The perils of camping: When spiders invade

By: David Cook, Photography by: David Cook


David saved the day when a cluster of eight-legged friends reached biblical proportions.

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So, here we are again, gathered around the campfire, watching the port evaporate from our glasses as we mellow into our camp chairs before slipping beneath the doona for the night. While we are here, shall we return to the perennial favourite topic pondering the impact of wildlife on our camping travels?

I’ve discussed the niceties of snakes and goannas and the like previously, but there’s more to the natural world than these reptiles. As you know, I’m a great supporter of the natural world. I figure Darwin knew what he was talking about with his theory of evolution, and I quite like Sir David Attenborough’s films. But there’s more to a nature lover than this.

Just the other day, someone sent me internet footage of a spider scurrying off with a live mouse. This video was apparently filmed here in good old Oz, and it was enough to give you the heebie-jeebies. I spared my wife the apparition as she and spidery creatures share a code: if they stay away from her, she promises not to stomp while extolling uncontrollable screams. It’s a pretty fair arrangement if you ask me.

Of course, the limitation of this tactic becomes apparent when octo-vermin are found above waist-height. At which point, the situation can escalate to involve anything from a great thwack of size-seven proportions to cigarette-lit flames blasting from a can, or sporting bats, acid vats, explosives or a gun. Basically anything that doesn’t involve running away and handing over territory to the horrid little beasties.

OH, THE HORROR

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Soon after we acquired our first camper trailer we discovered, to my wife’s dismay, that our new possession of joy harboured a breeding population of large brown hairy spiders, known in our neck of the woods as huntsmen. They’re generally benign to humans and are usually found hanging on a wall in your house, facing downwards ready to ambush an unsuspecting biter, with the assistance of gravity, and snaffle up a feed. They can grow to nearly the size of your hand.

I wouldn’t consider them attractive, but I have always been prepared to live and let live, and figure if they’re eating flies and mosquitoes in the dark they are paying their rent and to let them be, though our patchwork of Gyprock endorses my other half’s view.

My approach is to carefully place a plastic food container over them, making sure I don’t leave any legs protruding – often a difficulty if they are larger examples of the breed – carefully slide a piece of cardboard under the container and carry them out to the garden or (as the wife thoughtfully suggests) drop them over the neighbour’s fence.

But even I took exception to the clutter confined to the camper that brought rise to the fear of midnight mass scuttling. Familiar with the hearsay that claims the average adult swallows eight spiders a year, I wasn’t too keen on blowing my annual intake at one night’s camp.

We deduced the invasion occurred as a result of our slack gardening prior to the parking our camper in the front yard, where long vine tendrils extended a bridge to the pint-sized pioneers. What disturbed me was that these things were quite prosperous in appearance, implying that they were living well and finding plenty of sustenance, read: insects, or, if my recent video is any example, small mammals.

I took to whacking at the smaller ones, which we always found around late spring/early summer, indicating a mummy and a daddy elsewhere happily making hay. I justified this brutality by telling myself that I was saving the confined population from inbreeding and the associated risks of gigantism, cardiovascular or webbed toes.

But it was the parents that were our main target. The trouble was, you only saw them briefly, and they were so well camouflaged by the canvas, that mostly all you got to see were their little blood red eyes, their glistening black fangs and the prickly little hairs on their legs; all the really horrible bits.

One night we were both out of the camper, sitting around the fire. My wife decided she needed something from inside, and went off on her search while I sat on, chatting with some friends, until I heard that awful sound of a woman in absolute terror.

"Spider," I immediately thought.

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I leapt to my feet and rushed wildly towards the camper. The interior light, which had been on as I first stood up, suddenly went out just as I heard an almighty crash. It sounded an awful lot like an Esky full of ice and cans of beer and soft drink being thrown against a wall. In fact, it was so exact a sound because that’s just what it was. The errant missile had missed its intended target and tore the cable off the interior LED light strip. Not that this mattered, as the real impact occurred when icy water saturated the bed and pooled into the electrical box located, short-circuiting anyway.

Plunging into the darkness, I bumped into my hyperventilating wife as she backed away from the canvas cave. "Spider?" I asked. A nod, as from a tiger hunter suddenly bereft of his gun, was her reply.

I grabbed my head torch from the nearby wall pocket and turned it on. There on the wall above the pillows sat my prey. "Outside, now," I ordered, knowing full well that an assistant torn from her grasp on civilised and disciplined behaviour would be of no use in the coming struggle for supremacy.

I glanced around, searching for a suitable weapon. On the floor sat the porta-pottie, which I rejected instantly; the collateral damage would be beyond acceptable. Better to burn the camper to the ground.

Then it hit me: the fire. I rushed to grab green branches from a nearby tree, throwing them in a pile at the edge of the awning. When it was about waist height, I checked for my adversary and then ran towards the campfire and then the pile, igniting it with a burning branch. Alas, I could now frantically fan at its smouldering embers with a canvas wall.

Thick white smoke soon saturated the awning. I rushed inside the camper shirt over my nose, keeping a wary eye on the beast, and unzipped a window on the side near the foot of the bed. This created a draught, and soon the thick, billowing smoke was flowing into and through the interior. I stood back, watching intently, and then there they were. Two adult huntsmen and five littler ones came marching out of the door, dropped to the ground and headed off into the grass. That they were followed by a handful of cockroaches, two mice, a small snake and a wasp, I took as a win-win for all concerned.

The fact that our camper, complete with its bedding, all the contained clothes and even food smelt like the remnants of a chain smoker’s lung was a small price to pay for a goodnight’s sleep (in a sleeping bag in the back of our car, because our bed was saturated).

Even when you’re on top, you soon find out that life will get even with you.

Check out the full feature in issue #109 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine. Subscribe today for all the latest camper trailer news, reviews and travel inspiration.