Thursday, March 17, 2011

Trouble in paradise

Long time no speaks.  There are a couple of reasons for this.

The first is that the computer had a hissyfit and has been in the fixit shop for some time.  Given that everything here from swimming lessons to school stationery to groceries costs a number 150% to 200% more than I was used to paying in NZ, then I'm in no rush to ring and find out how much it will cost to fix it. So every few days I pop to the library to clear emails and today I have borrowed a computer.

The second reason is because I've gone a bit too far in collecting local souvenirs.  Happily I did finally find a cool dolphin thing and when I get my computer back I'll show you.  Sadly I also collected something Mandurah and the Peel region is somewhat infamous for.  I am a statistic.  I am one of the several hundred people to have contracted Ross River Virus here this summer.

Ross River Virus is spread by mosquitoes.  It makes you feel like a giant pile of stuff you don't want to find on your shoe.  Then it goes away.  Then it comes back.  Apparently this can go on for years.  On the upside it makes you save money as if you have even one drink you get a week-long hangover.  When my GP rang to tell me the news she said "You don't need this", as up until then she'd only met me as the partner of someone having major surgery and the mother of two children under ongoing specialist care.  She's right, but I can't think of anyone who does need this.

Mandurah is a mosquitoey place simply due to its geography and ecosystems.  Mosquitoes are far more prolific here in summer than other seasons. The council takes various measures to keep mosquito numbers under control but this year was a huge challenge as there have been a series of exceptionally high tides and these created ideal breeding conditions.  There is also an interesting article here implicating the man-made Dawesville Channel in exacerbating the problem.  So the council hugely ramped up their usual mosquito control measures but even so mosquito numbers have been spectacularly high, some saying at unprecedented levels. These are salt marsh mosquitoes which are particularly vicious and bite throughout the day.

I am a goody-two-shoes type person when it comes to public health warnings so religiously followed the council's advice to prevent being bitten.  I ditched my black clothes and wear long, loose-fitting, pale-coloured clothing (stop sniggering).  Every morning before getting dressed I douse myself in products labelled "WARNING: May be dangerous, particularly to children, if used in large amounts on the skin, clothes or on large areas of the body, especially if you keep using it for a long time".  (Makeup is an ancient memory.) Ironically, after spending many years cooking from scratch, no-spray gardening, and fastidiously reading labels in order to keep potentially harmful chemicals away from my children, I also douse my children in this toxic stuff.  We reapply it after a few hours, after swimming, sweating or after reapplying our sunscreen. We have been doing this for months.

Despite these efforts my son and I, who are both ridiculously attractive to mosquitoes, will each cop at least six new bites a day.  Now don't go thinking I'm doing anything sporty, "lifestyley" or am lurking in wetlands; I'm simply hanging out washing at midday in 35 degree sunshine, putting out the rubbish, collecting children from school, taking them to after school activities or walking our neighbour's dog.  During these activities I get bitten in the part of my hair, on the soles of my feet and palms of my hands, on my eyelids, up inside my loose-fitting clothing, and most insultingly of all, straight through two layers of clothing, one of which is Thunderpants. The children have asked me to make them netting "Bug Burqas" and when we do buy a house I plan to erect a circus-tent-sized mosquito net right over it.

How people live with this long-term and don't go mental is a complete mystery to me. There is so much to enjoy here and the natural environment really is gorgeous, but the mosquito problem puts a serious dampener on things.  Although I've met many locals who talk about "living in paradise", I'm not so sure.  Mandurah is one of the fastest growing cities in Australia, but I've met people who after this hideous summer have had enough and are moving away.

Now I've probably ruined all chance of enticing friends and family here in summer but heck, would I wish the way I'm feeling on any of my friends, family or their children?  Errrrr, no.  Come here in winter or spring or autumn instead.  And if you are over this way in summer, I'll meet you in King's Park in Perth where we enjoyed an entire evening summer Shakespeare performance without seeing a single mosquito.  Now that's my idea of paradise.

Pics are of artist Richard Tipping's work, from here.


  1. through thundrpants? those mosquitoes must be on steroids. Sending you lots of hugs and hugs and healing thoughts from nz

  2. Hi Sue! Thundies are no match for these mozzies as they usually bite kangaroos. I've been thinking of you as I check out Perth's contemporary craft markets. Some are nearly as good as Craft2.0 ... Hugs back at you, D