Sharks and sausages – the risks are small but is it worth it?

One of my favourite quotes from medical school was “There are consistently more people in Queensland killed by choking on sausages than by shark attacks.”  I liked the quote so much it inspired me to write a play called “Death by Sausage”, which toured around South East Queensland in 2010. DEATH_BY_SAUSAGE

It highlighted to me how ridiculous is society’s fear of shark attacks, given how unlikely they are statistically.

I live about 200 metres from Lighthouse Beach in Ballina.   It is once again in the national news following a serious shark attack this morning:  the 4th in under two years, including a fatal one.

At least 3 of the attacks (I’m not sure about the 4th) have been near “the wall” – where the Richmond River meets the ocean.  With the out-flowing river water there are lots of nutrients, lots of fish and lots of sharks. I’m sure it is more complex than this but the upshot is that this is a very small area where sharks particularly love to hang out.

I love “my” little beach – less than a kilometre long – and visit it daily. I no longer go out past about waist deep water though.  It seems I’ve bought into the shark attack fear I scoffed at for so many years.  My justification is as follows:

Lighthouse beach, Ballina

While acknowledging that the chance of a shark attack is still rather small, this is the very spot where these recent attacks have occurred, while there are many, many kilometres of good surfing beaches in the local area without any reported attacks. Why would anyone choose to swim/ surf near “the wall” at Lighthouse Beach?

I was on Lighthouse beach this morning, about 90 minutes before the attack happened.   I know (by sight only) the local 17-year-old who was attacked and have talked to him and his mates once or twice.  I’m told he was one of the surfers who, earlier this year, protested against the installation of a shark barrier at the very spot he was attacked today, considering it unnecessary.  I believe he is expected to make a full recovery, thank goodness. I wish him all the best.

I don’t doubt that there are many more serious injuries from sausages than sharks in Queensland, but I’m betting this statistic doesn’t hold true for those who swim/surf near “the wall” at Lighthouse Beach, Ballina.

I’m not taking my chances… with sausages, or with sharks.  😉


Gloat-worthy Geography (Geo-bragging)

I’ve just read an amusing column penned by my favourite medical writer, Dr Justin Coleman, in which he mused about life as seen while luxuriating on a beach at Byron Bay.

(I know we’re not supposed to play favourites, but let’s be honest, we all do, whether they be friends, colleagues or patients. But you have to maintain plausible deniability when it comes to your offspring.)

Justin’s column got me a-thinking about using places as status symbols / envy-elicitors.

I’ve spent most of my life living in places where other people holiday. I was born and bred on the Gold Coast, moved to Noosa as a GP registrar and have lived in the Byron Bay region for the past 22 months.  If ever challenged, I would hastily defend my choice as being all about lifestyle and not a jot about status, but would also have to admit that I do like to geo-brag now and then, and achieve this by using gloat-worthy geographical descriptions.

Living at Pomona0020

Take my home in “Noosa” for example. Technically, I did live in the Noosa Shire for ten years (although the shire has been since been amalgamated) but the little country town in which I resided for much of that time, Pomona, was forty five minutes and a world away from the luxury and prestige of Noosa Heads.  While its location could be accurately described as a small inland town 37km north of Nambour (Clive Palmer’s new heartland) and 37km south of Gympie (where Clive Palmer is thought to be far too left-wing), describing it instead as “an idyllic town in the Noosa Hinterland” conjures up a more enviable picture.

Likewise, my current home: Ballina.  “Just south of Byron Bay” (31km) sounds more enticing than “east of Lismore”.

My current residence - not hard to gloat about this location

My current residence – not hard to gloat about this location

 Mind you, as soon as I mention that I live only a couple of hundred metres from a picturesque beach, and not much further from the magnificent Shaw’s Bay and the mouth of the gorgeous Richmond River, I don’t have to do much selling!


Justin also made an interesting point about the girth of the typical Byron beach goer, or rather conspicuous lack thereof.  The North Coast of NSW (as defined by Medicare Local boundaries) came in the top 10 “slimmest” regions in recently released figures, and the area around Bryon Bay (which includes hinterland towns such as Mullumbimby, Nimbin and Bangalow) would have no doubt helped to decrease the North Coast’s collective average BMI considerably.  Mind you, it also helped to decrease the region’s childhood immunisation rates. We came in the top 10 for the slimmest (aka lowest) childhood immunisation rates (by Medicare Local region) too.

Interestingly, several of the Medicare Local catchments in the bottom 10 for childhood immunisation rates, were also in the bottom 10 for obesity rates, including Eastern Sydney and the Sunshine Coast.  Probably not a chicken and egg conundrum, more a likelihood that conscientious objectors to immunisation have similar conscientious objections to eating egg McMuffins for breakfast and KFC for lunch.

My local "near-Byron" beach.

My local “near-Byron” beach.

Time for me to go for a stroll on my near-Byron beach before I prepare my chicken-and-egg-free Byron-style dinner.

To finish, I will just point out that I’m not the only one to use Byron’s name in vain. Even Ballina airport calls itself Ballina-Byron, proclaiming itself as “the gateway to beautiful Byron Bay”.  But be warned, there is a long, albeit scenic, driveway.  The taxi fare from the “gateway” to your hotel in Byron may cost you more than your airfare from Sydney!