Not one to ever feel completely safe from the wildlife in Australia, I asked Popeye – the name I had now officially assigned him – if he knew of many shark attacks on humans in the area. As soon as I asked the question I regretted it, especially as we were going snorkelling the following day. “The most recent one,” he began. It was not the opening I had hoped for, with the seeming implication that ferocious shark attacks were a run of the mill thing in these parts that no one batted an eyelid over. I could hardly say I was surprised, just disappointed to know the truth, as where possible I like to employ the tactic of burying my head in the sand.
“Yeah so the shark took her under and had a real go at her,” Popeye continued, with a kind of disturbed relish, as he stared menacingly into my eyes. “But she started punching it, over and over again until it gave up and swam off. She was lucky. Some woman though.”
Too right, I thought. “She must have been the bionic woman,” I said, still slightly dazed from learning of the incident.
“Oh yeah she was a feisty one.”
“But it didn’t happen near here did it?” I asked more in hope than expectation.
“Wasn’t far away at all, as it goes. But you’ll be all good…we don’t normally get that many attacks, not considering how many sharks we have out here anyway.”
I paused momentarily, confused at what he meant. “So you don’t normally have many incidents but you do sometimes? Is that what you’re saying?” I’ve never been a fan of the word “normally” and none more so than at that precise moment in time.
He sucked in some smoke and turned towards me. “Well you can never be sure but even the rescue guys said she was unlucky. Wrong place, wrong time.”
Umm. How I loved the reassuring Australian logic. It really didn’t take a genius to figure out that she was “unlucky” and in the “wrong place at the wrong time”. I could accept the “unlucky” argument to a point. But to use that as an explanation to reassure us felt like encouraging a friend to go on a date with an axe murderer – “Oh go on, he seems nice enough, he’s only killed two people that we know of” – and then turning around and saying she was a bit unlucky when found with an axe in her skull: “It’s a shame but she was just in the wrong place at the wrong time,” the friend would say afterwards, before adding, “Oh well, nothing we can do about it now.”
After downing a couple more beers in quick succession to numb the reality of the painful interlude with Popeye, I retreated to more normal surroundings at the front end, which by now was virtually empty with most people, surprisingly, calling it a night except the Swedes, Mark and Ben.