My phone rang on a September morning many years ago. I answered. It was my wife.
“What do you think of Sydney?”
“Australia?” I asked. Of course she meant Australia – we were not about to move to Nebraska after all.
That was the beginning, and the end. It was the end because for a few years we had been searching for an overseas opportunity for our family, and there was never going to be a better offer. We had friends who had done ex-pat assignments over the years and raved about the experience. We wanted in. It was the beginning because we jumped at the opportunity even though we had never been to Australia or Sydney.
Two months later, in November, we landed in Sydney on our fact and house finding trip. It was a beautiful spring day. Jacarada was blooming everywhere. The harbor (harbour?) was amazing. All we could think was how lucky we were – we were going to move here!
And then it happened. After a day of house hunting – during which I got sunburned by the way, an only in Australia experience – we were wandering in The Rocks, a trendy, fun area of Sydney right under the harbor bridge, when we strolled into a book store. What I found there chilled me to my soul, and kept me awake many nights for a year or more after we moved to Sydney wondering how I was going to die in this country.
It was a book. Not just any book. A book by Wendy Lewis called “See Australia….. And Die – Tales of Misadventure Down Under”. Most of us have heard about the many creatures in Australia that can kill you. I had. Now, here was a book with documentation on each of them, and what they could do to you. I couldn’t help myself. So while my wife browsed, I read with morbid curiosity the section of the book with all the tales of how nature was conspiring to get me when I moved down under. I started to worry almost immediately.
A few I could knock back right away. The Box Jellyfish for example. Sure they could stop your heart in mere minutes, but they were seasonal and only up north. I’d put on my stinger suit as soon as I stepped off the plane in Queensland or Western Australia and I would be fine.
Or sharks. They weren’t really new. I’d lived in California for years. And I really didn’t spend all that much time in the water, so my likelihood of dying that way was really low. It was really much more likely that my plane would disappear a la “Lost” on travels back and forth to the USA than me being eaten by a shark.
How about a snake? Goodness, do I hate snakes. Inland Taipans and Brown snakes are the worst Australia has to offer. But really, how often do you see snakes? When I was a kid growing up in Colorado, I saw 2 rattlesnakes, but that was about it. So I couldn’t work up a great fear about snakes in Australia either.
Heck, some of the animals were even pretty. Blue Ring octopus anyone? Really pretty. But as a 5 year old Aussie kid said to a friend of ours who uknowingly was holding one, “Oh, he’ll suck the life right out of ya”. Literally – their venom paralyzes you and you can’t breathe. How fun is that? But again, these little guys are shy and it just didn’t strike fear into me.
If it was fear I was after, there was always the Saltwater Crocodile. Even the Aussies fear them, so you know they are nasty. They are known to hunt humans, and will attempt to turn over a ‘tinnie’ (Aussie slang for an aluminum fishing boat) in an attempt to get a meal. They kill using a “death roll”. They look like monsters from a prehistoric era. Just nasty all around. But very avoidable – simply make sure the only Billabong you enter is a retail store and you’ll be fine.
That left just one thing. The thing I hated most. Spiders! One of the things you notice quickly about Sydney, and Australia in general, is there are A LOT of spiders. This just stoked my fear. I almost broke google searching for information on the Sydney Funnel Web spider. One of the deadliest spiders in the world, and it only lives within a 100km radius of Sydney. Sure, anti-venom was developed in the 80s and no one had died from a bite since then, but I sure did not want to break that trend. What in the bloody hell was I thinking in agreeing to move here?
That was 6 years ago. All these creatures are still around, but I’ve realized they are not out to get me. In fact, the only one I’ve seen since I moved here is the salty. At a croc farm. His name was Paul. Cute as a button, all 5 meters of him (that’s about 16 ½ feet for you Americans in the crowd). Well fed and behind a large, sturdy fence.
And Sydney has won me over with her beauty, her weather, and her people. The city and the lifestyle are worth the risk! Heck, I’ve even learned to appreciate SOME of her spiders, though any Huntsman that wanders in my house will have the business end of a flip flop as the last thing they ever see.
But most of all, I’ve realized I don’t need to worry about the Sydney Funnel Web spider, because if and when I ever do encounter one, it’ll be the heart attack that kills me first!