Yes, the Internet is full of notice that Australia is home to a number of snakes including the 10 most poisonous in the world. Then there are the spiders, and even the cute Koala has lethal claws. What is a traveler to do?
A few years ago, I sat with an elder of the Wurundjeri people that speak Woiwurrung who are part of the Kulin Nation. These original landowners were from the central area of Melbourne. I sat with her in Federation Square at a coffee shop in the central part of Melbourne, Australia.
Federation Square is one of the main hubs for transportation in the city. People are coming and going doing the things that are important in their lives. We had just exited the Koorie Heritage Trust Cultural Center which overlooks the Yarra River. My guide had just taken me through the museum which has some of the richest collections of artwork by the original landowners of southeast Australia. It is well worth a visit to see very old works right up to the modern-day interpretations.
As we sat, I asked my guide about this question that comes to me from many travelers wishing to visit Australia but are very concerned about the dangerous snakes, spiders, and animals. I asked her, “How would you respond to this question?”
She thought a bit and this is her amazing answer…
Let’s say that I was a person that wanted to travel to San Diego, but that I had been in the outback of Australia my whole life. I know how to live on my land, interact with all the flora and fauna, without difficulty. I do not know city life, but I have heard of these odd things called automobiles that kill many people and are driven by people! But, I still want to visit you in San Diego. I trust you because you know the area. You know the ways of the people, automobiles, and rules for survival. Then I arrive and I see my first automobile as we sit in yours. There are odd tracks that automobiles follow, more tracks that people follow, and then a thing called bicycles! They follow their own track if the automobiles allow it! What a strange world! You will have traffic lights work. You will show me how crosswalk signs work. All of this is easy for you and we have a great time exploring your world. You live in a part of the world with your own strange animals that can be dangerous. I have heard of your bears, mountain lions, and an animal called a skunk. I think I may be most afraid of this animal. It throws a smelly substance at you! Navigating your world is easy for you and we have a great time exploring your world together, you as the guide and I as your guest.
This is how it is when you arrive in Australia, we know how the flora and fauna live and interact. When I walk through the outback, I walk so that the snakes understand that I am coming not to harm them, but to let them know we are here and would like to pass through or stay the night. The language I navigate my land is with knowledge, communication, and intention. Remember the original people generations have been here for over 50, 000 years, we know our lands. This allows us to welcome travelers and to make sure that their time here is interesting, fun, and a bit of an adventure.
As I think about this conversation today, it also answers why to use a specialist for the area you are traveling. You are given local knowledge, connected with great local guides to enhance your experience, and give a local perspective of your travels.