In general we love going camping in Australia. It’s something most kids have grown up with and is especially popular around Easter holidays. This sometimes strikes visitors to our country as a bit strange. Are we just mad? The wildlife in Australia is known to be a bit nuts. We have nearly all of the ten most venomous snakes on the planet, killer spiders, nasty scorpions, man-eating crocs, and if you’re crazy enough to camp at the beach you can throw in great white sharks and jellyfish that strike you dead with a mere brush of their tentacle. Add to the list, random killers like murderous stingrays, marauding packs of dingoes, and feral pigs the size of mini, and it’s starting to look bit dubious out there. However it really is lovely country and landscapes and nothing bonds a family like a camping expedition, so we just get on with it.
From a very young age therefore you learn a few key rules to make your camping experience safe and fun:
1. Campfires are hot – not sure why this needs to be specifically spelled out but always seemed to be high priority.
2. Don’t touch snakes – umm OK.
3. Always unroll your swag once you are ready go to bed. A swag is a mattress covered in canvas that rolls out under the stars to enjoy the full wonder of the great outdoors. See notes above about spiders, snakes, scorpions and the like about why you need to only unroll your bed when you are getting into it.
4. Finally there is a more random phenomenon – never camp under a gum tree. As a child you just accept these as fact and without question. Occasionally you stick your hand in the campfire just to make sure it is still hot (yep – always is) and that is really enough of testing out the rules. It’s not until you reach your teenage years and start to go camping with your mates, sans parents, that you really start to wonder and question this. So what’s the story with these gum trees anyway?
The answer is of course ‘Drop Bears’. A Drop Bear is a kind of mutated koala. They are extremely territorial and extremely lazy, which is a strange mix. They are slow on the ground, so they’re generally not a threat if you happen to wander past one. They have one single attack move however and when they get you – by all accounts (and from the images in the aforementioned Google search) you’ll see they get you good. That one single move is that if you happen to wander under the tree they call home – they happily take aim and drop with all their force onto your head and go into a biting and scratching frenzy. Hence their name.
We’ve been drilled over the years with the “Look Up and Live” campaigns on the TV and radio so that now it’s just second nature. Like the crocodile areas, all the main known Drop Bear areas are signed so even tourists and visitors should be aware. These are one of those little quirks you just don’t notice when you’ve grown up with it all your life, but we do our due diligence to warn foreigners.
Lots of places have their own critters that when met in the wrong circumstances will kill or maim you. Australia isn’t unique. North America has its bears and bear canisters to help avoid them. Africa has its lions and fenced compound campgrounds. It’s just something that is part of the nature and with the right precautions shouldn’t spoil your enjoyment of the environment. If you’re in Australia and going camping – just “Look Up and Live” and everything will be okay.
Oh – unless you get blindsided by a cassowary. There are no precautions for that. That’s just like a lightning strike – very bloody unlucky.
Psst…wanna know the best way to stay safe in the Outback? Go out there with a local… or don’t book a trip for April 1st. We hear drop bears are only a risk one day of the year.