19th April, 2017 – 8th May, 2017
‘Every country is like a particular type of person. America is like a belligerent, adolescent boy; Canada is like an intelligent, 35-year-old woman. Australia is like Jack Nicholson. It comes right up to you and laughs very hard in your face in a highly threatening and engaging manner.’ Douglas Adams
Douglas Adams comparing Australia to Jack Nicholson is, in some ways, fantastically accurate – the threatening manner arises from the fact that you fear almost every creeping, slithering animal has the potential to kill you. We quickly had our assumptions, that the dangerous animals of Australia had been blown out of proportion, curtailed by an Australian couple we met during an Indonesian cooking class in Ubud. Chris jokingly brought up the fact that “really, sharks attacking surfers can’t possibly be as common as the news makes it out to be.” Whereupon the Australian chap pipes up “oh well, I dunno mate, last Christmas my dad was out surfing and a great white attacked him and chewed his foot up.” This anecdote was told with a resignation and touch of humour which only the Australians are capable of associating with dangerous nature. Startled and rather apprehensive expressions arose on both Chris’ and my face and this conversation contributed to us deciding not to set foot in the ocean from Australian shores for the whole three weeks we were there! Subsequently reading Bill Bryson’s book on Australia further prepared us for what was ahead: “It has more things that will kill you than anywhere else. Of the world’s ten most poisonous snakes, all are Australian. Five of its creatures – the funnel web spider, box jellyfish, blue-ringed octopus, paralysis tick, and stonefish – are the most lethal of their type in the world. This is a country where even the fluffiest of caterpillars can lay you out with a toxic nip, where seashells will not just sting you but actually sometimes go for you. … If you are not stung or pronged to death in some unexpected manner, you may be fatally chomped by sharks or crocodiles, or carried helplessly out to sea by irresistible currents, or left to stagger to an unhappy death in the baking outback. It’s a tough place.” To say the least!
We decided the only way to fully immerse ourselves in the Australian way of life was to get “off the grid” and so, along with our two friends, we loaded up our trusty, rented Toyota Land Cruiser with camping equipment and food, and we confidently headed off to Fraser Island for a three night adventure. I think this trip really illustrated the interesting juxtaposition between highly developed, western civilisation on the coastal edge of Australia and the wild, untamed areas in the centre and off the coast. We found that Australia provides no cosy accessible nature, as is found in the national parks of the UK, which are scattered with old, stone pubs and B&Bs for the city ‘adventurer’ to take a break in. In Australia the national parks are (obviously), huge, relatively untamed and you are 100% responsible for your own safety and rescue if you get stuck in a tricky situation because there is no mobile or internet signal when you ‘go bush’. Although Fraser Island is very much a tourist destination and therefore not the most authentic, isolated experience, we still found the experience challenging in many way which Britain cannot provide. For example, the expanse of off road paths to explore, the coyotes weaving their way across the beach and finally, but most spectacularly, the juvenile taipan (highly toxic, venom can kill you in 45 minutes) slithering across the entrance to the ladies loo block at the Central Station rainforest campsite.
I would thoroughly recommend visiting Fraser, particularly if you are going with confident drivers because there is a fair amount of road time. However I would recommend checking the weather because (personally) a lot of the enjoyment depends on pleasant weather. I would also recommend spending more nights in coastal campsite than in Central Station. Although the rainforest campsite was very atmospheric and therefore worth one night, the claustrophobic tightness of the tree canopy and the numerous mosquitoes, compared to the panorama of the night sky achieved in the coastal campsites meant that the latter won hands down for me.
After our adventure into dangerous Australia, Chris and I knew we wanted to seek out the contrast in cosmopolitan Australia and to see if we could prove wrong the belief that Australia is a “cultural wasteland”, as told to us by some English friends. My next blog entry will let you know whether we were successful or not!