When I first moved to Australia, there were few things I was more excited about than the exotic Australian wildlife. I found myself driving on the bus from the airport into Sydney, straining my eyes, scanning the landscape for hopping kangaroos and scrutinising every tree for a koala. Of course, now that I’ve seen them all, I know better than to expect koalas sitting in your suburban front yard (even though occasionally they do turn up there), but I am no less fascinated by the wild, hazardous and peculiar variations of plants and creatures this sunburnt continent has produced during millions of years of isolation.
Let’s consider the kangaroo. With extremely muscular tails, strong back legs, and large feet (that are equipped with a raptor-like claw, long enough to slice a man’s gut open), they are anything but cute or cuddly. Yet they come with a maternal instinct bordering on self-abandonment. They baby kangaroo, known as a joey, is born into its marsupial mother’s pouch, and is no larger than a grain of rice at birth. There is sits and gestates for up to another 450 days before it is fit enough to hop off on its own little muscular legs. But that’s often not the end of the mother-child relationship. Kangaroo babies have a habit of returning to their mother’s pouch long after independence, be it for comfort or warmth.
I have children myself. As a mother of two, I am trying to imagine what it might be like to carry a baby in a pouch on my belly for two years. My back used to hurt after one day with the Ergo-Baby – what would it be like to do this for many months? That kangaroo mother certainly has my admiration.
And then there are the many unwanted house-guests, four-, six- or eight-legged (and sometimes with none, as in the case of a not very friendly snake that once made its way into my office), that you will encounter on a regular basis. Much more than kangaroos and koalas, in fact. Of course I was forewarned of the deadly spiders. The centipedes that would kill my family members one by one as I listened to their agonising screams. The cockroaches that would crawl into my gaping mouth at night as I snore. I was prepared – for all but one thing. The one thing that really gets me are ants. They are everywhere. Ants in the bathroom as I shower. Ants in the laundry as I try to fill the washing machine without stuffing too many of the little crawlies into it. Ants in the kitchen. Ants in the fridge. I might eventually learn to live with them. Better than sharing your bed with a funnel-web spider, right?
If you thought you’d at least be safe in the water, think again. Australia is home to some of the world’s deadliest sea creatures, and they can be both large and terrifying (think great white shark or saltwater crocodile), or cute and small (such as the blue-ring octopus or the amazing cone snail). I am a scuba diver, I know what I’m talking about. They are fascinating. I go on shark dives just to experience the thrill of being circled by a group of excited grey nurses. Or to hover over a stone fish for minutes, just to see whether I can see its eyes move.
Every time I step out the door or enter the water, I am hit yet again by the amazing nature that surrounds me here. And I feel blessed to be a part of this, to be awoken by the kookaburra’s laughs, the cockatoo’s screeches. I love living here, embedded in a nature so raw and wild that it almost feels hostile. Until a gentle king parrot settles on your wrist to feed of the sunflower seeds in your palm. Then you know that, despite the spiders and sharks, things are actually really great in Australia.