The Careful and the Carefree

Nicolle Layman

Portrayed in travel ads and pictures, Australia appears to be a destination of choice for tourists who desire a break in paradise. With crystal blue waters, exotic plants and animals, who wouldn’t want to take some time off and relax in the Land of Oz? However, life in Australia is not as serene and tranquil as it appears.

On March 31st of this year, a local man was attacked and killed by a great white shark off a popular beach in Western Australia. This has been the “fourth fatal shark in Western Australia in seven months.” This accident has made this region of the country the most dangerous place to swim in the world. In Bill Bryson’s book, In A Sunburned Country, he states in the first chapter that Australia “has more things that can kill you than anywhere else.” The box jellyfish, the crocodile, the funnel web spider, and the great white shark are some of the many lethal creatures in the Land of Oz which has and can cause death to unsuspecting victims. This is the fear I have carried with me through my time here in this country, that I should be one of those unlucky few who comes across one of these creatures, and thus becomes an unfortunate and insignificant statistic in Australian history.

When discussing this fear with the Australians I live with, I was informed that they “rarely ever, if never, worry about it.” They commented that one shouldn’t “walk around without shoes on, but be vigilant. There is more trouble with drop bears than anything else.” No one they knew has ever been attacked by any of the dangerous creatures that populate the land, which is a huge relief for the worried heart.

It is extremely easy to live in ignorance of these dangers, and possibly stumbled upon one first hand. At the same time, living in constant fear is also an unhealthy way of life. Something I have come to both admire and envy in the Australian culture is their knowledge of living in danger, yet the calm they have regarding this. “It is not ridiculous to fear these animals,” I was informed, “but there is no need to be feeling like you’ll meet one every second of the day, because it is highly unlikely. It’s like going into a wave while surfing…one thinks about the most sensible behavior, and thus acts upon it.” The truth that Bryson speaks of, that “if you are not stung or pronged to death in some unexpected manner, you may be fatally chomped by sharks or crocodiles, or carried helplessly out to sea by irresistible currents…” is actually not truth at all. This pessimistic worldview of fear is no way to live, as I have discovered these past two months in Australia. I encourage anyone with a worried heart, full of fear of these God created organisms, to step (with a covered sole) securely yet with awareness in this mystical land, embracing the unknown as a challenge to behold. Just keep an eye out for those drop bears!

Sources:

Bryson, Bill 2000, In A Sunburned Country, Broadway Books, New York.
“WA beach closed after fatal shark attack – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation),” ABC.net.au. N.p., n.d. <http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-03-31/fatal-shark-attack/3924828&gt;. (accessed April 21, 2012).

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