Image: Magpie drinking tea.  Text: Did anyone warn them about magpies?


Short story by Iris Carden

It was a busy day in the service station cafe. A number of other travellers were waiting for their meals when the American tourists arrived.

The Americans, a husband and wife ordered their coffee and sandwiches. “Can we have those to go?” the husband asked.

“To go?” the checkout operator asked.

“He means takeaway,” another waiting customer explained.

“It’s a nice day, we’re going to eat in the park just outside,” the American explained again. “It’s not full of venomous snakes or drop bears or anything like that is it? We know everything in Australia wants to kill us.”

“You have to be careful,” the customer who had spoken earlier said. “We’ve got some of the most dangerous snakes in the world. I don’t know why they decide one’s more dangerous than another. A taipan will kill you just as dead as a tiger snake.”

“Then there’s the spiders. A woman said, you know red backs and funnel webs. If you’re camping, make sure you shake out your boots before you put them on.”

A young girl, sitting with her parents sang, “And I curse the red back spider on the toilet seat last night.” Her mother shushed her.

“Maybe we should just stay near the beach,” the American woman said, “on the sand, away from the wildlife.”

“Watch out for jellyfish. Some of them just give you a nasty sting, but box jellyfish and bluebottles could kill you. They’ll get you when you’re wading in shallow water.” A man sitting at a table added to the conversation.

“And sharks, of course if you go swimming in deeper water.,” the woman sitting with him said, “And don’t forget stonefish. Don’t walk on rocks at the beach with bare feet, you could step on a stonefish without realising it’s there. And stay away from rock pools, blue ringed octopus, you know.”

A blond woman put down her coffee cup and said, “Jellyfish took out a nuclear submarine in Moreton Bay not all that long ago.”

“Don’t forget crocodiles,” Another man added. “Freshwater crocodiles aren’t so bad, but salties will kill you. But of course sometimes you find salties in fresh water, although you don’t find freshwater crocs in salt water.”

“Beware of bunyips as well,” an older woman at another table said, and laughed.

The younger woman with her said, “Kangaroos can give a pretty nasty kick if you’re too close, and platypus have venomous spikes.”

The man who’d warned about jellyfish said, “Watch out for the birds as well, Emus can give a big kick, but Cassowaries are very dangerous.”

A man in RM Williams clothes and an Akubra hat said, “Oh cassowaries are dangerous, but the military had an actual war against the emus.”

The child began to sing, “I hope your chooks turn into emus and peck your dunny down.” Her mother shushed her again. Again she started to sing, “Let me tell you bout an interview with old man emu,” and was given a further shushing.

The American couple were looking decidedly uncomfortable. “Have any of you ever visited America?” the husband asked the room in general.

“America?” the older woman said, ” with all the guns and crime and violence? No. That’s way too dangerous.”

Most of the people in the room nodded or muttered agreement, that it was way, way, waaaaayyyy too dangerous.

The Americans’ food was ready, and they took it and left.

The woman who’d mentioned sharks said, “Does anyone think we should have told them about magpies?”

The checkout operator shrugged. “No need. If they’re eating in that park, they’ll find out for themselves soon enough.”

Just for fun, here are the songs mentioned


By Iris Carden

Iris Carden is an Australian indie author, mother, grandmother, and chronic illness patient. On good days, she writes. Because of the unpredictability of her health, she writes on an indie basis, not trying to meet deadlines. She lives on a disability support pension now, but her ultimate dream is to earn her own living from her writing.

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