We think that Australians and Canadians are quite similar people in some ways. Both have strange contradictory traits in that they are very adventurous but also have a fear of the unknown. And some of that fear is completely irrational and based on not having a clue what we are talking about.
We’ve met a few Australians who are deathly afraid of bears. Yes, it is good to be scared of bears, but not to the point that you wouldn’t go somewhere where bears live, and we have met a few Aussies who have said they would never go to Canada because there are bears. They seem to think that there are grizzlies (well, they don’t say grizzlies, because most of them just seem to think all bears are killers) wandering the streets, looking for human flesh to feast on. We tell them that finding a bear is hard to do (recent statistics say there are about 17000 grizzlies in Canada, almost all in remote mountain and BC coastal forests), and that most bears, while not harmless, don’t want to be near you. We spent years looking for bears in the Rockies and only saw a few. And even then, most were black bears – yes, they could hurt you, but they aren’t aggressive. We did see a couple of grizzlies, but that took a lot of searching, and only one was close enough that it could have hurt us if we hadn’t been in a car. Being afraid of bears isn’t rational; being aware of them, and cautious of them, is rational and smart. Hell, you have as much of a chance of being kicked in the ass by a kangaroo here as you do of being eaten by a bear in Canada. Unless you are threatening their cubs, a bear is probably not going to attack you. Just don’t go into the wilderness with a salmon in your pocket.
As Canadians coming to Australia, we found that some of our fears were also a bit extreme. Not enough to prevent us from coming here, but extreme. Those fears were, of course, of snakes and spiders. And though they are probably healthy fears to have, we’ve come to realize that our expectations of the vermin here were somewhat misguided.
First to the spiders, which we’ve mentioned in a few posts. The dangerous ones in Wagga are the redback and the white-tail. We’ve encountered both. Redbacks build nests and webs, catch things in the webs and eat them. They are mostly nocturnal though we have seen them during the day, in the boxwood bushes that line our patio, nesting in a corner under our mailbox, and under the awning that is constantly down covering the west windows from the sun. A bit of Raid takes care of them quite quickly!
The ones at the bottom of the mailbox (it is a box on a pole at the edge of the lawn) were the most interesting. We had seen the web, but never really paid close attention. Then one day Dan was getting the mail and noticed a cricket had been caught in it; as he watched, a redback came out to greet him. So he went in, got the Raid, and sprayed the whole area quite well, figuring if there was one visible there might be others. And yes, there was another one that tumbled to the ground, writhing from the spray, a tiny one that we thought must have been a baby. Later, when we were discussing spiders with a friend (the Aussies must get tired of explaining spiders to us!), she told us that it would have been a female, as they are very small, and that the females are more venomous. Cool! [Lisa edit: No, not cool! Dead is cool!]
White-tails don’t build webs, they just hunt at night for things caught in other spiders’ webs. During the day, they curl up in a warm dark place such as under rocks when outside…we probably have a few living under furniture indoors…we just don’t look or think about it [Lisa edit: Oh yes we do… Dan addition: actually, I watched one run under the china cabinet last week and when I looked under it, there were more than one or two…so I hoovered them!]. And this is why you are supposed to shake your shoes if you leave them outside. We keep our shoes inside, and though the whitetails we have seen have been inside we don’t worry about them too much. They don’t really want to be in the house, but just end up here by mistake. There is a strange thing about white-tails though: everyone here says how much damage they do when they bite – blisters, skin ulcers, etc. but our spider book says they aren’t that bad. We don’t know who to believe…but we will always err on the side of caution and try not to find out first hand who is right. We’re not scared of these spiders, but we are aware of them. We keep the house sprayed with Mortein, and keep our house clean and organized…so we don’t really have much to worry about. And, most important, we don’t have wicker furniture outdoors! Dan heard several stories recently about people who do, and guess what: it provides a perfect place for spiders to nest. Duh!
And of course, not all spiders are dangerous. We have the typical daddy long legs spiders like we did in Canada. We just ignore those. And little St Andrews Cross spiders, who sit in their web and vibrate when you touch it. Really, the biggest annoyance of spiders is walking, or biking, through a web and having that sticky stringy stuff stuck to you… And, occasionally, we even get Huntsman spiders, which are pretty big, very docile, and feed on other spiders, moths, etc. They are good to have around.
Then there are the snakes. From things you hear, they are all over the place. But, like spiders, they don’t really want to be near people. In this area, there are brown snakes and black snakes. They can get up to about 2 metres in length and yes, they can be dangerous if you startle one. And an interesting fact is that the smaller ones, the babies, are more deadly. The adults can control their venom – they can bite to scare you away, without injecting venom – but the young ones can’t control it, so if you get bitten by one you get the full dose. But the odds of that happening, we have figured out, are pretty low.
We work on a rural campus, and occasionally get notices that there are snakes around – Lisa’s building even has had one outside it a couple of times – but neither of us has seen a live one (Lisa has seen 3 smushed on the road, Dan saw one). That rarity is very different from what we were expecting…and our attitude when we first moved here now seems hilarious to us. And it amuses the Aussies too, when they aren’t just rolling their eyes at how silly we are. Stupid little things like thinking we had to keep the grass short so we would notice snakes in the back yard, or thinking that the little bird bath we put on the ground might be enough water for a snake… Of course, when you then read articles in the newspaper about the occasional snake getting into someone’s house (saw that in Melbourne paper in September) or the tiger snake getting stuck in a beer can, you get a skewed and sensationalized perspective. Kind of like how you read about bear attacks in Canada, but then no one ever points out how many people live and play in the mountains and never see a bear. Or do see them, but just walk in the other direction.
There is a third serious danger here that we aren’t going to be complacent about, and no, it isn’t sharks…they don’t come down the Murrumbidgee River, and like bear attacks, shark attacks aren’t that common. The bigger danger is the sun. It is ‘different here’ is what we are constantly being told. And it has probably killed more Australians than snakes, spiders, and sharks combined. So we slip, slop, slap, slide, seek…and we we will continue to fear its rays.