National Emergency Number) and request emergency medical aid.
Be sure to communicate WHAT has happened and that it is a Blue-Ring bite. Once help is on the way CPR should also be started as soon as possible after the victim stops breathing.
The Box Jellyfish
These guys are mostly found along the north coast of Queensland in Jelly Season (which usually runs from November to April or the warm months). We also call them Stingers and sometimes Sea Wasps, but those are just other names, it is still a Boxie and it is still very dangerous! Mostly they are in the north, so if you are visiting the Sunshine or Gold Coasts you should be okay but always ask about whether there are any box jellyfish sightings before you go swimming, and only swim in marked areas that are under observation of the surf lifesavers.
It is safe to say that all jellyfish stings are painful and a problem, but a boxie sting is way beyond that. In fact according to the experts the average boxie has enough venom in it to kill Arnold Schwarzenegger three times! In fact a box jellyfish sting is not even treated like a sting from a first aid point of view it is treated like snakebite! If you even think that what got you is a boxie, immediately and with NO delay get help. You need to be taken to a hospital and I mean right now!
If you are helping someone that is stung by a box jellyfish, first irrigate the sting site with vinegar as soon as you can. DO NOT RUB the site, which will just release more poison into the victim. Once they stop breathing start CPR and keep doing CPR until either the paramedics show up and take over or you get them to the hospital and they can take over.
Understand something, if they get stung, they are going to stop breathing. You have to do CPR or you may as well bury them right there on the beach. If you irrigate with vinegar and promptly start CPR and get them to the hospital there is a really good chance they will live.
The Cone Shell
Just like what it sounds like, a shell shaped like a cone. They are found on the beach, mostly along the Great Barrier Reef but elsewhere as well, and there are well over 70 different types of Cone Shell. So why am I telling you this?
Inside the Cone Shell is a snail that has, among its defenses, harpoon-like teeth that will deliver a veritable soup of neurotoxin chemicals that can kill a human and in a very painful “Oh My God I Hurt!” way. It is your nerves that these effect and since you have a lot of nerves and they are really good at communicating pain, it would be an idea for you to not pick up cone-shaped shells on the beach, right?
But if you do, and you get bit, here is what you need to know: Pressure immobilisation first aid must be applied and should be left in place until resuscitation facilities are available. Let me make this clear there is a good chance that when the pressure is taken off the poison will spread and the victim will go into cardiac arrest and stop breathing.
A cone shell bite is a medical emergency and you must seek aid as soon as possible or immediately, whichever is the shorter span of time... Assisted ventilation (CPR) may be needed right away, so just avoid these buggers, right? And just so we are clear on the matter, there is at present no antivenin for cone shell stings.
Now here is a nasty beast that everybody has heard of thanks to Paul Hogan. Don’t get me wrong, I sort of like Paul Hogan he is okay really it is just that after those movies of his it got a little old having so many people in the SCA pull out their feast knives then their swords and say “That’s not a knife now that’s a knife!” Right, you had to be there.
Right so first, you are more likely to find crocodiles in northern Oz not southern Oz, and as most of you spend your entire holiday in NSW the chances of you running upon one are pretty slim unless you see one in a zoo. Still, once you get up into Queensland it can happen, and some of you do go north, so let’s talk about crocs.
There are two types of croc in Oz saltwater (Saltie) and freshwater (Freshie). Mostly they stick to billabongs, rivers, swamps and watery areas, but not always. Of th
e two the Freshie (has a narrow snout and is rarely ever bigger than say three metres) is the least threat to you if you are smart enough to leave them alone, but they will attack if you bother them or they think you are threatening them. Think of them as a nice drunk in a bar fight if that helps unlikely to take a nip at you unless you do something to make them think that they should.
The Saltie (larger than a Freshie and have a much fuller snout) on the other hand is an entirely different matter. Look they scare me and I have been around more than a few, I want to say that right now. Fear is healthy, especially where a Saltie is concerned because, and I want to stress this they CANNOT BE TRUSTED. If you cannot tell the difference between the two than treat any croc you chance upon as if it were a Saltie and you won’t go far wrong.
What you need grasp is that they don’t need a reason to attack you. Simply being within their sight is justification to kill and eat you as far as they are concerned, and given even the barest of opportunity they will do just that. There are a lot of ways to die in the world but death at the jaws of a Saltie has to be the worst way. So if you see one, stay the hell away from it. I mean city blocks mate.
No, get on a plane, that kind of distance. Gah! And don’t think just because you are not near saltwater there is no chance of running upon a Saltie they have been known to go inland and are just as dangerous there as they are in saltwater!
