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February 2002

Australia’s Aboriginal Walk In The Park

Face your fear of snakes and spiders in Australia's Royal National Park, and the bush will reward you with the journey of a lifetime.

Morning breaks with the maniacal cackle of a laughing kookaburra perched in a tree above my tent. After a quick breakfast, I pull the tent poles from their sleeves, then spot a dark spider darting under my ground cloth. Silky threads radiate from a burrow near the tent’s entrance. Funnel-web.

Frantic, I drop the tent and jump back, recalling the dire warnings: Funnel-web spider venom can cause profuse salivating, sweating, muscle spasms within minutes, even death.

I stand frozen, praying the Aussie arachnid will skitter far from camp. After 10 minutes, I sidestep cautiously to my tent and slowly fold back one corner. The enemy stands underneath. I reach for my walking stick and pull it back, ready to strike. But suddenly I’m distracted by the spider’s closely grouped eyes and captivated by the curves of its shiny, plum-colored body. Hair covers its stout legs like a velvet carpet. I lay my walking stick back down. The spider scurries away into the brush.

The face-off reminds me how Aborigines adapted to this harsh land. Instead of fighting against it, they adapted their lifestyles, transforming their fears of snakes and spiders into magical stories. According to lore, the Rainbow Serpent emerged from the depths of the land to give birth to other sacred creatures like the goanna, wallaby, and wombat.

I realize that to be fearful is to reject the wonders of the wild. As I continue on my journey south to Garie Beach, the land speaks to me more forcefully. The clifftop views seem more spectacular. I hop more confidently from rock to rock along the shoreline. Brown heathlands fade to the green of fan ferns and damp, tropical trees near Palm Jungle. Through the cool sea mist I spot a lyrebird, its long tail plumes dragging behind as it forages for food.

That night, I make camp near Burning Palms, an area on the southern end of the park recovering from wildfire. I nibble on kangaroo jerky without concern for the creatures lurking in the bush. Darkness is now a welcome friend, and I fall asleep quickly, my fears drifting away with the outgoing tide.

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