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Published: November 5th 2015
For me it was quite literally a wake-up call.
Early one morning late last year I was rudely awoken by the clock-radio, ABC headlines brashly announcing that since 1972 half of all the world’s animals had died.
At first, in my semi-conscious state, I figured this wasn’t all that surprising. Wild animals aren’t renowned for their longevity and most struggle to reach the forty odd years that I had already greedily attained. On listening more intently, though, I realised that no, they really were saying that there were now only half as many animals on Mother Earth as there had been back when Donny Osmond could still send girls weak at the knees.
The one glaring exception to this rule was Homo sapiens, whose numbers in the same time had funnily enough doubled, and it was heavily hinted that this might not be entirely coincidence.
I’d previously heard that since World War Two the Earth had lost half its trees, but this didn’t seem quite so surprising; trees have a habit of staying in one place and tend not to run away when you try to chop them down. To kill half the animals, though, would surely
Western Australia's most famous flower.
take a pretty concerted effort by a hoard of highly trained and dedicated hunters.
Actually, though, it hadn’t.
Turned out we’d managed to do it all by ourselves more or less by mistake.
That seems to me strong grounds for all of us to be sent to the naughty corner for a decade or two.
After all, another forty years at that rate and it’ll be a straight choice between turning veggie or cannibalism, and there’ll be no Puppies left for an arthritic Donny to Love.
Alternatively we could just switch to a diet of bugs, as it turns out that strictly speaking we were only talking of vertebrates here; not even we could manage to swat all the flies.
Still, really, I couldn’t quite believe it. Surely I hadn’t heard right, or possibly had still been dreaming. By lunchtime ABC news had comfortingly moved on to much more important matters, such as which of our minor politicos may have been claiming for the odd private taxi fare, and we could all quietly forget about it and go back to tucking into our tuna sandwiches while we still had time.
fully aware that there are many folk out there who, frankly, couldn’t really give a stuff anyway. As long as they can still lay their hands on endless new gizmos and gadgets or lazily shop for more cool threads or a trendy tattoo, they’re happy as the proverbial pig.
Sadly, though, I’m not one of them.
Call me an old softy, but I think it might just be a bit of a shame.
I decided there and then that our next trip would be to some sparsely populated spot where perhaps the animals hadn’t yet been overrun.
And so off we popped to Western Australia, an area half the size of Europe with a population of less than three million. Should even up the odds up a bit, you’d think, and hopefully there’d be plenty of big critters left happily hopping around.
A few days before Christmas we flew into Perth where Debbie and I had first met all those years ago, and without which, I suppose, this blog would be only half as good. Actually, I’m sure many would argue much less than half...
And I have to say it was a real
pleasure to be back. For us, Western Australia holds many fond memories, but beyond that is in itself one of the most fabulous parts of the planet.
We were immediately struck by how much busier the skyline had become, courtesy of the massive resources boom of the last 15 years. Plenty other old haunts had also had an update: swanky new bars in Northbridge, flashy sky-walks in King’s Park, sky-high house prices in Cottesloe and the addition of some fine new breweries in Fremantle to help the parties go with even more of a swing.
The locals had also somehow managed to one-up even Queensland’s health and safety obsession, a road-sign at the Old Fremantle Fort warning pedestrians to Beware as they were about to encounter a Natural Uneven Surface.
Have we really become so removed from the real world that we have to be warned should be dare to step off smooth cement onto the unpaved virginal surface of the earth? In any case, I thought, a road-sign is so yesterday; these days those ambling along intently staring at their phones really need a GPS-triggered text warning them they’re in danger of straying out of range.
That’d stop the dozy buggers in their tracks, well before any danger of their face hitting terra not-so firma.
For Christmas itself we’d decided to exit Perth and go bush, twisting and weaving through the endless suburbs before hitting the highway south proper, country Western Australia proving just as empty as we remembered.
Emptier in fact.
Long drives in WA used to be notable for the sheer amount of wildlife you’d see from the roadside. Admittedly much of it was in the form of recently added roadkill being feasted on by birds of prey, but today we weren’t seeing any animals, dead or alive. So just where in hell were they?
