NT wildlife: it looks cute enough until someone loses a finger

I’ve written before about conferences being like little pockets of unreality, in which some of the normal rules of the universe seem to be suspended. But plonk a convention in Darwin, and the unreality effect is magnified X-fold. Life up here just isn’t like in other parts of the country.

Conferences anywhere are a slightly surreal existence, albeit only for a few days: all of life seems to be folded and compressed into the confines of the venue and your hotel room; even if you travel beyond those walls, it’s generally with the same group of people, giving the impression that a little part of the world is following you around.

In Darwin at this time of year, even though wet season is officially over, being outside is like having one of those hot hand towels you get in Chinese restaurants thrown over you. You can’t really prepare for how oppressive the climate is.

But in some respects, the NT is exactly what you think it will be. And that mainly means crocodiles and fishing. Crocs are big up here, literally (4 to 5 metres long in some cases) and in a cultural sense. Three people have been killed by the reptiles in the past three weeks; some are blaming conservation efforts that have seen the number of saltwater crocs in the territory skyrocket, from a few thousand in the 1970s to an estimated 75,000 today.

In addition, the Northern Territory Times (“Still only $1.20!”) has lived up to expectations. On day one of the Securitor convention on up here at the moment, the paper’s front-page headline screamed: “Our dog ate my G-string” (the story was about exactly what the headline suggests).

Day two: “Come kill our crocs” (about outrage over plans to allow a couple of dozen big crocodiles to be culled each year).

By Day Three they’d returned to more sober reporting – the sinking of the asylum seekers’ boat en route to Christmas Island – but they still managed to sneak a “Snakes on a plane” puff onto Page One.

It’s a peculiar but oddly endearing preoccupation.

Maybe, though, that’s why Darwin is a pretty bloody good place for a convention. Organisers certainly get delegates’ attention: It’s unlikely that many of them will wander far from the venue, if for no other reason than fear of being eaten, bitten, stung or otherwise attacked – there seem to be relatively few examples of local fauna that do not wish actively to cause you harm.

Not entirely unlike some clients at the moment.

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