We arrived in Australia in November 2007, towards the end of the big drought. Shortly after our arrival, the heavens opened to the official end of said drought, leaving puddles the size of small lakes, and roads closed due to excess flooding.
I was out running along the path in my local park one morning, enjoying a beautiful summers day, and shortly after a serious down-pour of rain. There were some of these rather large puddles all over the park, and I could feel the humidity rising off them as I went past.
Running is my time to think, and thoughts generally flash through my mind at a similar speed to my feet. And so there I was, happily contemplating my new life in Australia, and thinking about the day ahead, when I noticed the woman walking slowly far ahead of me yelp, and then sprint off at an astonishing pace. I couldn't see anyone or anything around that would cause her to yelp as she did, and so I put it down to something she had forgotten, like a pot on the stove. And so I continued on my path.
It wasn't until I was nearly past where the lady had been that I glanced to my right, at the puddle which had taken up a vast amount of the park and was almost lapping against the path. In the puddle, and facing me about a metre away, was a very menacing looking crocodile. I didn't just yelp! I screamed at the top of my voice, and then sprinted off wailing loudly enough for the whole suburb, and far beyond, to hear me.
Only when my flight adrenalin was depleted did I stop and calm down. And then the reality dawned on me. I live in Brisbane. As far as I know, there are no crocodiles in parks in Brisbane. I gingerly walked back the way I'd come, encountering a few people hurrying past me with stricken looks on their faces, and a few more chuckling to themselves with relief. When I came across the offending beast, he was no more than a plastic fearsome crocodile head, placed in the water by some prankster kids!
But jokes aside, crocodiles are a reality in the waterways of parts of Australia, namely Northern Queensland, and the northern parts of the Northern Territories and Western Australia. Both the freshwater crocodile (Crocodylus johnstoni) and the saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) are found in these areas. Saltwater crocs are the ones responsible for fatal attacks on people – but don't be tricked by their name: Saltwater crocs are found mostly in freshwater and estuarine areas.
Crocs are carnivorous and feed on birds and mammals, tending to be opportunistic. They are more aggressive during their breeding season, which runs from September through to April or May. Crocodiles will hang about in the water along the banks of rivers, with only their ears, nostrils and eyes protruding. These can easily be mistaken for rocks.
If you're venturing up north, it's important to check with local authorities regarding crocodile activity in the area, and pay close heed to any warnings and signposts.
Don't swim, wade, stand or canoe in tropical waterways and estuaries, and don't walk along river banks, camp in the vicinity of, or fish off them. If you are attacked, you need to react quickly, and with force – hit at the crocs' snout or gouge at its eyes. But the best way to defend yourself against a croc is to stay very far away from it!