I spent my formative years in the North of England, on the outskirts of Bradford to be precise. We lived close to the countryside and my friends and I would often spend the long hot summer days playing on the rope swing next to the stream, visiting the large conker tree at the end of the lane in the vain hope that the spiky green conkers had magically turned nut brown overnight and stealing strawberries from the local strawberry farm. In all the years I spent growing up I can’t remember seeing much in the way of native fauna. We saw plenty of farm animals, indeed to get to the more interesting parts of “the lane”, as we used to call it, we had to pass three farms but I can’t recall seeing anything more deadly than a grumpy sheep whose potential killer tendencies was well contained behind a five foot high dry stone wall.
And then, about seven years ago we moved to Australia. The land of “everything here will kill you”. The contrast is astounding, in England the most dangerous creature you’ll probably ever meet is a grumpy badger or perhaps an over excited bull, whereas in Australia the spiders in your loft can kill you.
A couple of years before we even decided to move to Australia Rebecca and I had decided that we should move out of the tiny one bedroom flat we were crammed into in Slough and find somewhere bigger; somewhere where we could start a family. We dutifully started to look around the neighbouring towns and suburbs (after all who wants to move from Slough to Slough?) but quickly realised that paying £250,000 for a tiny three bedroom house where you could literally see your what your neighbours were watching on TV across the road was not for us. But what were we going to do? Luckily, a few months later we went on holiday to Brisbane, Australia. I must confess that as soon as I stepped out of Brisbane airport I fell in love with the place, I immediately felt more at home than I ever had in England. We emigrated eighteen months later and the rest, as they say, is history.
Australian houses are, in general, huge. Australia is a monstrously sized country for the number of people who inhabit it and even though we are crowded around the more temperate edges of the continent there is room to spare for anyone who desires to have a five bedroom house and a hectare of land to wrap around it. I can clearly remember the first time we walked into a standard “show home”, our jaws just dropped, the back of the house was at least thirty meters away, in England that’s considered a mansion, in Australia it’s a medium sized “low set”. We knew we wanted space around the house and that we wanted more than a 640m2 plot size, so after much searching and running around numerous suburbs in Brisbane we found a reasonably priced, relatively flat acre plot in “New Beith”.
Now New Beith and it’s larger sibling Greenbank are considered to be “semi-rural”. This means that it’s not uncommon for your neighbours to have horses and cows in their backyards and cut their grass with ride on lawn mowers the size of small cars. The other aspect of this “ruralness” is the wildlife that you cohabiting with. Since arriving in Australia we have had spiders as big as your hand parading through the house, large flying cockroaches trying to get a free meal from the pantry, Redback Spiders abseiling down from the air con vents and scorpions wandering through the house like they owned the place. One night we were inundated by what seemed to be an unending stream of small beetle-like insects march in under our front door, the amount of Raid spray we used that night will be the stuff of legends for our grandchildren. But it’s only since we moved to our “semi-rural” acreage that I’ve had the distinct impression we are living in a wildlife park. I’m not entirely without blame for this however. After years of scampering around woodlands and rural areas as a child the messiness of nature has firmly imprinted itself upon me and over the past two years I’ve been steadily building up a jungle of plants around the house. Personally, I despise grass, it is a pain to keep in good condition, is prone to weed infestations, needs the constant attention of a small child, dies off in winter to a nasty brown colour and in such a dry, arid country it seems insane to maintain a European ideal of what a garden should be. Of course this is in sharp contrast to one of my neighbours who has a hectare plot of well manicured grass, I truly wish I had the amount of free time he has.
The jungle though, has attracted many types of animals, not least birds. The number of parrots, budgies, parakeets, kookaburras and all manner of other native birds we have visiting the garden is astounding, we seem to be a kind of way station for them where they fill up on nectar from the line of Grevilleas running down the side of the house and then go on their way. The garden is more than just a bird sanctuary however, a few days ago I had to cut free a large dead Red-bellied black snake from the netting around our vegie beds. It appears to have decided to try and force it’s way through one of the holes in the netting, got stuck and died of asphyxiation. By the time I got around to removing it the flies where having a field day and the stench coming from the gaping lesions on it’s back and belly was overwhelming.
A few weeks ago we awoke to find a two meter Carpet python sunning itself on our window ledge, the birds were tweeting and flapping themselves into a frenzy by it’s presence but it didn’t seem to mind, in fact I wondered if it had decided that the ledge was a good spot for an easy breakfast. Luckily (i.e. I didn’t have to go outside and try and chase it off with a stick), after a few hours, it moved off and is probably now lurking in the garden somewhere, I’m sure our paths will cross again.
