I recently had the pleasure of escaping normal life, jumping in a canoe and floating down one of Australia’s finest rivers- The Murray.
I had every intention of writing a thoughtful blog piece about how peaceful it was and that it was the kind of relaxing experience that everyone should try and have at some point in their lives. Sure, I was with a group of well behaved, if not quiet, teenagers and I was getting paid to do it but that did not detract from the tranquillity of the journey.
What I found instead was that I was increasingly drawn to thinking about Australian animals and how unique and completely absurd they really are.
Let me explain.
We had pulled up on to a sandy river corner to camp for the night. After setting up, the group sat in a circle, ready to cook dinner on small camping stoves. This in itself is not noteworthy, but the fact that a koala- an icon of Australia- descended its tree and proceeded to walk past us, most definitely was.
As I watched this increasingly pissed off, fluffy grey ball of fur and claws stare us down, I truly realised how deceptive Australian animals are. Take the koala as an example. They are the animal equivalent of cranky, old men. They constantly need naps and hate loud noises. I watched one wake up and grunt like a pig when a passing helicopter ventured too close. As soon as the chopper disappeared, he glared at me like it was my fault and went back to sleep. I actually felt guilty. If he was a human, he would have called the police and made a noise complaint.
Although they look cute and cuddly, they are more than willing to rip your face off if the need arises, not to mention the fact that they make noises that sound something more reminiscent of people having loud, aggressive sex in the bushes rather than something more memorable or soothing. I can see the advertising for Australian tourism now- “Come to Australia where the animals look cute but make noises like sexually inappropriate sounds effects”.
It almost feels like Australian animals are mocking you. Kookaburras are the prime example. They conveniently congregate on tree branches like a group of bullies and laugh at you as though you’ve done something wrong but haven’t quite figured out what it is yet.
All of these thoughts were compounded by the news during the previous week that a banned episode of Peppa Pig aired on Australian television. In the episode, Peppa’s dad encourages her to play with spiders, implying that they are harmless and that this is a normal thing to do. That it was banned for fear of small Australian children thinking that it’s fine to handle some of our deadly arachnids (red backs, funnel webs and white tails to name a few) without consequence explains Australia better than any documentary or public service announcement ever could. It’s a testament to the international perception that everything in Australia is trying to kill you. It’s a miracle that anybody even manages to live here at all. For a country whose largest predators live in the water (crocs and sharks), there are a significant amount of land based animals willing to inflict injury as well, both big and small.
Look at Kangaroos; they sit on our coat of arms and are the most recognisable animal in our country yet possess a kick that can rip a person’s stomach open. Not only that but some of them have bigger biceps than half of Australia’s male population, myself included, and seem to channel their aggression more productively. It’s as though they are secretly abusing steroids whilst the tourists aren’t looking.
It’s easy to joke about and something we Australians love to embellish. The only thing we enjoy more than telling a story is pretending Australia is a death trap. In reality, no one is really going to rush over to a koala and try to give it a cuddle and think that it’s going to be happy about it. Just like no one is really going to ride in the pouch of a kangaroo; as much as we all secretly want to know what it’s like. But they are all harmless from a distance- except magpies during nesting season (seriously, those birds are soulless. I’m more terrified of walking past a nesting magpie in a tree than I am of any other animal).
Jokes aside, providing they are not jumping out in front of your car, as some Australian animals are prone to do from time to time (ruining your insurance premiums along the way), it is a beautiful thing to see animals in the wild. It might seem like I am complaining about all these things (poking fun, more accurately), but I’m merely trying to point out how unique our wildlife actually is. The truth is that it can be easy to take your native animals for granted. You see them often and sometimes the appeal can be lessened, affected by an over saturation from a lifetime of exposure to them. But they are something that you should love and respect.
If paddling down the river has taught me anything it is to appreciate seeing an animal in the wild. Floating past koalas sitting precariously in the forks of small trees, overhanging the water is a special thing. How such a heavy looking animal can balance on the smallest of branches amazes me. You feel as though the slightest breeze is going to throw the animal from its perch into the water below. But there it sits; comfortable enough, waiting for the sun to go down so it can wander safely around the bush again, searching out a new tree to inhabit, new eucalypt leaves to gorge on. That’s not something you get to see every day. That is what makes it memorable.
Wayward Tip: Avoid a zoo and see an animal in its natural habitat- it doesn’t matter what country you’re in. Step out of your comfort zone. You’ll appreciate the experience.