Growing up, our family would never have been accused of being hard core campers. Camping always involved a houseboat and often required a sneaky trip back to town to use the facilities. I know, I know, as country people we should be hanging our heads in shame.
Nevertheless, we did sleep in tents, we got rained on at Easter and burnt to a crisp in the summer. We sat around campfires, toasted marshmallows and spent days lazing on the river. In our neck of the woods life revolved around the water, as a child this meant nagging your parents (or their friends) for another water ski or wake boarding opportunity. We'd look for random fish popping out of the water and laze around in deck chairs late in the afternoon while the pelicans cruised in at sunset to settle for the night.
When we began living overseas and would talk to people about Australia and my hometown and how we stayed entertained, I noticed a familiar theme in people's questions. "Did anyone you know get attacked by sharks?" I'd explain that no, we lived on the river "Oh, so you're more likely to get bitten by a crocodile?"
It didn't take me long to realize that Australia had itself a bit of a reputation. Thanks to Steve Irwin, Paul Hogan and National Geographic, my new friends appeared to believe that upon touching Australian soil they were in serious danger. They were certain that funnel web spiders dropped from the trees, snakes slithered through shopping centres and sharks circled under the Sydney Harbour Bridge. And who can blame them? A quick google search will bring you hundreds of articles about the "dangers of down under" - but is it really that unsafe?
Every Aussie knows that you don't leave food out in the kitchen unless you want a trail of ants to visit. We give our shoes a shake before putting them on if we've left them outside. The garden shed is bound to have a few spiders and I wouldn't ever put my hands in the middle of the wood heap without wearing gloves - but is any of this death defying behaviour?
Recently a Scottish girlfriend of mine has moved to Perth. I have giggled at many of her Facebook status updates over Australia's bugs and grubs. I now have visions of her in khakis with a snake catcher in one hand and a Crocodile Dundee knife in the other, in preparation for a trip to the mall. An article on breakfast television about funnel web spiders has left her a little jumpy, a recent lizard spotting while out for a stroll almost required a new set of underwear for the journey. Which maybe say's something about your average Australian's conditioning. Perhaps we don't really notice the bugs? And if the bugs aren't noticing us when they're unprovoked, is it really that dangerous? Yes, we may have the 10 deadliest snakes, but I wonder how many Australians could actually identify them?
We've all heard the story, wherever you stand in London you're 8 feet away from a rat (I believe in the olden days the term was PLAGUE), but I've managed to get out of London a few times with all fingers and toes attached. In Canada, even though I went up to the mountains and got on all fours with a fish in my mouth in the middle of the river, I was lucky enough not to be eaten by a bear. Okay, maybe I wasn't in the river with the fish - but I was up in the mountains. In Indonesia, the Komodo dragons kept their distance, in Libya not one scorpion nipped at my ankles, the monkeys were overly curious in Malaysia, and I once ran backwards with a child in a stroller at a speed rivaling Usain Bolt to escape from the most enormous snake I've seen in Kuala Lumpur - but I'm here to tell the tale.
This morning I had to giggle at the discovery that we now not only have the most deadly snakes and venomous spiders but our beaches have joined the most DEADLY list (particularly if you can't swim, nor read the sign telling you to stay within the flags, but why let the details get in the way of a good story). According to the Huffington Post you will now also be eaten by dingoes.
I'm trying to recall the last time I saw a family being chased by a wild pack of dingoes while out walking along the beach. Oh, that's right. NEVER.
If you've managed to survive the recent infestation of bedbugs in New York, the bears of Canada and the rats in London - I reckon you'll be perfectly safe having a beer in Bondi.
Just watch out for the Drop Bears though.