Friday, November 22, 2013

Stinging riposte? No, stinger post.

I'm writing about Townsville today, in what they're proud to call Tropical North Queensland. That means it's hot (up to 40 degrees in the town - hotter further north, obviously - and 18 is considered distinctly chilly), and full of frangipani, palms, mango trees and huge fig trees with sinister multiple trunks/roots. It also means that from November to May, you can't swim in the sea because of stingers - that is, stinging jellyfish. Or, you can, if you stay inside the nets on a couple of the beaches, or you trust your 1920s-style ankle-to-wrist stinger suit to protect you.

On nearby Magnetic Island ("Maggie" to the locals, naturally) I saw a lifeguard trawling across a really quite lovely bay between glorious weathered granite boulder headlands (Maggie Rocks I think I'll call that story. What?) and snooped in for a look. He does it several times a day in late October, sieving the water to see if he's catching any stingers, after which the notices will go up on the beach. They weren't while I was there, but I still managed to resist the temptation to wade in, invitingly warm and turquoise though it was. I'm used to it - on my previous trip to northern Queensland, from the very tip of Cape York back down to Cairns, our guide was distinctly anxious on the couple of occasions we were allowed on a beach. "Don't go near the water!" he kept repeating - the danger there being salt-water crocs that lunge out of the water and snatch hapless tourists off the sand.

"No-one's ever reported crocs on Maggie," the lifeguard told me when I asked. Which doesn't entirely put your mind at rest, does it? He argued that salties are correctly called estuarine crocodiles, which means they hang out in estuaries and up rivers. But they do go roaming, I know, and have been seen way out at sea on numerous occasions. The crocs and the stingers are the Number One concerns for swimmers up north - people hardly ever bother mentioning the sharks that are also there. Gives this picture a whole new layer of meaning, doesn't it?

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