Sun, Sea, Sand…And Danger!

The England cricket team is having a miserable time of it in Australia.

Humiliated once again. The Ashes are staying down under.

Symbolically anyway. The actual Ashes urn, which is made of terracotta, has a permanent home at the MCC museum at the Lords cricket ground. It’s one of the most famous sporting trophies in the world yet is only four inches tall. It’s also very fragile, which means it doesn’t get out and about as much as it used to. It is, mind you, around 140 years old now, so that’s hardly surprising.

In terms of a sporting clash, little heats the fervour of the average England cricket fan like an Ashes series, regardless of whether it’s played here or down under. But know this. That excitement and all the colour, noise and sheer energy that accompanies it, as it does any sporting occasion, is nothing compared to that which the Australian fans take along to the matches.

Because when it comes to the Poms, they like nothing more than giving us a good beating. It doesn’t matter what sport, event or match up it is. Cricket, both rugby codes, football, swimming, athletics, tennis, sailing. You name it, they want to give us a good kicking and make sure we leave with a bloody nose and our dignity in tatters.

You might think we’d at least have the upper hand over them at football, but no, they’ve had their day there as well. Back in 2003, England put out a team that included such footballing superstars as Rio Ferdinand, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney that  was expected to comfortably beat their Australian counterparts.

But no, we got the usually bloody nose. Tony Popovic scored one of their goals, you’ve heard of him, surely?

The game was played at Upton Park, the old home of West Ham Utd. So you might at least have expected a decent atmosphere on the night? Well yes, there was. Except all the noise and all the singing and chanting was coming from the Australian fans.

They love to hate us.

Which is probably something they picked up from birth. There’s an old saying about Australia which reckons that all of the wildlife in the country is out to kill you.

Wildlife that probably has some sort of code hardwired into its DNA which enable it to identify someone from England at an instant.

I first became aware of this when I visited Australia during my time working for Reuters. The work I’d been asked to oversee was based in Melbourne (and more on that shortly) which meant, as I’d arrived in Sydney, I had another long trip to do just to get to my office. I could, of course, have popped onto an internal flight and done so in no time at all but, as I had a bit of time on my hands, I decided to drive as that meant the opportunity of exploring the famous Princes Highway, one of the great driving routes anywhere in the world.

Except I didn’t want to do that. I elected to take another route to Melbourne that was a bit ‘off the grid’ as the saying goes, but one which I felt would give me a taste of the real Australia en-route.

I hadn’t realised, at that point, that it might also have given the local wildlife a good chance of getting the taste of Russell mind you, not until the moment I stopped for a quick break and what I thought would be a nice sit down for a nice picnic amidst all the exotic trees, shrubs and artistically pleasing piles of logs that were dotted about the place.

One of the world’s most dangerous places-a picnic area in Australia (Shutterstock)

Until I noticed the signs dotted all around me advising of the presence of funnel web spiders in the vicinity. Particularly, as it turned out, amidst all of the afore mentioned exotic trees, shrubs and artistically pleasing piles of logs dotted about the place, all of which were, no doubt, extremely popular spider hotels.

An Australian funnel web spiders bite is nasty. It might not kill you of course. Which is reassuring. But you pretty well need to get immediate medical attention after the event to ensure that doesn’t happen. Once you’ve been bitten by one, you soon know all about it. You start to sweat, you get a tingling feeling all around your mouth and tongue, you then start to suffer from involuntary twitching, your heart rate increases and your blood pressure goes up…and up and up and up. Did I mention the shortness of breath that follows, the nausea and vomiting and writhing, grimacing and general confusion?

I have now.

None of that sounded like it would make for a fun picnic. So I got back in the car.

I couldn’t go and cool off with a nice paddle either. I was at a place called Port Douglas which has a beach. Marvellous I thought, go and make friends with the Coral Sea Russell, have a refreshing dip.

Port Douglas sounds a nice sort of place. It’s described in the official tourist literature as “…a chic, yet relaxed seaside village”. Perfect, I thought, Like Brancaster or Holkham back in Norfolk but a lot warmer.

Brancaster beach by Stacey Harris
Brancaster beach in Norfolk. Where the greatest danger is a bit of sand in your sausage roll (Stacey Harris/geograph)

Off I went, through the sand, taking in all the vivid sounds and colours only Australia can offer the senses until I caught sight of another sign, subtly planted in the sand but passing on the sort of information that was anything but subtle.

I might, for starters, it advised like to be advised (much in the same way you’d be advised at Brancaster or Holkham that the beach café was open) that there was a very real danger of ‘salties’, aka Salt Water Crocodiles lurking in the shallows and that they were almost certainly going to be accompanied, as another sign now advised, by their very own wingmen, aka ‘stingers’, that is, Box Jellyfish.

At least I had the chance of either being bitten or stung. Tough call. But I decided to do without my paddle.

Not all hope was lost, it seemed, if you were stung by the Box jellyfish. Providing, that is, you calmly, post-sting, got out of the water and proceeded to douse yourself liberally with the liquid provided, a vinegar-like substance that might, just might, help to keep you alive whilst you sought out the emergency medical attention that you now most definitely needed as, and they don’t muck about down under, if you didn’t get it, well that was too bad, as you’d likely die.

“What the hell”, I thought, “Let’s leave the beach for another day. I think I’ll go to work”.

Where, as it turned out, I’d encounter my deadliest foe yet…

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