It’s amazing what you can learn in the course of a day’s work.
I’m in the middle of writing a series of articles about tourist attractions in Australia, and I have to say I’m very much enjoying it. Not least because I’ve only just discovered, to my genuine surprise, that the Tasmanian Devil is actually a real thing. I was previously unaware of this, and am now starting to wonder what other apparently fictional characters might be Actual Animals, too. I’d love to hear about a small colony of Fraggles living in the Outback, for example.
The real life Taz is, it seems, the size of a small dog. The pictures I’ve seen, however, indicate that it looks like a very large and scary black rat. I would not like to meet one of these things, delighted as I am to find that they really exist. They’re aggressive-looking devils, and it’s not surprising when you hear the story of how they come into existence. The mother gives birth to about 30 of the critters, but they have to attach themselves to a nipple inside her pouch for a hundred days before they start to properly grow and develop. A thirty-nippled creature would be a little bizarre, one would imagine; and indeed, the Taz ladies only have four. So, into the pouch tumble up to thirty gross little slimey things, somehow instinctively knowing that they have to claim a nipple as their home for the next hundred days, and also that they have to fight all these other gross slimey things in order to have a chance of finding said nipple and actually surviving. What a great introduction to the world.
Obviously the four that survive are going to be the strongest and most vicious of the litter. Add to that a set of teeth that keep growing throughout their entire lifetime, alarming screeching and screaming noises, a skunk-like defence system, and the ability to dispose of an entire animal carcass in one sitting (bones, fur and all), and you’ve got a creature that you really wouldn’t want to mess with. They’ve also just become an endangered species because of Devil Facial Tumour Disease: they actually have their own fatal disease, and I didn’t even know that they existed!
I realise that only a very special type of person will appreciate my enthusiasm on the subject of Tasmanian Devils: the existence of, and so I wish to share with you my other favourite thing about Australia. It is a Wikipedia page entitled Australia’s Big Things. I had previously been introduced to this phenomenon by a friend whose travels in Australia led him to several Big Things, most notably the Big Mango of Bowen, Queensland. The Big Things are basically, well, big things. No real reason. Oversized sculptures of everyday objects, scattered all over the continent, which tourists will happily set off in search of, often driving for hundreds of miles just to get their picture taken beside something like the Mango. While I’ll admit to being slightly alarmed by the Big Mosquito, I have to say that I am generally in favour of the Big Things. The Big Prawn, for example, is nothing short of a work of art; the Big Wine Bottle is mightily impressive, too, with the neck forming a chimney for the open fire inside. I can’t find pictures of the Big Macadamia Nut or the Big Paperclip, but I have no reason to doubt that they are every bit as impressive as the Big Cow, say, or the Big Scotsman.
My job is more of an education than school ever was. I love it!