The European Honey Bee
You probably think I am kidding here right? I am not. European Honey Bees kill an average of 11 people a year in Australia people who are allergic to them but still. If you look at deaths per million, these bees are much more dangerous than the other beasties and despite their bee-stinging death spree they hardly ever make the papers!
If you are allergic to bees, be aware that there are bees in Oz. Nuff Said.
The Great White Shark
Yes there are sharks in Oz. In fact there are a lot of them. Still that doesn’t mean you cannot go swimming in the ocean and a lot of people do, we just mostly stick to the marked swimming areas that are under the watchful eye of the surf lifesavers. Trust them, they will close the beach if there is a shark sighting and they watch the marked areas (sections of the beach between the flags) very carefully because hey, it is their duty!
As a general rule then, you should consider it safe to swim where other people are swimming in designated swimming areas that are clearly marked as such. Pay attention to the markings though, and avoid areas that are marked for riptides because those will kill you slow and not in a pleasant way if you end up swept out to sea where a shark might just help you along to a quicker death, who can say?
The smallest and the most venomous box jellyfish in the world, the Irukandji are named for the Yirrganydji Tribe of aboriginal Australians who are the historic caretakers of the coastal section of the Djabugay Country of northeast Australia, where they were first discovered in the 1950s.
The Irukandji Jellyfish
In the world of bar fighting, the Irukandji are tiny almost invisible mean midgets with hand grenades and they are not afraid to use them.
In fact they are just looking for an excuse… Seriously though, the Irukandji is a truly frightening jellyfish if only because in simple terms if jellyfish had a nuclear club, the Irukandji would be Russia.
Carukua barnesi is the Latin name for this jellyfish, and it is almost impossible to detect by the naked eye because it is only around 2cm in size and is invisible when in the water.
Don't let the fact that it is tiny reassure you, it is more dangerous than its cousin the box jellyfish mostly because when the Irukandji stings it gives no notice; there is no sharp pain; no easily identifiable sting site; at first the sting may simply look like a modest rash.
The problem with that is that by the time it does start hurting, it is too late.
Chances are you are going to die, and it will not be a pleasant death. Think painful, very painful, with lots of symptoms like leg, arm, back and chest pain of severity you never believed was possible.
I saw a man who was stung by several of them, and before he died he screamed and screamed in pain.
Understand something, he passed out and was STILL screaming!
Now THAT is pain.
If you even think that an Irukandji has stung you, you need to get help right away do not wait because that will just guarantee your death.
If you are on a boat, call for medevac from the Royal Navy or Life Service. DO NOT WAIT. Do NOT try to make shore on your own. Time will kill you, because you have no time and yes, a painless rash can be justification to panic.
Unlike the box jelly (which the Irukandji is related to) these little beasties are not restricted to near-shore, and can and do populate deep-water areas.
People used to think that all that they needed to do was get on their boat and go out into deep water to swim and be safe, but that is not true.
Some of the 70+ people that have died and the countless number that were stung and survived encountered these beasts in open water.
In Oz your best bet is to check online for the Jelly Report or ask the Surf Lifesavers at the beach if there have been any sigtings.
The Queensland Government has marine biology blokes who go out every morning in season to check for these beasties and knowing that they are there will save your life.
One more thing you should know; surviving an Irukandji sting is often said to be worse than dying from one.
If you are stung and somehow manage to get to a trauma center fast enough, expect to spend anywhere from three to twenty weeks in brutal pain that is so bad not even morphine can touch it.
No joke, avoiding these beasts is the only option, unless you like pain? I cannot imagine liking that sort of pain for long - and it is not like you can get off the ride once it starts, so don't get stung; always be aware and ask about sightings before swimming in the Jelly Zone.
Snakes of Oz
You probably expected this to be a major part of the page, but I am going to have to disappoint you because despite all the hype and urgent declarations, snakes in Oz are not the problem that the so-called experts would have you believe
There are dangerous snakes it is true. In fact there are some whose bite is instant death, leaving you only enough time to say “Oh No! I have been bitt… argh!” followed by the sound of a thud as your body hits the ground. So why are they not high on my list of things you need to know about? It is simple really
Snakes are the one thing that you can avoid getting killed by simply by paying attention to where you are and what is around you. Seriously! In the past thirty years only a handful of the poisonous snakebites in Oz were unavoidable.
Read that again please as it should make it clear to you that the avoidable ones were all related to people doing very stupid things for instance trying to kill a snake they found. My point is if you avoid snakes or give them the chance to avoid you, they are not a problem unless you run through high grass or step into their nest or do any of a long list of carelessly dumb things that make getting bitten likely.
