Beastie Boys - Ozzie Style!

G’Day Folks!

I hear the weather has been fantastic back up in the northern hemisphere and I’m sure you’re all looking forward to the onset of summer. Spare a thought for us poor people who find themselves on the other side of the world as we head into the winter season.

With daylight saving been and gone, the days are getting shorter meaning that darkness now arrives around five in the evening. Even in the height of summer the days are remarkably short, with daylight not lasting much past seven, which is certainly something that I wasn’t prepared for.

It seems that the prospect of long, balmy evenings round the pool, on the beach or at the barbie that I had envisioned was just that – a figment of my imagination.

This week’s instalment comes at you from an altogether different locale, having been sent to a place called Mackay, located on the coast of eastern Queensland, a thousand kilometres north of Brisbane.

You’re never sure what the glamorous world of being an IT-nerd will throw at you next and as if I hadn’t been spoiled enough by being sent on an assignment working for a chicken slaughterhouse, I now find myself working for a sugar manufacturer in the middle of nowhere for the next couple of days.

Mackay itself is a fairly large-sized town, with a population of over 80,000 people but where I am typing these words is about 20 minutes outside of the town limits in an area that Australians would refer to as “Whoop Whoop.” I really am out in the sticks.

I’m staying in a house on the grounds of the sugar mill and I don’t think I’ve ever been aware of being in such a remote place in my life. Even Buckna has more life about it.

Yes – the town of Mackay may be just up the road, but there is nothing here to keep me company other than the vast hulks of machinery silhouetted against the starlit sky and some very, very bizarre noises in the night. Oh – and a couple of fellow consultants who I am sharing this house with.

Apparently we are right beside the river. I say apparently because thanks to the darkness, it’s difficult to see.

There’s no doubt it’s certainly better than staying in a faceless hotel or motel on my own. We have our own living space, kitchen, laundry facilities, etc. but these noises have got me worried. I’ve just come in from the veranda from having a beer to chill out after my travels but rather than chilling out, I now feel the icy fingers of fear caressing my spine.

This is an alien country to me and I am reminded of that time and time again and in many different situations - the scenery, the people, the weather, the huge cars, the long, lonely drives along endless motorways, the drunken phone calls in the small hours of the morning from family members (and you know who you are) all serve as constant reminders as to just how far away I am from home.

But sitting out there, just a few minutes ago, I listened to a soundtrack of the night that is beyond comprehension for this wee fella from Ballyclare.

Some of the noises are explainable, such as the calls of nocturnal birds or the sounds of crickets playing their staccato beat into the night air, or the click-click sound of geckos (that I now recognise after having lived here for a while)

But other noises are most definitely not.

Take, for example, the rustles in the nearby bushes, rustles being made by creatures of substantial enough size to break branches and snap twigs. Or the hum and buzz of insects, their grossly over-sized shadows dancing before me as they fly close by my ear. At least one of these insects, I know for definite was a cockroach of about 2 inches in length.

Knowing this fact does not set my mind any more at ease.

So what of the other noises? The scratches, the calls, the indecipherable grunts? Let’s just ponder on that for a moment, shall we?

Well, we all know that Australia is a big place, with a wide and varied animal kingdom that is often totally unique to God’s Green Earth. The like of which are the stuff of books, television, movies and zoos, especially for a guy that hails from Ballyclare.

So what could be out there in the vast, black, empty, unforgiving and total darkness of night in Whoop Whoop, Australia?

After a bit of research, it seems that having travelled a thousand kilometres north towards north eastern Queensland has only further heightened the chances of whatever is out there as being something that I wouldn’t want to meet on a dark night, in the middle of nowhere - which of course is where I now find myself.

Perhaps here are a few contenders:

Well thanks to the fact that we are close to a river, and are also near to the north east Queensland coast, we could have a few members of the Saltwater Crocodile family, the world's largest reptile, living nearby. These creatures are found on the northern coast of Australia and inland for up to 100 kms or more. The Saltwater Crocodile has been reported to grow to lengths of 7 metres.

