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I suspect the constant talk about Australia and spiders is a conspiracy to keep the sons and daughters of Éireann at home

Irish folks are obsessed with how living in Australia means constantly coping with arachnids. Well, I am now able to say, that’s a bit mad

Judging by the questions and comments, you’d really think that this continent is positively creeping with spiders. More spiders than people. Photograph: iStock

During the pandemic, when I was living in suburban southwest London with my husband and largely trapped inside, like everyone else, our marriage developed a particular strain.

He has always taken great joy in deliberately annoying me. It’s a sort of hobby for him. Interrupting the period drama I’m watching to do silly British voices so that the moment – tense or tragic or romantic – is utterly ruined. “Oooh me lungs!” he’ll cough in shrill a faux-cockney industrial urchin voice, “They’re all clogged up with fluff from the textile mill and me consumption is worsenin!”

He’ll hide the headphones I’m always losing and then eventually produce them from his pocket in peals of laughter just as I’m standing by the door with my coat on, about to lose my reason. He’ll suddenly play unbelievably loud death metal music out of the speaker on my desk to give me the fright of my life. He’ll occasionally do this when he isn’t even in the house, and therefore cannot see the result, and this strikes me as both truly committed and truly unhinged.

However, during the pandemic, things escalated.


He was taken by a fit of dark inspiration and bought a large, hairy rubber spider. I’d put my hand into the tea caddy and there it would be. I’d pull the sheet back to climb into bed after a long, weary day in an apocalyptic world and there would be Scuttles, sitting on my pillow. Once, I wandered to the bathroom barely conscious in the middle of the night and physically felt my lifespan shorten as I shrieked at its outline in the gloom of the sink. Most of my skincare hit the floor as I thrashed my arms about it panic. Every single time the spider turned up somewhere it shouldn’t be, I screamed as though death had come for me.

Because… well… you would.

And every time, my husband laughed himself on to the floor. I respected his perseverance, but started mincing around the house, eyeing the ceilings in case he’d suspended it from a clear string again to swing it at me as I ascended the stairs or put it into my just-run bubble bath, and generally lived in trepidation.

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My point is this – most Irish people appear to think that Australia is vaguely like my marriage during the pandemic, only the spiders aren’t made of rubber and your husband hasn’t deliberately placed them in the bed.

Judging by the questions and comments, you’d really think that this continent is positively creeping with spiders. More spiders than people. More spiders than slices of toast. More spiders than blades of grass. You’d think they’re reserving tables at the local brunch spot and picketing government buildings here in Canberra because their spider children are not permitted to be educated in human schools. You’d presume that when you visit McDonald’s, your McNuggets box is full of spiders, and when you go to a Pilates class at the gym, you have to brush a scuttling mass of legs and bristled abdomens from the equipment before you can get started.

These spiders are so large you can hear their feet tippy tapping as they move, as though they’re late for contemporary dance class. The image made me visibly gag in a cafe

I am beginning to suspect that the constant Irish spider talk is a government psy-op of some sort, or else everyone’s mammy and auntie Mary engaging in a co-ordinated smear campaign to keep the sons of Ireland at home. “Don’t go to Melbourne!” they shout. “Who cares what they’re paying construction workers over there. Sure you’ll be killed with the spiders. They’ll be in your pasta and everything.”

I’m veering more toward the latter as I suspect the mammies of Ireland are radically more efficient organisers (and certainly more adept at subtle psychological control) than our government.

When they give you a spot in The Irish Times, you feel compelled to do some good with it. That’s what I did when I went looking for a spice bag in Australia, and that’s what I’m doing now when I report – from here on the frontlines of spiderhood – that I’ve been in Australia for 10 months and I haven’t yet seen a single spider. Not one.

Not even a rubber one.

Now, I know how life works. I understand that once this column is published, I will see a spider. I will find one in my hair or wake one morning to my cat chomping down on the legs of a saucer-sized arachnid on the kitchen counter. But it bears saying: if you live in an Australian city, particularly if you live in an apartment, spiders are a far less relevant feature of everyday life than your mammy and auntie Mary may suggest. Chatting recently with an Irish person who has lived here for three years and travels through Australia for work, I took the opportunity to ask about spiders. Had she seen any? What is the protocol? She had seen just two in all her time, she said, both huntsman spiders, the gigantic but harmless kind that Irish people most associate with Australia and believe will launch out of any car glovebox on to their face the moment they arrive here.

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The bad news, she told me, is that they’re so large you can hear their feet tippy tapping as they move, as though they’re late for contemporary dance class. The image made me visibly gag in a cafe.

People looked at me.

The good news, she said, is that they can’t hurt you and you’ll hardly ever see one. They prefer to keep their own company. Being an optimist, I also thought about a third element of good news. If you’re married to someone who has been psychologically traumatising you with a rubber spider over a series of years, you are quite justified in telling him that spiders are his job. If I ever find one on the couch watching The Sopranos and wearing my dressing gown, it’s himself’s problem.

I’ve done my time. Spiders are largely entirely irrelevant to my life in Australia (thankfully).

They really only come up in conversation with Irish people.