Not long after I moved back to Australia, I was out to dinner with Mum and Dad and a group of other brand-new arrivals. Among them was a lovely young man from South Africa (which is not exactly under-populated with its own beasties), who'd immigrated to Australia with his wife and two small children.
The thing about Australians is that we're well aware of the reputation for the sheer versatile lethality of our flora and fauna, and we take a perverse and sophisticated satisfaction in winding up foreigners until they're strung so tight you can pluck that last stretched nerve and bounce them half-way to Jupiter.
This young man had been pretty well worked over by the well-meaning folks in his new office over the past week, and by the time he got to us, he was in a state of bug-eyed paranoia that had him checking underneath his restaurant chair and carefully inspecting the folds of the table-cloth before he sat down, just in case the shadows were harboring something unsavory that would jump out and bite him in the neck.
Mum and Dad watched him narrowly, and with very little prodding, led him into a breathless exploration of how Australia required its citizens to maintain a perpetual state of readiness -
"My God," he said feelingly. You've got the world's deadliest snakes and the world's deadliest spiders, and they tell me that they all live inside your bloody house. But you can't go outside into the garden either! You can't put a picnic blanket down on the grass - there's trapdoor spiders in the grass. And you can't go walking in the bush - there's snakes that look just like little brown twigs lying on all the paths, and when you go home, there's huntsman spiders in your beds, and redback spiders underneath the toilet seats - I tell you, I'm about to quit this job and take the family up north for a long, quiet tropical holiday on the beach. At least the beaches are safe!"
This was Mum and Dad's cue. Mum, who has spent considerable time teaching on the coast up north, launched into a story about her seven-year-old student who walked barefoot to school one day and stepped on a stonefish. He lived, barely.
"Don't forget the box jellyfish." Dad said.
"The What- ?"
"Cone shells." Mum said.
"And," Mum said, "The little blue-ringed octopus. It's so small you barely see it, but there's no known antidote. You die in agony; paralyzed and writhing."
The South African blanched. "About the only bit of Australia that's safe must be the little strip of sand around your coast between the high-tide line and the start of the bush!"
"Malaria." Mum said consideringly.
"Japanese Encephalitis," Dad nodded
"Dengue Fever," Mum said, and nodded harder.
The poor man had to call a waiter over for something to settle his nerves. Several stiff drinks later, Mum and Dad poured him into a taxi and went home very pleased with themselves.
Australia is a lovely country. And if the new immigrants can survive the Australians, they can survive anything.