Film and TV

Reality Bites: Australia's Deadliest

I've traveled to many exotic countries (including some without a single Burger King), but have never made it to the land Down Under. This in spite of a lifelong love of Kylie Minogue and Yahoo Serious, and the main reason is because it's the only place I know of where every living thing is trying to kill you at all times.

Exaggerating, am I? Australia has more deadly snakes than any other country in the world, with the inland taipan being the world's most toxic (James Clavell's Tai-Pan, on the other hand, is merely lethally boring). There are also spiders, "giant" centipedes, and something called the "Australian paralysis tick."

And that's just on land. In the sea, there are stonefish, box jellyfish, sea snakes, saltwater crocodiles, and sharks. Oh, so many sharks. Small wonder it's the only country with an entire series devoted to its murderous fauna on Nat Geo Wild.

Naturally the network doesn't just send people out in the bush with cameras and wait for them to be attacked (you could probably sell that idea to Spike, however), so Australia's Deadliest is forced to use reenactments. Fortunately, these all have happy endings, or at least I assume they do, since the principals involved all appear only too happy to be interviewed about their experiences.

First up in the episode I watched ("Surfer v. Jaws," because duh) was surfer Zac Golebiowski, who lost his leg to a great white while surfing off the southwest coast. So-called "authorities" will tell you shark attacks only account for one or two fatalities a year in Australia, which may "technically" be true. What's also true is being eaten alive by a goddamn shark is just about the most horrifying death imaginable.

Oh, does lightning kill more people than sharks? Who cares? Death by sky-electricity is instantaneous: ZZZT-BAM and you're a smoldering smudge on the golf course. With a great white shark, you can choose from: death by massive hemorrhaging, death by catastrophic system shock, or -- if you're really lucky -- death by drowning.

And to this day, even without a leg, Golebiowski *still surfs*. Insanity. Then again, having gone drinking with Australians before, I can attest to their disregard for their own well-being.

Next up, and a continent away in Queensland, we meet Tom Bartlett. Tom has something of an anti-climactic encounter with a 14-foot saltwater crocodile that chased him up a riverbank. He did end up shattering his knee and his uncle had to shoot the beast to keep it from killing their dog, but that's getting off pretty light when running afoul of a prehistoric reptile the size of a Buick.

Finally, from giant toothy predators to ... mosquitoes. We meet Duncan Sandell, who was bitten while on his arm while sleeping on his boat near Victoria (SE coast). The bite grows in size, with other sores popping up, forcing him into the hospital, where it's (eventually) revealed to be something called the Bairnsdale ulcer, a potentially lethal condition. Fortunately, they're able to save his arm. I'm not about blaming the victim, but if human beings were meant to sleep on boats, we never would've emerged from the primordial slime in the first place.

And "Bairnsdale ulcer?" Even Australian disease names are wacky. At least they didn't go with "Bleedy wozzery woo" or some such.

The PR damage has been done, Australia. Your seas and sands are filled with deadly creatures not even an army of Paul Hogans could stop. I'll be sticking to Belgium for vacations from now on.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar