The Land Down Under is a deadly place, and thanks to content-sharing websites like Reddit, Imgur, and Buzzfeed everyone who owns internet now knows this. Earlier this year we decided to visit Australia understanding full well that at any given moment a dingo could come snatch our baby, or a crocodile on the sidewalk could drag one of us to our doom. We figured all that was fluff and rumors anyway.
After living in the country for a month, we realized that all the rumors were true. All of them. Here’s 9 ways Australia tried to kill me during my time there, some ways more unlikely than you would ever think.
9. River Bull Sharks
A huge reason we chose where we lived in Australia was because of its location right alongside the Brisbane River. The pictures made it look so appealing – I envisioned myself frolicking in the water every day, building a raft out of driftwood and vines, and waving to all the rowers as they passed with smiles on their faces. It would be a gloriously peaceful and enjoyable experience.
That is, until a bull shark bit off my leg.
Bull sharks are deadly. They’re 10x more aggressive than your average middle school bully, and they loooooove hunting in the murky waters of the Brisbane River where you’d never see them coming. It gets worse: bull sharks can live comfortably in both saltwater and freshwater locations, and they eat just about anything they feel like chomping on—human appendages included. They account for the majority of shark attacks, and are considered to be more dangerous than any other shark in the world. And the river was teeming with them.
I didn’t know about this for a whole week into living next to the river, and the only thing stopping me from cannonballing into the brown waters was that I had to walk a couple blocks away to the nearby dock to do so. Turns out laziness can be useful for survival.
8. Sink Spiders
Not every species of spider in Australia is deadly; just most of them. And it just so happened that one of them decided to crawl up into the sink spout and scare the snot out of me when I turned on the water to brush my teeth. It was about 2 inches in leg span and had some mean looking mandibles, most likely meant solely for piercing human flesh.
We tried to ID the spider, but after it leaped out from the sink at my toothbrush I decided that it was probably better to squish it first. Squish it till the devil’s soul had left it. Unfortunately, flat, pulverized spider goo isn’t easy to identify, but I think based on its actions it was gonna be either me or him.
7. Rental Vans
Not long into our stay in Oz we found a chance to see both Sydney and Melbourne over the course of a week. A rental company (see note below for warning) had a camper van that needed to be moved from Brisbane to Melbourne and was willing to pay for us to make the trip. It was a solid gold opportunity and we took it and set out for the open road.
When I picked up the van, I started to hear a weird clickity clackity noise near the front. It didn’t sound too bad (and I am more mechanically minded than the average joe) but I figured that if the noise was still there in an hour, I’d call the company and let them know. We left Brisbane and, sure enough, the noise was still there. We called it in and they told us to take it to the nearest mechanic, so we did. After hanging out for 30 minutes the mechanic calls me up and tells me the front wheel bearings were shot and the wheel was loose; if we had kept driving another hour or two, we would have surely lost a wheel on the freeway. Which means, you know, certain death.
There’s not a lot of birds that the human species need worry about these days. Sure, kids might get the occasional nip on the finger when they stick their grubby paws in the parakeet cage, but other than that you almost never hear of any bird attacks in the news.
That is, unless you live in Australia.
The magpie is so vicious that Aussies have even affectionately named the time of year most likely to be attacked “swooping season”. In 2010 one kid was killed in traffic after a magpie chased him into the road. In 2012 another kid died from an infection after being viciously attacked by one of these psycho-territorial birds. And it’s not like these birds are rare – think of how often you see crows in the US. Then imagine they’re slightly smaller, red eyed, and giving you an evil death stare as you move past it, and you’ve got yourself a magpie.
Having known of the plight of the killer magpie gang before entering the country, I decided that I would make try to make friends with one of the little lucifers and gain immunity before they pulled any stabbing moves on me. The attempt was pretty successful, and we were protected as long as I gave daily offerings of bread and Tim Tams. His name was Chancho.
(Speaking of Australian birds that can kill you, have you ever seen a Cassowary?)
5. The Ocean
Some people have an innate fear of the ocean, and most of the time it’s irrational. In Australia, it’s always rational. Remember the bull sharks in the Brisbane River from #8? Well they and the great whites made #5 as well.
One fine day we decided to visit N. Stradbroke Island in Queensland. It’s beautiful beyond reason, and for about 4 hours we got to spend part of the day on one of the best beaches I’ve ever seen—white sands, grassy bluffs, tide pools, the works—and there were a whole 3 other people on the entire beach with us. It was peaceful and quiet.
So quiet, in fact, you could almost hear the “Jaws” theme playing softly in the background.
Later that night I was surfing the web and came across a couple articles. Shark frenzy 4 weeks before our visit. Great White bitten in half by a much larger unknown shark. Tuna fishers bringing in bull sharks by the dozen. All at Stradbroke, all within 3 miles of the beach where I was busy dancing around in the water and flopping around like a hurt baby seal.
4. The Sun
No matter where you are, the sun has the power to burn your skin and cause cancer. But only in the state of Queensland does it happen twice as fast; the Australian state has the highest skin cancer rate in the entire world. Having spent a month in Queensland’s capital city, I can attest to the rumors that a sunburn can appear within 15 minutes of walking around. It happened about every other day.