Mostly found on and around the Great Barrier Reef, the Stonefish is a very dangerous and well-camouflaged beast that likes to rest on the bottom and the reef. The big danger here is stepping on one that is how most people who get stung have it happen.
Here is what Wikipedia has to say:
The Stonefish is the most venomous fish in the world. Its dorsal area is lined with spines that release a venomous toxin. Its venom causes severe pain with possible shock, paralysis, and tissue death depending on the depth of the penetration.
This level can be fatal to humans if not given medical attention within a couple of hours.
Immediate first aid requires the immobilisation of venom at the penetration site; depending on the depth of penetration this can be achieved either by firm constrictive bandaging or by a managed tourniquet sited between wound and proximal flexure.
The venom consists of a mixture of proteins, including the hemolytic stonustoxin, the neurotoxic trachynilysin and the cardioactive cardioleputin; an antivenin is available.
The venom is protein based, and it can be (partially) denatured by the application of a very hot compress to the injury site.
Some relief can be gained from infiltrating the wound with a local anaesthetic. This is a temporary measure to reduce localized pain and shock.
Medical help must be sought at the earliest opportunity.
Typically, surviving victims suffer localized nerve damage occasionally leading to atrophy of adjoining muscle tissues.
There have been unproven reports of osteo-arthritic sufferers experiencing improved mobility and reduction in joint pain following envenomation episode. The responsible agent has not been identified.
The pain is said to be so bad that the victims of its sting want the affected limb to be amputated. The poisonous sting of Scorpion Fish and Lionfish are said to deliver almost the same level of pain.
Leonard John Fraser - AKA "The Rockhampton Rapist", was an Australian convicted serial killer who by all accounts had a brilliant personality and reassuring wit that let him get close to his victims.
Before earning a life sentence on in 2000 for the abduction, rape and murder of a 9-year-old girl, he enjoyed abducting, raping and murdering other women.
Nice he's dead now but he is a perfect example and cautionary tale for the need to observe sound personal security habits!
The Land Shark - Man
I really wish that I did not have to give you this warning, but I do - if I didn't you wouldn't know better and we cannot have that here. . .
Poms tend to view Aussies as their backwoods country cousins when they are being nice to us, and Yanks, well, all they can think of is that we have cute accents and we are always happy.
In the end that stereotyping leaves most visitors disarmed by this wierd idea that all Aussies are like that long-lost cousin that wouldn't hurt you on a bet.
Well you cannot buy into that mate, there are some right bastards out there and they will, given the opportunity, hurt you.
There are a few genuine horror stories to tell - the ockers who hunted and killed hikers is one, and then there was the auto hitching rapist.
The point is that while Oz may seem like a vacation paradise - well actually it is a vacation paradise who am I kidding?
Back on track, the thing you need to remember is this - you are likely much safer in Oz than you would be in say, New York City, naked and handcuffed in Central Park, but only if you use common sense.
So let me run down some rules to remember and follow:
1. Don't go rambling about the town after dark alone, especially in Sydney but not just in the big city - or what our true country cousins call "The Big Smoke.".
2. Do NOT accept a drink that you did not see made / poured from a stranger in a club.
GBH is alive and well in Oz as are any number of other daterape drugs, and there are some right bastards that lack the social skills required to meet and mate in the normal way, so do not be a victim to them.
3. If it is something that you would never do at home, then do not do it in Oz.
4. If grog is involved designate a wingman.
Walking, driving, pubcrawling, whatever, I don't care if half of you are in wheelchairs - you need to designate a wingman - one of your party who is not drinking and who is charged with your safety.
5. Do not climb the Sydney Opera House.
Yeah, I know, it looks inviting, but it is dangerous, and it is illegal, and take it from me, the Sydney police do not have a sense of humor.
I know what I am talking about, trust me. Oh, they'll think it's funny but they will still throw you in the box.
And just so we are clear on this, I was young, and it seemed like a good idea at the time.
6. Be cautious in mateship with strangers.
There is no reason that I can see why a murderer or rapist couldn't go on holiday in Oz, so just because that bloke you met at the youth hostel is from Germany / Holland / France / America does not mean that he is automatically safe.
Hopefully this hasn't put you off visiting Australia as it really is God's Paradise on Earth and the Original Garden of Eden!
Green around the efges and pink in the middle, all you need to have a brilliant visit is some common sense and the awareness to consult with the Surf Lifesavers before you venture into the waters.
So please don't let this stop you!
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