Generally speaking, climbing in WA poses few risks if you take a few simple precautions.
Firstly, you should NEVER go deep-water soloing in WA! There are some great sea cliffs along the coast here – have a look at some of the photos on the CAWA webpages. However in the southern half of WA, the risk of shark attack is just too great. In the northern half of WA, it’s the Salt Water Crocodiles that you need to be careful off.
Both the sharks, commonly known as ‘White Pointers’, and the ‘Salties’ as the crocs are called here, grow to over 6 or 7 metres and weigh up to 2 or 3 tonnes. If you fall while deep-water soloing, your chance of survival is very, very small. ALWAYS ROPE UP WELL and NEVER GO CLOSER THAN ABOUT 5 METRES TO THE WATER! Actually, probably 10 metres is safer, as the ‘King Waves’ – random 5 to 10 metre waves that appear out of a seemingly calm sea – can easily wash you away.
In places where swimming, surfing and fishing is popular, there are usually ‘spotter’ planes that fly overhead looking for sharks and crocs. They send radio messages to lifeguards that are issued with high-power rifles and spearguns, so swimming, surfing and fishing is fine if you go in the patrolled areas. But in the more remote areas where we go climbing, there are no spotter planes and lifeguards, so great care needs to be taken.
One must also be careful of taking small children into remote areas. It is not commonly known outside Australia, but there are numerous cases of small children being dragged out of cars, tents and even houses by dingoes. In most cases, the remains of the children are never found, although a few ‘lucky’ ones have been brought up by the dingo mothers. If ever re-captured, these children, when reunited with their real parents, and even after years of therapy, still usually have the habit of hunting down and eating the neighbours’ pet kangaroos and koalas. These cases are usually well hidden from the public view so as not to affect the tourist industry. The only case that was well publicised was the ‘Azaria’ case about 20 years ago, which happened in a public camp-ground near Uluru (Ayer’s Rock). Incidentally, the name ‘Azaria’ means ‘Sacrifice in the Desert’ in ancient Sumerian.
In the south-west (where most of the climbing is), most of the dingoes have been hunted by weekend campers to near-extinction, so most of these areas are quite safe. However there are still a few remote climbing areas where there is the possibility of running into a Bunyip (Bunyipus australis) or a Yowie (Austroloihoihoih rhodokneckus) (see http://www.yowiehunters.com).
A Bunyip is a large, very shy, but very dangerous creature that lives in swampy areas and ponds. They are very territorial and will readily come out of their lairs and attack intruders that venture into their territory. Yowies are large, native ape-like creatures that live in the Karri Forests in the deep south of WA. These very aggressive forest-dwelling creatures will readily attack if provoked or if they see you as a threat to their lifestyle. You should always check the Department of Environment and Conservation webpage before going out climbing in these areas to check for recent sightings of Bunyips and Yowies. The ‘bogons’ that Colin M mentions are a closely related species to the Yowies that are sometimes seen in the hills around, and indeed, within Perth. They seem to be attracted by food scraps and beer bottles that people leave lying around. Their usual call sounds somewhat like ‘arghyarfukincun’, so they are usually easy to locate by hearing, even before you can see or smell them.
Closer to Perth, Drop-Bears also pose a risk. These are rather like a cross between a small, very aggressive Koala-Bears and a Tasmanian Devil. They live in trees and their normal prey are small ground-dwelling marsupials, on which they ‘drop’ as the marsupial passes underneath their nesting tree. However they have been known to ‘drop’ out of trees onto bush-walkers and hikers who fail to recognise the tell-tale signs of dismembered marsupials and bones under the trees.
Snakes are commonly seen at the crags, but as most of them are non-poisonous pythons, there is no need to be unduly alarmed. They are quite slow moving and, unless you fall asleep on the ground, you are unlikely to find yourself being squeezed to death by a python, although the aggressive Trouser Pythons do sometimes cause a few problems, particularly if you arouse one.
Poisonous snakes such as Dugites, Taipans and King snakes, while much more venomous than snakes like the American Rattlesnake or Indian Cobra, are actually quite shy and unless disturbed will usually simply crawl away, although the wearing of good boots is a must when walking through the bush as if you accidentally step on a sleeping snake, and in particular, the non-poisonous Trouser Python, they will try to bite you. Walking with a heavy stomping action is recommended as the vibrations through the ground will usually wake them up and they will get out of your way.
The Death Adder snake can be a bit more of a problem as they are not at all shy and can often be seen slithering through a campsite in search of food or a mate. Ground-stomping only serves to attract them.
Snake-bite can usually be easily treated by slashing the bitten area with a sharp knife and sucking the poison out, so always carry a good quality sharp knife with you. Of course the person sucking you should never swallow. The WA Search and Rescue Service, operated by the State Emergency Service, always have helicopters on stand-by to winch the victim of the rocks and take them to the nearest hospital.
Spiders are not a huge threat in the bush as most of the dangerous spiders in WA, such as the ‘Red-Back’ (closely related to the American ‘Black Widow’) seem to prefer to live closer to urban areas. I’m not sure why, but one rarely sees any out in the bush. Instead they seem to hide in cool moist places under leaves and pots in gardens, in garden sheds and in dunnies (i.e. toilets). Spider bite in WA rarely leads to death, although necrotic sores or ulcers are commonplace amongst ‘Sandgropers’, as people in WA are known to people in other parts of Australia. Sandgropers are actually bizarre sub-terrainian cricket-like creatures that burrow under the ground and eat the roots of trees. See http://www.museum.wa.gov.au/collections/natscience/invertebrates/Sandgropers.asp
These sandgropers, combined with the Australian Termite, ensure that much of Australia remains a desert wasteland. Stainless-steel mesh barriers are erected around and under houses to protect the houses from destruction from these creatures.
I suppose the other thing that you need to be aware of are ticks. Yesterday I went climbing, as it was a relatively cool day here, at only 39 C. I was bitten by a tick and am now in hospital being treated for Lyme’s Disease. Fortunately, I managed to cut the 10 mm long tick out of my leg before it injected too much of it’s bacterial poison into me and so the doctors anticipate that I will be at home by Sylvester.
There are a number of good books available, such as ‘Dangerous Creatures of Australia’ see http://www.angusrobertson.com.au/search/dangerous+creatures+of+australia/ and one of these books, a good first-aid kit and a large knife or other weapon is an absolute necessity when climbing in Australia.
Hope to climb with you soon!