On the beaches, lifesavers rescued more than 180 people around Australia in less than two weeks over Christmas and the new year, but still nine drowned.
Certain crime statistics ascend towering peaks at this time. Burglaries are most common in January. Domestic violence-related assault is at its worst this month while non-domestic assaults typically peak in December. Both types double on New Year’s Day – most of it probably fuelled by oceans of alcohol.
It is peak season for extreme weather events, from the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004 and Black Saturday last year, to this summer’s floods in regional NSW and the fires that appear imminent in South Australia this week.
Even Christmas ham is bad for you in repeated doses. The journal BMC Cancer has reported that those who ate cured meats more than once a week had a 74 per cent higher risk of leukaemia than those who rarely ate them.
The American travel writer Bill Bryson cottoned on to how dangerous Australia is. When writing his book Down Under he said: ”It has more things that will kill you than anywhere else.”
Last month the Englishman who won Tourism Queensland’s ”Best Job in the World” was stung by a irukandji jellyfish because he wasn’t wearing a stinger suit.
Clearly, being Australian – or even playing at it – is not merely unsafe. It’s downright bloody hazardous. We confront a mini-apocalypse each year in this country. We call it ”summer”.
The question that inevitably arises is: what can we do about it? And the answer, much as politicians and lobbyists would have us believe otherwise, is ”not much” – or at least, not much more.
Someone ought to tell that to our hyperactive new Premier, Kristina Keneally. She has solved the problem of her first Australian summer in the top job by, variously: blaming the Federal Government for underfunding roads; launching a speed-trap plane that got off the ground only a handful of times due to rain; dispatching her minions to draft ”tough new penalties” for those who lead police on high-speed pursuits – as if your average crim in a stolen car is likely to consider them before making one of the most impulsive decisions in the crooks’ armoury: to hit the accelerator.
Calls to remove trucks from the roads during summer were equally well meaning but fanciful, and were undermined by coming from the union representing rail workers.
And does anyone really believe that the NSW Opposition’s promise of $230,000 a year to build 10 new shark observation towers is going to make a difference in the number of attacks?
The state is not the Sydney Cricket Ground, where geographical limits and substantial resources have allowed administrators to turn a bacchanal into a safe, lily-white nanny stadium in the past decade, to mixed reviews.
Inundating us with advertising campaigns advising us to know our limits, to slip slop slap, or to swim between the flags is about the most that can be done to rescue us from the perils of being Australian.
As we all know, the risks are well worth the rewards. Anyone who tells you otherwise is probably seeking more funding, re-election or jobs for their members. Or they’re just plain unAustralian.