Uluru. The heart of the Australian desert.
You’re sitting on a waterless toilet. You glance up, and there in the corner of the cubicle, a redback spider leers at you: all shiny black body and blood-red stripe.
There’s nowhere you can go, nothing you can do but finish your business.
The spider flexes her legs.
Flash back to 2010, and this was me, cornered by a spider and terrified I was about to experience a humiliating demise. I’d done everything I’d been told, including checking under the toilet seat before sitting down – according to our Aussie guide, this is where redback spiders like to hide, waiting to bite the bottoms of unsuspecting tourists. (This may be one of those tall stories Australians like to spin to backpackers, but I wasn’t taking any chances. Call me paranoid, but I prefer my bottom to remain bite-free.)
And yet here I was, powerless in the face of this arachnid. I’ll be honest, I could have lost it there and then. I was close to screaming. (I’ve been known to shriek at money spiders, and this was infinitely worse.)
But no. In a fit of bravery stupidity, I didn’t leave the cubicle at the first opportunity. After all, how many opportunities do you get to photograph a redback in the wild? I took out my camera, stood at the opposite side of the cubicle, and, with shaking hands, took a photo on maximum zoom.
The resulting image is out of focus, badly composed and unclear. I’m more proud of it than any other photo I’ve ever taken:
Having said that, I probably should have exited the cubicle more quickly, just in case.
Here’s what to remember:
Redbacks actually do like to hang out in bush toilets. Whether they really do nest under the rim of toilet seats is still a mystery to me. I never saw one there, but then, you can never be too careful. Probably best to get in the habit of checking, just to be on the safe side. (Incidentally, this is a habit I still have, even living in the UK where there are definitely no redback spiders lurking in the loo. Old habits die hard.)
They’re pretty commonplace. After this incident, I saw several in the corners of bush toilet cubicles. I never really got used to it, but it stopped being a point of unparalleled terror. (Although Dad, if you’re reading this, that doesn’t at all mean I’ve overcome my fear of spiders. When I find them in my house, I’ll still just cover them with upturned cups and leave them for you to deal with. After all, isn’t that what dads are there for?)
They won’t leap at you from the other side of the cubicle, fangs bared, looking for a juicy vein to bite into. Leave them be and they’ll probably leave you be. Hundreds of people must use those toilets every day and remain bite-free. As long as we keep our distance, the spiders are probably pretty used to us by now.
Of course, if you’d still prefer to run away screaming, I have total sympathy. And I might not be far behind.