January 26th is Australia Day, the official national holiday of Australia.
We celebrate the day with a two-part entry on this weird, wild, and wholly unique country:
Sunrise in the Outback
Taipan snakes. Funnel web spiders. Redbacks. Great white sharks. Saltwater crocodiles. Bluebottles. Box jellyfish. Cone shells. Cassowaries. Blue-ringed octopuses. Coffin rays. Stonefishes.
That's a small, utterly non-comprehensive list of all the things in Australia that are venomous, poisonous, or otherwise capable of causing extreme bodily harm to a human who ventures just a little too close. And that is, of course, only considering the animals; I've left off such things as floods, hurricane, cyclones, temperatures so hot they can literally cook a person alive -- and riptides, which many consider to be a far greater danger than any of the local wildlife.
Australia: A Summary
The point remains: Australia is not for the faint of heart. So imagine my surprise last May, when I found myself signing on for a two-week trip to the Land Down Under. I was, as my friends and family could've all told you, somewhat apprehensive about just what creepy-crawlies (or, y'know, massive crocodiles) I might run into while I was there. But there was undeniable appeal at the chance to go somewhere so utterly unique, so completely unlike anywhere I had ever gone before.
The Australian Outback
I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to bounce from place to place in Australia, getting to experience several different locations entirely different from one another. There was Cairns, for instance: a veritable tropical paradise of a city, situated on the northeast coast of the country (or, if you prefer, the northeast coast of the continent, Australia being the only place that can claim the distinction of being both continent and country).
Cairns is where you go if you'd like to view the Great Barrier Reef, located just off the coast. Exactly how big it is has become a matter of some debate (280,000 square kilometers by one reckoning, 344,000 by another), but by even the shortest of estimates, it stretches the same length as the west coast of the United States. It contains incredible amounts of wildlife: fifteen hundred species of fish, four hundred types of coral, four thousand types of mollusks -- and is said by many to be the largest living thing on earth. (Some argue that, as the reef is composed of three thousand separate reefs, it is not a single entity; that hardly makes it less impressive.) Comprised of trillions of miniature coral polyps, the Great Barrier Reef is centuries old.
Saltwater crocodiles at the Marineland Melanesia Park
on Green Island -- off the coast of Cairns, Queensland
The 'roos at the petting zoo outside Sydney are
realizing I'm almost out of treats.
I felt like the little kid in "The Lost World" when the dinos
find out she doesn't have any more sandwiches for them.
And then, of course, there's the Australian outback. There are great, vast expanses of outback; in fact, it comprises the majority of the continent. It redefines the concept of "in the middle of nowhere." But despite overwhelmingly high temperatures and the usual assortment of dangerous creepy-crawlies, the outback is undeniably magnificent. And nowhere is this more evident than at Uluru.
Uluru (the Aboriginal name for Ayers Rock) is a rock formation that's a mile and a half long, five and a half miles around -- and a hundred million years old. It's a type of geological marvel known as a bornhardt: a deposit of weather-resistent rock that's left behind after the wind and rain and water has worn away its surroundings. The thousand-foot-high structure is considered a holy place by the Aboriginal people -- and it's not hard to see why.
So, yes: it's wild and massive and even, perhaps, at times, a bit terrifying. But Australia remains a truly fascinating place.
Just be sure to check the sheets for spiders before you go to sleep. I know I did.
And, hey: not all of the animals are scary.
-- From Terry Pratchett's The Last Continent:
"I want," he said, "A book about the dangerous creatures of [Australia] --"
"Hmm …" He picked up a book at random and read the cover. "'Dangerous Mammals, Reptiles, Amphibians, Birds, Fish, Jellyfish, Insects, Spiders, Crustaceans, Grasses, Trees, Mosses, and Lichens of Terror Incognita'," he read. His gaze moved down the spine. "Volume 29C," he added. "Oh. Part Three, I see."
He glanced up at the shelves. "Possibly it would be simpler if I asked for a list of the harmless creatures of the aforesaid continent?"
Something white [came] zigzagging lazily through the air. Finally he reached up and caught the single sheet of paper.
He read it carefully and then turned it over briefly just in case anything was written on the other side.
"'Some of the sheep,'" he read aloud. "Oh, well. Maybe a week at the seaside'd be better, then."
From the Catalog:
-- The Last Continent - a satirical novel by Terry Pratchett
-- In a Sunburned Country - A hilarious, and highly informative, Australian travel guide by Bill Bryson
-- Crocodile Hunter's Croc Files [DVD] - Host Steve Irwin takes viewers on an informative tour on the wildlife of Australia
-- The Rescuers Down Under [DVD] - An animated film set in the Australian outback
-- Post by Ms. B