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Torn Apart: To Swim Or Not To Swim
We've all seen the adverts. First theres a close up of a bronzed beauty in a white bikini sashaying down the beach, her damp, sun-kissed locks bouncing from side to side with each step. Then the camera zooms out to a wide angle shot of the dazzling white sands and the turqouise waters lapping up against them. On the lush foreshore the palm trees can be seen gently swaying in the breeze, and in the corner of the screen a man lazily tosses a cricket ball at his son. Cue the start of the girls narration- her seductive Australian drawl is enchanting and enticing, expounding on all the great things Australian beaches have to offer and reminding you how average your life really is. By the end of it your on the phone booking your next holiday to the seaside.

But theres something that always niggles away at me, not only when watching an advert like that, but also when Im at the beach, on the coast, or just in the general vicinity of the ocean. And this is it: I dont want to be eaten. Of all the ways to go, I think being eaten alive troubles me the most. All these years of trying to stay healthy, eating the right things, keeping trim - and all it boils down to is me satisfying the hunger of some shark. As a result there are a few places in Australia I avoid- its unfortunate, because they are beautiful places, but my will to survive is strong.

Number one on my list is the state of South Australia. A large section of the coast there is known as the Great Australian Bight. More like Great Australian Bite. In 2004 an 18 year old was killed by two Great White Sharks there while he surfed just a few hundred metres away from a very crowded beach. 4 years before that incident off Cactus Beach, 600 kilometres west of Adelaide (an area with the morbid nickname 'Shark Restaurant' because of the frequency of shark reports) a 25 year old kiwi surfer became the special of the day for a hungry shark. The very next day, 200 kilometres away, another surfer suffered the same fate, this time to a Great White. Lets just say if I ever visit South Australia Im going to book into a nice little winery about 200 kilometres inland, where I can sip on some classy plonk and watch the kangaroos hop past.

And then theres Byron Bay. Bohemian enclave, hippy heaven, booming tourist town and absolutely beautiful spot- it seems even the sharks cant stay away. Late 2007 saw a spate of sightings- in just one month there were eight official reports. One lady, Linda Whitehurst, was knocked off her surf ski by a Great White after it circled her a couple of times. With her paddle as a weapon, she punched and flailed and fought and got back onto the ski, suffering minor lacerations in the process. In a seperate incident two girls were swimming when a shark began to circle them. Terrified, they made their way to an exposed shipwreck where they waited for some time while the shark continued to swim around them. With the tide coming in the water was splashing around their ankles before help arrived. Chilling, no?

150 kilometres up the coast, on North Stradbroke Island, a young female student was not so lucky. Swimming with a group of friends in the shallow waters in early 2006, she was attacked by a pack of bull sharks, who gave her only a fraction of a second to yell out 'shark!'. Reports coming out of Stradbroke in the weeks following suggest that tourists there were generally unaware of the high numbers of sharks living and breeding off North Straddy. Well, I guess now we know. And so to Stradbroke I will not go.

The good news is that the chances of getting munched by a shark are pretty slim. Actually your twice as likely to get struck by lightning, and 300 more times likely to drown, which makes my fear seem slightly irrational. And luckily for the Australian tourism industry most people have a slightly more logical way of looking at things- the fear of being eaten is so foreign that they relegate it deep to their subconscious, only to let it reappear when there actually is a shark circling them ravenously. So dont let the sharks scare you away from our gorgeous beaches, because they really are rather special. As for me, Ill be on a road trip through the outback, far away from ominous looking fins and razor sharp teeth.

Gavin Wyatt

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