3. Flying Foxes (or, in US english, “Giant Mother Freaking Bats”)
The magpies may have a swooping season, but flying foxes have a swooping hour. If you were caught outside between sundown and nighttime, good luck—you’re likely to have the excrement scared straight out of you. Why? Well, you see, here’s what a normal bat looks like:
And this is a flying fox:
If you didn’t notice the difference in size, then maybe their diet will clue you in: one eats bugs the size of a pea, and the other eats fruits the size of the normal bat.
Since we didn’t have a car during our stay in Brisbane, we were subject to the 20-minute walk from the train station to our apartment every time we went out. Most times it was perfectly safe; other times it was dusk, making it just light enough to see in front of you, but dark enough to not see it coming.
Suddenly, flying foxes would shoot out of the trees and buzz us just a few feet from our faces as we ducked for cover. More screeching from the right, another swoop from the left, and we would start running as fast as we could to exit the feeding grounds before one of them flew off with our child. This was a regular event, if we had the pleasure of heading home at that hour.
And just in case you were about to call BS on me for daring to imagine the cute-faced fruit-eating flying foxes as being deadly, please direct your attention to the fact that they infect over 100 people every year with some rabies-like virus only they carry—which kills humans. Potato, po-tah-to.
You ready for more? It’s about to get ridiculous.
2. Macadamia Nuts
You may think that I’m the one who’s nuts for having this as number 2, but that’s exactly what makes it number 2: you’d never ever expect it. Most people who eat macadamia nuts bought them in a little plastic bag, or baked them in a cookie or something quaint like that. Aussies don’t care for that crap; they climb up the Australia-native tree, grab a handful, and crack them straight on their skulls. Cheers, mate.
For us softie Americans who can’t perform such amazing feats with our bodies, a few macadamias are available on roadsides and supermarkets in shelled form. It seems simple enough to buy these and crack them open at home. It’s not. The macadamia shell is the hardest nut in the world to crack (no pun intended), and without the specialized macadamia nutcracker, which is actually just a semiprofessional-grade workshop clamp, that delicious little white morsel might as well be housed in Fort Knox.
One day our host kindly offered me a bowlful of shelled macadamias, and showed me how the nutcracker worked: she stuck the nut in, twisted the head to press the clamp on the shell, and with a cute little “pop!” the shell split open and the nut was just sitting there, ready to be devoured. Seemed easy enough. She left the room and I took a stab at it: I placed the nut, cinched it down and,
this freaking nut burst into a thousand daggers, hit me in the eye, neck, and chest, and pinged against all the cups on the countertop. The neighbor across the street fell down and grabbed his leg. And the stupid nut wasn’t even out yet.
I tried this with 10 more nuts before realizing I was more likely to lose my eyesight than be satisfied with my macadamia intake. I now know why people pay exorbitant prices for shell-free macadamia nuts in little plastic bags.
And now, the top would-be killer is…
1. Everyday trees, bushes, and plants
Pretend you’re me. You’re walking down the sidewalk and you see a peapod the size of an American football. You pick it up, and inside there’s six abnormally large brown seeds. Interesting, you think to yourself. You take one out, sniff it, pick at it, and then you do as any logical person would do in the same situation:
You bite it.
If it wasn’t for the fact that it was almost as hard as a rock, I probably would have had a little piece of this seed in my body. 6 hours later, that little piece would have caused extreme dizziness, vomiting, and diarrhea. As you can tell, it wasn’t my wisest moment in life, and Emily will forever hold it against me whenever I start to think I’m smart.
Besides the fact that it’s a bad idea ANYWHERE to pick up a seed from the ground and pop it into your mouth, doing so in Australia is straight-up deadly. For example, what I tried to eat was a seed from the Black Bean Tree, and they were practically everywhere; but just as common was something called the White Cedar, which drops much cuter and edibler little yellow berries that smell like fresh laundry. If you find yourself accidentally ingesting one of these fresh laundry berries, you can expect your side effects to include nausea, spasms, drowsiness then convulsions, and death. Really painful death.
To make it even worse, the White Cedar in no ways has exclusivity on causing your death; 27 different trees, bushes, weeds, and otherwise common and typical garden plants are all willing and able to lead you to your grave, and almost 100 more can get you most of the way there.
But don’t worry—as long as you don’t reignite your habit of randomly sticking plant parts in your mouth as you stroll down the sidewalk, you should be fine. It’s much more likely that the 8-lb football-sized pea pod dropping on your head as you strut by will kill you first, anyway.
With all these wonderful ways of dying abound, I really have no idea how I survived. The next time we visit Australia, I’ll be watching my step much more carefully—and probably will practice not eating seeds I find on the street.
**Side note: NEVER NEVER NEVER rent a van from TravellersAutobarn.com. EVER. I contacted them to complain about their faulty van that nearly killed my family, as any normal person would. After arguing for over a half hour they told us to “get lost, mate!” and had us leave the keys with the mechanic. We were an hour away from home and it was raining hard. I’m sure there are plenty of awful rental companies out there, but they’re the worst.