Cunningham’s Gap, Queensland, Australia
We were back in Oz for a summer break which ended up being bookended with some pretty nasty bouts of pneumonia – my departing Christmas gift from the Japanese. Amidst the hospital visits there was something like a week long window of health and we managed to squeeze a hike and a wedding into those few days, so I suppose it was relatively productive…
It was Christmas and we favoured a day in the bush over the traditional festivities, mainly because family and friends would be showing up a few days later to witness the Missus and I finally make things official.
We headed for Cunningham’s Gap. A break in the continent long Great Dividing Range that, when discovered, made access to fertile farming and grazing country west of the mountains infinitely more feasible than it had been before. The thousand metre Mount Cordeaux and Mount Mitchell form the portals through which, these days, the winding blacktop of the Cunningham Highway passes.
Strolling into the forests, there was a red carpet welcome as the canopy met high above our heads.
If only we’d known how welcome a sight we truly were…
Lil Sis and her hubby led the way up through the scrub. Following came Patrick the American, veteran of many a hiking misadventure. After that: The Missus, The Kid and then I.
Little did we realise, but we were about to become a living, breathing and walking, six course Christmas Dinner.
First came the leeches, in their black waggling hordes. The shiny, little bloodsuckers I’d, that very morning, reassured The Missus we wouldn’t be having any trouble with.
“No, no need for salt my dear, it’s dry, scrubby country is Cunningham’s Gap.”
Well, it is, beyond a certain point. Between the car park and that certain point it was a rather different story. The only memories I had of the area was of a climb up Mount Cordeaux, across the highway, on the Northern side of the Gap, back in my primary school days. A drizzly, cloud clogged mid-winter outing with the family. So, really, I knew nothing…
Leech checks every five or ten minutes as we strode up through the rainforests revealed two or three more bloodsuckers settling down for their meals around our ankles. The more desperate burrowed straight into the tops of our sneakers, sensing the warm blood coursing through our veins somewhere underneath. Sunscreen around the ankles didn’t deter the wretched critters. Before my flight home to Australia I’d relieved my pack of the cheap, aerosol deodorant I’d discovered worked better than salt on the occasions leeches reared their ugly ‘heads’.
“How do these bladdy little buggazz survive when there’s nobody around?” Patrick asked flabbergasted. I chuckled. It’s always funny to hear an American speaking Australian.
Well, according to the Australian Museum:
“In dry weather, some species burrow in the soil where they can survive for many months even in a total lack of environmental water. In these conditions the body is contracted dry and rigid, the suckers not distinguishable, and the skin completely dry. Within ten minutes of sprinkling with a few drops of water, these leeches emerge, fully active.
Some feed on the blood of humans and other mammals, while others parasitise fish, frogs, turtles or birds. Some leeches will even take a meal from other sanguivorous (blood sucking) leeches which may die after the attack.
Sanguivorous leeches can ingest several times their own weight in blood at one meal. After feeding the leech retires to a dark spot to digest its meal. Digestion is slow and this enables the leech to survive during very long fasting periods (up to several months).”
So there you have it.
We made it out of the leech zone alive, pushed onwards and upwards through patches of stinging nettles until the rainforest gave way to drier scrub and the views opened up.
Having pushed through more clamouring undergrowth below the summit, then luncheoning amongst the blackboys on top I suspect we had unsuspectingly wandered into the realm of the nefarious ‘scrabbletits’. A term our party affectionately reserves for the common scrub tick after our traumatic brush with them the year before. While we munched into our ham and salad sandwiches I suspect the miniscule eight legged wayfarers, sensed their opportunity to do something similar and quietly jumped on board our sweaty frames for an internationally themed Christmas buffet of their own.
We strolled around the narrow ship’s prow of rock that made up Mount Mitchell’s summit and peeked over the sheer drops, mountainside dropping dramatically into the scenery below, before turning tail and heading back down the way we’d come.
By the time we’d all made it back to the car park I’d brushed a couple of ticks off The Kid’s back and pointed it out to the others.
“Yep, I got one,” Patrick bared his shoulder to reveal a nasty looking little bloodsucker buried proboscis deep into the meat of his back.
On the verandah at home we shared stories of flicking the little beggars off us during the drive back.
“The Missus was squealing and jumping around in the back seat of the car at one point when she found a couple of hungry ones crawling over our bags,” I laughed.
Just then Lil Sis scratched her upper thigh and froze. Hubby took a look, “Yep, there’s one.”
I found another crawling around my sweaty undies just before I showered and suspected it was more relieved than I to be let out of that unholy environment – at least up until I squeezed its innards out his arsehole.
Previously, I quoted a method of tick removal from the University of Sydney involving spraying them and letting them drop out in their own time. This advice didn’t go down too well on the verandah that evening and the dreaded i-phones were out seeking alternative advice.
Here’s some from The Queensland Museum:
“All stages of the Australian Paralysis Tick produce paralysis toxin while feeding but only adult females and especially females which have fed for 4 days or more produce enough toxin to cause paralysis. It seems almost any mammal or bird can succumb to paralysis although many native marsupials show a strong resistance. Bandicoots acquire a particularly strong resistance to tick paralysis toxin.
If an appropriate pyrethroid or similar preparation is not available then the tick will need to be pulled out. To pull ticks out, grip the ‘head’ region with fine tweezers and pull firmly and steadily. It is difficult to pull out Australian Paralysis Ticks without breaking their long mouthparts. However, if mouthparts detach they are simply dead; they cannot produce toxin or continue to burrow. Because mouthparts tend to be deeply embedded in an inflamed wound they may take several days to slough out; treat the bite site with antiseptic.”