We also get families of kangaroos bouncing across our front yard, I’ve never really understood where they are going to. The direction they are going in leads to nowhere suitable for them, at least I don’t think so; I’m puzzled as to where they go once they’ve crossed the yard. A few months after we moved into our current home I was moving some soil from the front to the side of the house to create a garden bed (it was 25m3 of soil in total, we didn’t have any money available for hiring a Bobcat, but I reasoned it was good exercise, I just hadn’t considered how much good exercise it would actually be) and a large male kangaroo stopped on our drive and spent the best part of ten minutes watching me toil away. I had the distinct impression that he thought I was mental. He must have been close to two meters high and I made sure I gave him plenty of distance. I’m sure a trip to casualty for me would have ensued if he had decided that he was in the mood for a punch up.
And then there are the tree frogs, at certain times of year they invade the area around my other neighbour’s pool and spend the better part of the night croaking and barking their amorous intentions to any lady tree frogs looking for some loving. The sheer volume of noise can be overwhelming and unfortunately, some of the smarter males have worked out that it’s not always best to hang with the crowd and so they try their luck on our back patio instead. This provides them with a great opportunity to vocalize with a bass sound that would have made Barry White envious. Despite the noise they produce I like tree frogs, they are very trusting creatures and mostly happy for you to pick them up. They will happily sit on your hand or arm with little fuss. This proved to be of use last year when I had to constantly evict them from the patio since they were out croaking out TV. We currently have one that is doing a tour of our downpipes, every now and then I have go outside and bang on the pipe to encourage it to move on. We also get toads in the garden but you rarely see or hear them, I think they are cane toads and I should do something about them, I think the recommended action is to catch them, place them in a container then put them in the freezer to die. I’m not sure if Rebecca would be too pleased about seeing a tub of frozen toads when she goes to get out the sweetcorn.
About a week ago we had a pair of Masked Lapwings make a nest in the back yard. Apparently for a lapwing this means putting three or four pieces of straw in a circle on the flat open ground. I can’t work out if they are stupid birds, they certainly can be aggressive and we were dismayed when we discovered two eggs in the “nest”. They were a sort of browny/taupe colour with green spots, quite pretty actually. It left us in a quandary. We didn’t want to interfere with the nest but what if one of the birds decided to attack our son whilst he was outside playing? Luckily for us, but not for the lapwings, a couple of days ago the eggs had gone and so had the lapwing, I later found one of the eggshells smashed open, it looked like a crow or a kookaburra had got to it.
Now to change the subject a little, I’d like to talk about the car we bought when we first moved to Australia. It was a Toyota Corolla. A nice little car and worked well for us for a number of years. Then, one day, for no discernible reason it started to lose power while we were driving home. It was as if someone was draining the power for a few seconds and then it would return but the closer we got to home the worse it became until eventually we were shuddering along; we barely limped into the garage. We immediately called Lube Mobile who, thankfully, sent out a mechanic straight away to check the car. After about ten minutes he was still struggling to find any problem but then he had a brainwave, maybe he would check the air filter. He un-clipped the box, opened it up and out jumped a large rat! The rat had been nesting in the air filter box and had chewed up the fabric of the filter to make a bed. A won’t bore you with the details, but it took far too long to get the rat out of it’s new home and I had many frustrating and failed attempts at doing so. It can be quite disturbing knowing that you have a rodent lurking in your engine as you drive about. The rat also decided that it would mark it’s territory, perhaps to deter other rats, by leaving droppings and pee all over the engine. What made matters worse was that a couple of months later another rat moved in and chewed up the air filter again. About a year ago We changed cars and have not had the problem again.
That’s not the only adventure we’d had with a rat however, they truly are the animal that keeps on giving. After our car incident we decided that enough was enough, especially since we also get mice in the house and finding their little “presents” all around the house was getting beyond a joke, and we would call in professional killers Hitman to sort out the problem. They provided us with a number of poison boxes for around the house that the rats and mice could go into, nibble on some of the poison and then carry on their business. Apparently the poison works by dehydrating the varmint and thus encourages them to go outside to find a drink and drop dead. In general this seems to be working well and we haven’t seen a mouse or rat in the house for a good few months now. But we have heard a large rat in the loft, in fact I’d venture to say it was it was ratzilla given the thunderous scrabbling we heard above us. Then one night Rebecca heard a thud and there was no more scrabbling. Hurrah! we thought, the rat is dead, long live the Hitman! That was until we noticed the rotting smell of rat flesh in the bathroom. It seems the rat had breathed it’s last breath, fell into the gap between our walls and was now decomposing, it’s dying present for us. Even now, months later, the smell hasn’t fully diminished.
I’ll end this tale of zoological mischief with reference to the “rustles in the undergrowth” that I frequently hear as I pass by various parts of our garden jungle. Maybe they are lizards? We get plenty of those in the garden, of various types, or maybe they are birds or snakes? Or maybe they are something else that I haven’t put eyeballs to yet? Possums? Koalas? Rhinos? At this point I’m not ruling anything out. We’ve only lived in this house for two years and I’ve come face to face with more animals than I ever did in the UK. I can only wonder at what the next few years might bring.