Perhaps we were simply witnessing evolution in action.
All the dim-witted beasts who couldn’t learn their Green-Cross code had made friends with the bull-bars of speeding utes years ago, while in a classic case of survival of the fittest only the nerdy, geeky, bookworms of the natural world remained, hiding in the forest boning up on the theory of relativity. They’d finally wised up and realised that men driving speeding utes were really best avoided, and were simply holed up behind the nearest tree,
ready to bound out once you’d passed on by for some serious man-free party-time. This was a trick they’d almost certainly learned from generations of placid young female conservationists, quite possibly involving herbal tea, yoga and gluten-free cupcakes.
Or possibly, as the apocalyptic scientific survey had suggested men, particularly those driving utes, are just amazingly good at wiping them all out.
Which truth you choose to believe probably comes down to how much of a glass-half empty guy you turn out to be.
Curiously, even once off the road and onto the walking tracks of the Porongorups we still weren’t seeing any animals. Perhaps they’d all just decided to tuck in early so they could be up fresh and excited to meet Santa in the morning, as this year they’d all been good little bunnies, though given we were currently on the wrong side of the Rabbit Proof Fence, Santa might not necessarily agree.
The stunning views from Castle Rock south across the plains to the coast were still there though, from which we could now see the bright walls of the little cottage we’d booked for our yuletide stay gleaming in the valley below.
After taking an early night ourselves, Christmas morning found us rueing our choice not leaving Santa a forwarding address. To cheer ourselves up we headed north to the Stirling Ranges for a morning climb of Bluff Knoll, the highest peak in WA, arriving to a surprisingly packed car-park, which revealed our choice of festive celebration was not quite as unique as we might have imagined. Perhaps it didn’t hurt that it was a bright blue-sky day with nary a snowflake in sight. Amazingly even the Park Rangers had turned out, deciding to spread the True Spirit of Christmas by happily fining any unsuspecting climbers who’d thought that perhaps this day of all days, they’d get away without paying the fee.
A Merry Frickin’ Christmas to one and all!
Back in my past life in the Northern Hemisphere, where folk actually still bothered pretending to celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus, the Spirit of Christmas used to piss me right off. Admittedly the general bonhomie and goodwill to all men did lift the spirits on those dark cold winter days, but what irked me was everyone promptly reverting to grumpy sods the moment the New Year rolled round.
If we could do it for those two weeks, I always used to think, what stopped us the rest of the time? Luckily over here in Oz I don’t think they’ve ever heard of Christmas Cheer and are just as happy maintaining a sunny disposition all year round. Indeed, as I indulged in a traditional Christmas laze in the hot-tub that evening, watching the blazing sun set in the west, it occurred to me that Christmas in Australia is something of a redundant festival. There’s no need for some bastardised pagan party over here in December when life is plenty perky enough already.
Boxing Day saw us at Two People’s Bay, a gorgeous curve of sparkling silica squeaking between the toes. Once again we found it rammed with visitors unlike days of old, when you really would often be the only Two People in the whole Bay. The trouble with well-kept secrets, it would seem, is they’re surprisingly difficult to keep. Here some numbskull had well and truly let the cat out of the bag by listing this once unknown gem as one of Australia’s Top Ten Beaches. In fairness, it is, but for me it was much higher
up the list before its publication than after. Ironically, if it gets any busier it might just slip to number 11, drop off the list and go back to being deserted like it used to be. Well, you can only dream...
From here we snaked up through the gorgeous forests of the South-West towards the Margaret River Wineries, where we’d planned for a very Happy New Year, detouring up The Gloucester Tree, one blind spot on the Health & Safety Nutters’ map. An old Fire Lookout, the challenge is climbing the 55 metres to the top purely by dint of scrambling up metal rods hammered into its trunk, on a demented and distinctly lo-tech ‘spiral staircase’. Gaps between the rods are surprisingly wide and distinctly fall-able through, and really the only thing to stop you plunging alarmingly back to earth is the fear. It doesn’t help that more than one or two of the rods towards the top are distinctly loose, or that in the higher reaches the wind will swing the tree merrily from side to side. From the ground it looks deceptively tame, a sentiment that is rapidly dispensed with for those that make it a leg-shaking
half way up.
