And now ladies and gentlemen it’s time for Part 2 of My Close Encounters with Australian Wildlife, where I tell the world about the elation and terror of my encounters with Australian animals and how it sometimes ended in tears. Last time, we discussed Spiders and Snakes. This time around, we discuss dingoes, killer jellyfish, kangaroos, koalas and drop bears, among other wondrous creatures of Australia.
A dingo is a type of wild dog related to the wolf. Common on Australia’s East Coast and in the Outback, dingoes rose to worldwide attention in the 1980s during the Lindy Chamberlain “Dingoes ate my baby” murder trial. Lindy spent several years in prison for the murder of her baby daughter, but was subsequently exonerated by coronial inquiry which proved that yes, Dingoes really could kill babies. Several high profile attacks on infants and others in Australia in recent years have left few doubting that dingoes can on occasion be dangerous.
Of course, all is not black and white. I have had several dingo encounters and each time emerged with important appendages intact. In fact, I’d describe several of the encounters as borderline friendly, and others as slightly scary but apparent that the dingo was only after some food. There was one time on a surf trip with a friend, Ben, when we were checking the surf at a deserted area of the East Coast called Mungo Brush. To get from the dirt road to the surf, you have to traverse several large sand dunes. On our way back we encountered a large dingo. After shouting a couple of times, he didn’t budge, so we just walked calmly back to the car with the dingo walking right beside us and sniffing at our heels.
I also had an encounter on Fraser Island with a dingo during an argument with an ex-girlfriend. Fraser Island is the world’s largest sand island and the ONLY place in the world with a thriving rainforest growing in sand. It is a stunningly beautiful and rugged place and has a thriving dingo population. It is scene of some of the more high profile dingo attacks in recent years and some very controversial culling programs aimed at reducing the danger to humans. In recent times, resorts on the island have gone as far as installing fences designed to keep the dingoes out. We were within the grounds of one of these resorts and yelling at each other when we turned around to find a curious dingo right behind us. We walked back to our room and locked him out. I have no idea how he got in the fence and it did startle us a bit. Incidentally, signs on the island warn you to “defend yourself agressively” if attacked. Hmmmm.
4. Bluebottles and Box Jellyfish
Bluebottles are little blue balloon-like creatures that blow in with Nor-East winds on some Sydney days Summer and make surfing or swimming troublesome. They trail a single stinging string behind them, and this string can be several metres in length. This means if you see a bluebottle in the water somewhere close to you, chances are it is already in stinging distance. They are not generally considered dangerous but the sting is bloody painful and a nuisance when you’re going for a well earned wave in summer.
I’ve been stung several times before but there was one day where I got stung so badly that I ended up in an ambulance drugged up on morphine. On this day, I jumped off a rocky headland into the ocean with a view to swim into the beach, but I jumped straight on top of a giant bluebottle which promptly got tangled around my shoulder. I had to try and scramble back up the rocks, which had not been my intention, and because it took me so long to get out of the water and unwrap the 2 metre stinger from my shoulder I was in agony. I also stung my hands removing the bluebottle. I went to get some attention from the lifeguards on the beach, but on my way there I started having stomach cramps which were excruciating. By the time the lifeguards called an ambulance I was in the worst full-body pain of my life and freaking out. I remember that it hurt to breathe. I had thought the position of the sting (quite close to major blood vessels and underarm glands) plus the size of the bluebottle may have contributed, but that day there were a spate of ambulance calls for bluebottle stings all over Sydney beaches. In fact when I arrived at hospital there was another ambulance arriving with some poor guy who had been stung on the face.
An hour later I was 100% fine and could even laugh about the comment from a grizzled old Surf Lifesaving member who, when seeing a female lifeguard helping me, draped across her shoulders, into the ambulance, said “Is this your new boyfriend Sharon?”
Despite my experience, bluebottles are usually not cause for alarm unless you have severe allergic reactions (for bee stings, for example) or if you get stung in a bad place, like my brother who got a bluebottle wrapped around the crown jewels as a kid.
Far more deadly is the Box Jellyfish, native to the tropical north of Australia. In the summer months you can’t even go in the water unless wearing an all-over stinger suit. These things scare the bejesus out of me as they actually have eyes and can swim towards you. A sting from one of these things can be deadly in minutes– don’t mess with them!
5. Blue-Ringed Octopi
These nasty little guys are found in rockpools along New South Wales, which means you have to have to be careful walking along the rocks and swimming in these areas. When threatened, they light up with bright blue rings on their tentacles and if stung, they cause temporary respiratory paralysis which can kill you.
I’ve only ever seen a blue ringed octopus once, when I was a kid at Trial Bay, on the New South Wales North Coast, where a group of aboriginal kids had trapped one in a bucket and a crowd of people were having a look. I remember the intrigueing blue colour. At one point someone accidentally knocked over the bucket and the kids scattered in all directions.
Not limited to Australia, I only included this one because when I lived in the US, a lot of Americans asked me about Steve Irwin. Steve was an Aussie hero whose work helped to protect many threatened, beautiful and misunderstood species. I know many people who have swum and snorkelled with majestic rays. Steve’s experience showed that if you are unlucky enough to get yourself into the wrong position, they can be deadly.
7. Kangaroos, Koalas and Emus
Cuddly you think? Yes, perhaps, but you wouldn’t want to approach one to find out. Not exactly equipped with deadly superpowers, kangaroos, koalas and emus can hold their own if they need to defend themselves, as the following video makes clear.
8. Mythical Beasts- Bunyips, Hoop Snakes and Drop Bears
Bunyips are Australia’s answer to the Yeti and Big Foot. Bush folk of yesteryear would claim that they’d seen Bunyips emerging from swamps and stealing cattle. Truth be told, I think the Bunyip existed in Aboriginal dreamtime legend. To me, a Bunyip evokes sad memories of one of my favourite childhood books, “The Bunyip of Berkeley Creek”. This was a fantastic book that told of a Bunyip who existed altogether alone, and setting off on a journey of self discovery, not knowing who or what he was. Along the way he is persecuted for the way he looks. I always felt so sorry for the Bunyip and still do.
Meanwhile, a hoop snake is a wondrous beast that can roll itself into a hoop and roll towards you for an attack. Drop bears are similar to koalas except that they can drop out of trees to shred you to pieces. It is alleged that hoop snakes and drop bears are creations used by Aussie men to scare cute Swedish girls into allowing us to protect them, as depicted in the following much-loved ad for an Australian rum.
Just kidding- we don’t have leopards in Australia. Or do we?
No we don’t.
STRUTH! That’s a lot of dangerous beasts. Anything I missed? Anyone have any cool stories to relate? And now that I’ve officially discussed our list of dangerous wildlife, I’d like to welcome you to Australia! See you soon.