When Kaisson was a lad, both bulletproof and brave, he went camping with his brother and best mate for three nights beside a lake in The Grampians, a location recently overrun by Neo-Nazis.
Being relatively skint, we couldn’t afford tents. So we threw down blue-plastic painter’s dropsheets, unfurled sweaty polyester sleeping bags, and slept under the stars. All was going well, us three talking utter young male bullshit, until a large spider crawled across my face.
For context, I have a Scandinavian head. My poor mother had good reason to hate me. Urban myth says people eat eight spiders a year, but this bider was no midnight snack, it was a three-course meal. Luckily it couldn’t fit in my mouth. Its pedipalps were on my forehead at the same time its hind legs caressed my chin.
If you’ve ever heard a grown man scream, remember that sound now. After much slapping and maniacal thrashing, the giant arachnid was gone. We all decided it might be better to sleep in the car. Uncomfortable, yes, but safe from Shelob.
I’ve dreamed of Her ever since.
But what species of spider was it? The thought haunts me. While the range of the dreaded Funnelweb does extend to isolated colonies in the Flinders Rangers, South Australia, it’s predominantly an east-coast killer. I was in Victoria, so it was probably just a Wolf Spider or a Huntsman.
Or a tarantula. Oh yes, we’ve got them too. The Australian version only has a six-inch legspan and half-inch fangs. Won’t kill you on the spot like the atrax robustus, but it’s bite is officially ‘excruciating’. If you want a pet big enough to ride, pick the Aussie tarantula, and watch the neighbours dogs and cats disappear.
Knowing what I now know about spiders (which I didn’t know then), I’d rather be bitten by a tarantula or a redback than by a white-tail spider. We get white-tails in Sydney a lot. You don’t jump into bed carefree in Sydney in case a white-tail’s waiting for you. The term “necrotising arachnidism” is your clue.
Fast-forward a couple decades, and I’m standing to attention on the parade ground at Kapooka, having just graduated from the ARTC (Army Recruit Training Centre). Wolf spiders riding silk balloons are floating across the parade ground in the thousands. One wraps across Lieutenant General John Sanderson’s face, and I’m like “I feel ya bro”.
My wife wakes to “spider dreams” at 2300hrs every night. I don’t, because these are the fever-dreams welded to our genes. Arachnidae haven’t evolved in billions of years. The oldest fossil remains are of a 165 million year old Golden Orb Spider barely an inch long. I have its three-inch cousin in my backyard right now. She only comes out at night. Exactly at face height.
One day we’ll come full circle.
It will begin in Australia, where the deadliest versions of every living thing still exist. Megafauna didn’t die out on this continent 60,000 years ago because a bunch of skinny Aboriginals hunted them to extinction, no. They died because our spiders, snakes, sharks, shellfish and stinging plantlife killed them all.
And all that nasty shit is still here, waiting for the next busload of tourists.