The Great White Australian



Isn’t that the best headline ever? I don’t think even the finest subeditors on Fleet Street could beat it. It is a testament to all that is good in tabloid newspapers — it makes it sound like the little chompers are hiding out in the loo and lurking in the plumbing.

The article, on the front page of the Daily Telegraph last Tuesday, was accompanied by a photo of a Great White lurking menacingly in the waters off Sydney’s favourite holiday destination for the rich and famous: Palm Beach.

But what the Tele didn’t mention is that that Great White is one of this country’s greatest assets. It’s doing its bit for Australia’s tourism industry — more than any film about a ginger who wanders around after cows could ever do.

Some might say that the spectre of innocent surfers being plucked off their boards by evolutionary apex predators can’t be good for our tourism industry, particularly at a time when it’s proving hard to get people on planes to spend their cash on factory-made didgeridoos and the entrance fee to the Australia Zoo.

I say that’s nonsense. Australia doesn’t ride on the sheep’s back anymore; it rides on the deadly animal‘s back. Ask any foreigner about Australia and you’ll learn that they know bugger-all about us — "Your prime minister is Chinese? And you have kangaroos" — but what they do know for certain is that there are a million ways to die down here and that many of them involve being bitten by something (other ways involve underestimating how big the Great Sandy Desert is, or the number of serial killers in the Northern Territory).

This also seems to have zero impact on their desire to come here. Oh, the 24 hours in a plane from Heathrow might be a bit of an issue, and the wimpy US dollar may worry a few, but spiders that can chew through a pair of Doc Martens? Not an issue. A crocodile that could eat you and go back to your mate for seconds? An excellent photo opportunity.

A Google search of "deadly animals tourists Australia" (yes, those are fine investigative journalism skills you’re seeing in action) pulls up a UK Daily Telegraph article about the number of tourists who died here between 2000 and 2007 (2433, if you’re curious). Yet we are swamped with 19-year-olds from the Midlands whose only aims in life appear to be getting horribly sunburnt and pulling beers at the Coogee Bay Hotel. The latter is an occupation no Sydneysider with half a brain wants, so bring on the gnashing jaws of sharks and the pointy fangs of the funnel web if it makes them think this is an ideal place to spend their gap year.

The article notes that more than 5 million tourists come here every year and "most of them return safely". We should be suing for loss of reputation.

The wretched advertising campaign that Baz Luhrmann dreamed up for the US and Japanese markets showed frazzled couples frolicking in a Kakadu lagoon and waltzing under the desert skies. There were no crocodiles in the lagoon, no taipans lurking under the fairy lights. Baz wants middle-aged executives to come out, spend a few days in a hotel and return home banging on about how they understand the "Aboriginal experience" because a cute indigenous kiddie lured them out to Sails in the Desert for Five Nights, Free Day Trip to Katherine Gorge Included.

Australia is meant to be seen as a wild, untamed place. I hate it when I read articles in Qantas in-flight that natter on about the best place to get a latte in Sydney and how wonderful the lanes in Melbourne are. Americans don’t know good coffee, so you can flog them a cup of brown water and they’ll drink it, and every European city has lanes, it’s where they dump the garbage and mug people.

Why bother trying to flog our pale imitations of Starbucks and Berlin when we have things no one else has? We have some of the deadliest snakes in the world, a jellyfish that renders some of the most beautiful beaches in the world unswimmable for half the year, massive crocodiles that like to hang out in tourist hot-spots and sharks that have decided to spend the summer cruising for human sushi off a stretch of sand that has a siren-like call to pasty Poms. Foreigners seem to like this. It means they can lie on Bondi for a week and claim to have braved shark-infested waters.

Provided we can keep the death rate to a sustainable minimum, I see no reason not to encourage these beasties. Perhaps that toothy guy in the photo should be up for an Australia Day honour this weekend.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.