A collection of short stories and journalistic commentaries depicting my simple life
and how I fit in with the modern day universe of our times

According to that great god of the internet Google, just 16,471 kilometres, 10,235 miles or even 8,894 nautical miles (as the crow flies) from my bedroom, lies a distant land that time has almost forgotten. And in English money that equates to two flights across lands afar and waters deep. The first from Manchester UK to Dubai, an uneventful flight on a Boeing 777 300 lasting a whole of 11 glorious hours of being sardined into a metal fuselage around 20 years old. And the second, pretty much more of the same. Another 14 hours of the same in fact if all be told. But despite the lack of legroom and the dehydrating effects of the freshly compressed, cabin atmosphere, the plane was still fully equipped with all the modern conveniences of a dollar a text messaging facilities, Harry Potter’s last stand and seat to seat conferencing via the on board telephone systems. All well and good I’m sure you’ll agree, but when it is just bog standard internet you really want, it left a whole lot to be desired.

And what of the distant land of Australia? Well just like the plane, it is old too. Very old.

Because for around 60 million years, since the formation of the Great Dividing Range (stretching more than 3500 km from Dauan Island off the north eastern tip of Queensland, running the entire length of the eastern coastline through New South Wales, then on into Victoria and turning west, before finally fading into the central plain at the Grampians in western Victoria),  Australia has been all but silent geologically, which has allowed it to preserve many of some of the oldest things ever to be found on earth – the most ancient of rocks and fossils, the earliest of animal tracks and riverbeds, and probably the first feint signs of life itself.

You see at some undetermined point in the great immensity of Australia’s past – perhaps 45,000 years ago, maybe 60,000, but certainly before there were modern humans in the Americas or Europe – it was quietly invaded by a deeply inscrutable people, the Aborigines, who have no clearly evident racial or linguistic kinship to their neighbours in the region, and whose presence in Australia can only best be explained by positing that they actually invented and mastered ocean-going craft at least 30,000 years in advance of anyone else in order to undertake an exodus, then having finally arrived on the terra firma that is Australia, promptly forgot or abandoned nearly all that they had learned and scarcely ever bothered with the open seas ever again.

It is an accomplishment so singular and extraordinary, so uncomfortable with scrutiny, that most historians breeze over it in a paragraph or two, then move on to the second, more explicable invasion – the one that begins with the arrival of Yorkshire born Captain James Cook and his doughty little ship HMS Endeavour in Botany Bay in 1770. Never mind the fact that Captain Cook didn’t actually discover Australia and that he wasn’t even a captain at the time of his visit. For most people, including most Australians, this was where the story truly begins.

The world those first Englishmen found was famously inverted – its seasons back to front, its constellations upside down - and unlike anything any of them had seen before, even in the near latitudes of the Pacific. Its creatures seemed to have evolved as if they had misread the manual. The most characteristic of them didn’t run or lope or canter, but bounced across the landscape, like dropped balls. The continent teemed with many other forms of unlikely life. It contained a fish that could climb trees; a fox that flew (it was actually a large bat); crustaceans so big that a grown man could climb inside their shells.

In short, there was no other place in the world quite like it. There still isn’t. Eighty percent of all that lives in Australia, plant and animal, exists nowhere else on the planet. More than this, it also exists in an abundance that seems incompatible with the harshness of the environment seen around it. Australia is the driest, flattest, hottest, most desiccated, infertile and climatically aggressive of all the inhabited continents. (Only Antarctica is more hostile to life). This is a place so inert that even the soil is, technically speaking, a fossil. And yet it teems with life in numbers uncounted. For insects alone, scientists haven’t the faintest idea whether the total number of species is 100,000 or more than twice that. As many as a third of those species remain entirely unknown to science. And for spiders (eeek), the proportion rises to nearly 80 per cent.

You take my point I’m sure. This is a country that is at any given time staggeringly empty for the most part and yet still packed with stuff. Interesting stuff, ancient stuff, stuff not readily explained. Stuff yet to be found. Trust me, this is an interesting place. You see Australia is the world’s sixth largest country and its largest island. It is the only island that is also a continent, and the only continent that is also a country. It was the first continent conquered from the sea, and the last. It is also the only nation that began its modern life as nothing more than an outdoor prison.

It is the home of the largest living thing on earth too, the Great Barrier Reef, and the most famous and striking monolith Ayres Rock (or Uluru to use it’s now official, more respectful Aboriginal name). It also has more things that will kill you than anywhere else on the planet. Of the world’s ten most famously poisonous snakes, all are Australian. Five of its creatures – the funnel web spider, box jellyfish, blue ringed octopus, paralysis tick and stonefish are the most lethal of their type in the world. This is a country where even the fluffiest of caterpillars can lay you out with a toxic nip, where seashells will not just sting you but sometimes actually go for you. Pick up an innocuous cone shell from a Queensland beach, as innocent tourists are all too want to do, and you will discover that the little fellow inside is not just astoundingly swift and testy, but exceedingly venomous. If you are not stung or pronged to death in some unexpected manner, you may also be fatally chomped by sharks or crocodiles, or carried helplessly out to sea by irresistible tidal currents, or left to stagger to an unhappy death in the baking outback.

It’s a tough old place without a doubt. And as if all that were not enough for the peoples of this expansive land, the poor buggers were now only hours from having to put up with me too. Or should it be me that needs to worry I ask myself.

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1 Comment:

  1. dragonfly emerging said...
    I still call Australia home...

    We are quietly proud of our deadly animals, it scares the hell out of tourists, but hey, that is what the Vegemite is for. Smear this on your neck and you will be protected from the deadly drop bears. Put it in your sox and you are unlikey to be bitten by snakes. Vegemite isnt for eating, it is for protection, our deadly animals cannot stand the smell or taste of it, so they will leave you alone.

    Yes we are a land of extremes and of danger but the people who live here are unique. We are born tough and we can handle adversity better than anyone we know. We are resilient. Take our storm seasons, they are tough and do a lot of damage, but the community pulls together to get back to normal. We put out the call and heroes in all shapes and sizes come to help, our volunteers keep this country functioning.

    There is no where on earth like Australia and no where on earth I would rather be living. Once you experience life here, it is hard to return home...

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Its my own fault really, its all about what I see in the world, and how it all translates for me.

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