I’m slightly obsessed with the Australian horror film Wolf Creek. However, despite the name, it has nothing to do with the single most frightening aspect of this country. A whole other horror film is waiting to be made focussing exclusively on the wild beasts that roam around unchallenged everywhere, be it in the inner city or Outback.
My visit to Australia had been unplanned. I’d been working in Fiji and my flight back to London was via Sydney so I decided to take the opportunity to stop off for a couple of months’ travelling. The job had been quite arduous (read Paradise Never Found for more) and by the time I arrived in Oz I was battling a virus of some sort and needed to see a doctor. I’d arrived in the country on the same day that Steve Irwin was killed and reaction to the news was overwhelming; sting rays were public enemy number one. No-one was safe and beasts of every kind were viewed with suspicion for fear they would all now rise up and attack.
As I walked down a dark street to the medical centre late that evening I was myself the victim of such a violation. Whilst navigating a narrow pavement that had a tree inconveniently plonked right in the middle of it, I became paralysed with fear when a piercing noise came from the other side of the trunk, just inches away from me.
As my eyes adjusted to the light I became aware of rather large, sharp claws clinging on to the tree and slowly but surely the head of something gradually appeared. Still rooted to the spot, its eyes glared at me, looking all the more menacing for being caught in the headlights of cars going by.
There were parked cars to my left, a wall to my right and an unfamiliar beast within a hair’s breadth directly in front of me. I let out a piercing scream of my own which didn’t faze it in the least.
‘He won’t hurt ya, it’s only a possum,’ came an unseen child’s voice, ‘just keep walking.’
It couldn’t have been much more embarrassing to be consoled by a five year old so I summoned up the courage and raced ahead, leaving the possum with only the child to lunge for if it had the taste for blood.
The doctor issued me with fast-working anti-biotics, allowing me to hit the road within a couple of days (he also asked me out on a date, which got me running out of the building fairly sharpish).
I headed south to Tasmania, firstly taking the overnight train to Melbourne. Here I encountered the single most scary Australian creature: an elderly woman, with whom I had to share overly close quarters but thankfully I survived unscathed (read ‘An Encounter Not Nearly Brief Enough’ for more).
Once in Tasmania I hired a car and simply could not resist aiming for the only place in the world I’d ever heard of with which I shared a surname. There’s practically nothing in Nugent, it’s not really even a town and yet it took me a couple of hours to drive the mile covering the only road from start to finish. The reason being that the road was unpaved and threw up all manner of rocks in the general direction of my hire car.
Keen not to be hit with a bill for scratches on the paint work, I drove the short distance at a painstakingly slow speed.
As if this weren’t bad enough, I spent at least 30 minutes waiting for a snake to cross the road. This was no ordinary snake, in fact at first I thought there was a fallen tree blocking my path. I was forced to come to a complete halt as I came face-to-face (although didn’t yet know it) with another of Australia’s monsters – it was the width of a fat log and longer than the path was wide. When I first approached it, its head was already in the ravine at one side of the path and its tail still at the other.
Mistaking it for something I could lift out of the way, I got out of the car and made it to within feet of it before realising with sheer horror what it actually was. I could not run fast enough back to the car, whose door I had left open. In the short time it had taken me to do so I returned to discover an echidna attempting to climb into front seat.
Looking like the mother of all hedgehogs (although apparently not related) he felt the sharp end of my tongue and – my boot – as I battled to get refuge from the ginormous snake.
Once the path was finally clear, I raced through the remainder of Nugent and got the hell out of that one-snake town.
A few weeks later I was back on the mainland and on a trip to Uluru. My entire travels involved a relentless fight for survival against beasts of the hairy, scaly and feathery kind. And my camping trip was no different.
While walking one day, I was bemused to see the reaction of the group I was with when I pointed out a cute gecko I’d spotted sunning itself on a rock. Now six weeks or so into my trip I felt far bolder and was actually confident enough to get quite close to it – even to attempt to give it a little stroke.
My companions recoiled in horror as I came within inches of it, making me all the more self-assured.
It was then that our guide calmly talked me away from the baby gecko and only when I was at a considerable distance back from it did he point out that the ‘rock’ that the little fella had been sunning itself on was in fact a fully grown adult, probably mum.
That night, our camp site was besieged by wallabies and – one of my absolute worst nightmares – bats. Cannot bear them. A lost baby one flew into my head as a child and got tangled in my hair and I never quite got over it.
And yet it was the giant cane toads that we were warned about as they were hiding in groups in the long grass just outside the dunny and apparently it was easy to step on them by mistake. The thought of this almost made me sick and I was beyond relieved when I made it inside the out house having avoided standing on anything.
With enormous trepidation I opened the door to one of the cubicles and in the half light, checked for beasts.
It looked safe.
I committed to answering the call of nature but when the half light suddenly kicked in to being full light, all hell broke loose.
My cubicle suddenly sprang into life. Things that looked like leaves sprouted wings and began flying manically about my head. Things on the floor that I thought were stones began scuttling wildly around my ankles. The cobweb thing on the ceiling opened up into a giant insect that started lowering itself in my general direction. Other things that I couldn’t even see were thrashing about in panic knocking against the walls in the extremely confined area of the cubicle.
I had to get out.
Tripping over your own feet with your trousers around your ankles and landing face first into a colony of cane toads should be a private matter. Sadly, it’s one I shared with a number of guides who, hearing my screams, had bravely raced to the scene with scant regard for their own safety, brandishing a variety of weapons.
If my humiliation on this night were not complete, it most certainly was the following morning.
We had been woken at some ungodly hour for a hot air balloon ride and by the time we’d driven to the departure site it was still pitch black and we were all half asleep.
Our van parked up in the middle of a field and we were asked to wait while the weather was assessed for our flight. As I slowly awoke from my slumber I became aware of a noise that I couldn’t put my finger on. It was coming from the back seat of the van where I could see no-one sitting. It was a deep, rumbling grunt that was getting louder and angrier.
There was no WAY I was staying in another confined area with whatever the hell this particular beast was – I’d had almost two months of lucky escapes and wasn’t about to fall victim to a dingo in my last week.
Everyone woke with a start upon hearing my, ‘Argh, open the door, let me out!’
I led the stampede out of the van with everyone else in hot pursuit. We stood at a safe distance in the freezing cold and pouring rain while the guide tentatively boarded the van and edged down to the back of the van.
The animal he came across was of the human variety, a passenger, still fast asleep and snoring like a hibernating bear.
My exodus was not well received as we were now wet through, chilled to the bone and to cap it all the flight was cancelled due to the adverse weather.
We made our return trip in silence but I could feel the collective sense of ‘please let her not be staying on the rest of this trip with us’ pervading through the van.