Risking our necks on the climb was worth it though, as our bravery seemed thereafter rewarded by the gradual return of the wild life, from parrots, possums and kookaburras in the forests to some properly big live kangaroos while camping at Walpole. Closer to Margaret River we also had some exotic encounters with big friendly marine life at Hamelin Bay.
Dolphins, I hear you cry... Nope, they’re at Bunbury, a hundred kilometres north.
Whales then... No again, though they can be spotted just up the coast at Cape Naturaliste.
No, these big friendly marine animals, believe it or not, are stingrays. Sadly in the years since our last visit these guys have taken a big knock to their reputation after getting a little too friendly with a certain late Australian crocodile hunter, who, let’s face it, after a little while might really get on anyone’s wick.
Here in Hamelin Bay there’s no need to be afraid of these friendly fish, who’ll happily come right up for a chat and a cuddle should you stray anywhere near the water’s edge. This super-social disposition did lead to their come-uppance shortly after Steve met his
maker when a couple of local idiots decided to take their revenge by jumping in and stabbing a couple of big ones to death. And eating them. Really, who do we think is the dangerous predator in this relationship???
Fortunately an outcry after this debacle has since led to their protection, and it will now cost you five grand if you fancy a bit of super-fresh sushi, and possibly even a jail term, which doesn’t tend to happen if you stick to Sushi Express.
There’s another iconic marine creature whose numbers seem on the increase over here too. They tend to have an even worse reputation than the stingray, possibly on account of their occasional habit of chomping the odd punter in two.
In days gone by when I was younger, hardier, and quite possibly more stupid I’d happily take a dip at Cottesloe beach, snorkel at Bunker Bay or dream of one day hitting the big surf off Margaret River, all of which have since proved happy hunting grounds for Mr Great White Shark. They’re one beast whose numbers, in contrast to the scientific survey, appear to be on the up.
Although this, too, is
a point of controversy.
Certainly the number of attacks is on the up, but many argue this is down to more people in the water, rather than any more sharks. Marine surveys consistently show the sharks to be endangered, though possibly not as endangered as the surfers who choose to mess with them, leading to predictable screams of outrage from both sides over suggestions of a cull.
And I have to say, I’m dead-set against a cull myself.
Well, seems a bit unfair to me...
Sure, their too-cool-for-school stance and cruisy laid-back lifestyle can sometimes grate, but culling surfers is surely a step too far. Couldn’t we just settle for banning their rusty old vans, telling them to get a bloody haircut and urging them in the strongest terms to stay on dry land for a change where, as far as I’m aware, nobody has yet been eaten.
Or else just tell ‘em to feel free to take the plunge, get all goofy-footed and extreme, and if they do happen to end up on the lunchtime menu, deal with it dude! After all, if you can’t stand the heat...
And this, though possibly not
in quite such a radical fashion, may soon be a choice we’ll all have to make. Are we going to learn to live with the natural world, or continue to rage against it? Are we going to carry on our colossal worldwide cull or do we say enough is enough? And can we really just keep on going, expanding our numbers ever exponentially? Because one thing this trip’s taught me is even the quietest places are starting to get pretty damn crowded.
Will we finally wise up, give the rest of the planet a break, and start getting on with our natural neighbours, extending a little bit of year-round Christmas Cheer to all creatures great and small?
Or do we just stubbornly carry on, business as usual.
In this natural dating game it’s time to decide who we want to spend the rest of our lives with.
Will we choose No 1, the cute wholesome high-maintenance Live and Let Live, or plump for No 2, the cheap and easy Live and Let Die.
Because let’s face it, at the end of the show when the barrier slides back they’re unlikely to be equally attractive.
The choice, as they used to say way back when on Blind Date, is yours.
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