Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Welcome to Australia. Wipe your feet.

Once upon a time, the largest animal that inhabited Australia was the kangaroo. Now, that iconic creature is relegated to 13th place, behind a whole host of newly introduced species. Most of these newcomers have made themselves at home a little too well, put their feet up on the furniture, and emptied the fridge. Some of this has been inevitable. The first stowaway on the First Fleet was altogether smaller, but devastating for the locals: Smallpox wiped out an estimated 50% of the Eora population. There was nothing inevitable about the rabbits, cats, cows and even camels that now run feral in the Australian outback.

Not only Jared Diamond's Collapse but even Blll Bryson's Down Under make mention of how rabbits were deliberately indeed carefully added. Nobody really had any idea of the catastrophic effect of introducing species into an environment that had been geologically isolated for 65,000 years. Australia provided no natural predators for the large mammals that colonialists saw fit to offload.

These days, the Australian authorities are not taking any chances. There is the now-famous Australian baptism: pesticide spray that the cabin crew will bless you with as you arrive in Oz. There is also a whole range of things that you can't bring in to the country (above and beyond what you'd expect)and the penalties include anything from confiscation through AUS$220 on-the-spot fines, all the way up to 10 year in jail. You even have to make sure that your hiking boots aren't muddy. It's a different twist on the idea of putting out the welcoming mat. But of course I see the need.

But it took a little bit of googling and browsing to come across the list of prohibited imports. I wonder, if I hadn't been forewarned by colleagues who have been to Oz already, at what point would I have found out? When I was forced to bin expensive Chinese tea or souvenir erhu on arrival to Sydney?

[Added later: An inquiry to AQIS (Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service) pointed me at an online database where travellers can check specifically what conditions apply to specific good. Looks like I can bring in tea after all :-) ]


dathai said...

Rabbits ? Bigger than kangaroos ? My goodness.

Of course the toads, rabbits and camels are nothing compared to the feral English and Irish that now infest the place, annoy the locals and spread diseases like smallpox, etc.

Brendan Lawlor said...


Now Dave, I trust your ability to parse an English sentence enough to know that you know rabbits bigger than kangaroos was not an unavoidably logical consequence of anything I wrote.

But you do make a valid point: Relying, even partially, on Bill Bryson as a source of information is like living on lemonade instead of water. There's more added than is really needed, and it's not entirely healthy.

dathai said...

Read Pilger
A Secret Country
A good antidote to Bryson-ade

Brendan Lawlor said...

Good tip. Thanks. And that's exactly what I'm getting at - Bryson certainly used Pilger as a source, especially when it comes to his coverage of the Australian Aboriginal people.

Effectively I'm re-reading Bryson as a palate cleanser. I'll pick up Pilger for sure, but probably when we get there, rather than in advance.

Simon Moore said...

The 'roos aren't smaller, they're just further away.

Simon Moore said...
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