Moving not so swiftly on to the spiders…

The Red Back Spider is Australia's most well known deadly spider. They are found all over Australia, and are common in urban areas, which should hopefully mean that I’m ok out here but you never know; there was a spider out there earlier with a similar bulbous body to that of the Red Back. It was too dark to determine if its back was red and to be honest, I didn’t hang around.

Funnel-web spiders, one of the most notorious members of our spider fauna, are found only in eastern Australia. There are at least 40 species of these medium to large spiders, varying from 1-5 cm body length. Not all species are known to be dangerous, but several are renowned for their highly toxic and fast acting venom.

And then of course there are the snakes…

The brown snake is approximately 1.5 metres long, and is one of Australia's more deadly creatures. They have venom which can cause death to humans relatively quickly if left untreated. Brown snakes up to 2.3 metres have been recorded in Australia. They feed on small creatures, such as mice and rats, small birds, lizards or even other snakes. These snakes are found in Eastern Australia.

The common tiger snake is found in southern and eastern Australia. They are usually around a metre long, and have a striped marking (hence the name Tiger Snake). They can grow up to 1.5 metres in length. These are venomous snakes, and will attack if they are disturbed or threatened.

The paralysis tick is found in forests and bushland along the east coast of Australia. It produces a venom in its salivary glands that can cause numbness in humans around the spot where the tick has attached. The venom can be fatal to babies and small animals.

Then there is the humble cane toad. These were introduced to this region with disastrous consequences. Originally brought in to Australia to deal with the sugar cane beetle, which was destroying sugar crops, the population has risen to epidemic proportions. The situation is so bad that locals are being actively encouraged to kill them when they see them, with many people choosing running over the toads in their cars as the preferred method.

They have poison on their backs which proves fatal for animals that get in contact with it. Many a playful and intrigued pet dog has met its maker thanks to these critters, although it would have to be one dumb human to go in the same manner.

It’s just as well that I don’t have sea creatures to worry about, what with great white sharks, dogfish and the blue ring octopus that are lurking there waiting for some tasty, Northern Irish meat.
But none of these creatures, deadly as they may be, are a patch on the last two that I’m going to tell you about – and they’re both types of jellyfish, which again, I’m fairly sure I’ll not need to worry about, located where I am.

The Irukandji jellyfish inhabits Northern Australian waters and is a deadly jellyfish and is made all the more worrisome considering it is only 2.5 centimetres in diameter, making it very hard to spot in the water.

It is a species of jellyfish that has become apparent only in recent years, thanks mainly due to the unexpected deaths of swimmers.

The good news doesn’t stop there. Apparently, thanks to global warming, they’re moving southwards in this direction.

And last but not least, the Box Jellyfish (also known as a Sea Wasp) which has extreme toxins present on its tentacles, which when in contact with a human, can stop cardio-respiratory functions in as little as three minutes. This jellyfish is responsible for more deaths in Australian than Snakes, Sharks and Salt Water Crocodiles. Which I’m sure means that he gets all the bad boy groupies at the local disco.

But of course, I don’t want to be (and most definitely shouldn’t be) alarmist here. I do after all need a good night’s sleep tonight.

The noises that I hear could be something as innocent as a koala, although seeing as they sleep for 23 hours a day, it’s improbable. Or it could be a kangaroo bounding gracefully across the hinterland, although seeing as the hinterland is further inland; the kangaroo would have to be very lost. Or even a cute and cuddly possum for that matter.

But considering my girlfriend’s recent encounter with a possum I’m not sure I’d be any happier with possums in my vicinity.

And I’ll leave you with this one – although I’m pretty sure she won’t be happy I’ve shared it with you. Let’s just keep it our secret, shall we?

Sitting in the early evening with friends, enjoying an outdoor picnic by the sea, she was surprised to feel warm liquid fall on her head. Looking up, her surprise turned to abject horror as she realised that a possum was urinating on her from above.

She let out a scream (Krissy – not the possum), which in turn frightened the poor possum into expelling more liquid from his overworked bladder into her open, screaming mouth.

I can only assume her abject horror was replaced by a bout of nausea, the likes of which I don’t even want to comprehend....

And that’s it – I’m off to bed. Night night – and don’t let the bed bugs bite.

And the spiders, the snakes, and the….