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I’ve been looking through the posts from the last seven years to find references to the great Australian blight and although I am positive they must have landed in various posts, they did not do so with the appropriate tag. That is a pity. Summer has not officially found its way to these shores, but a few days of heat and sunshine inevitably bring out the number one Australian irritant, one which never earns a mention in any tourist videos or brochures– flies.

The Australian fly population exploded with the introduction of domesticated animals brought over from European stock. In Europe and Africa, insects called dung beetles co-evolved with cattle, pigs, sheep and horses. Given enough time, these handy little bugs manage to bury or remove the solid remains of the animals’ digestive systems, breaking down ubiquitous piles of poop into useful fertilizer. The settlers who brought over all the domestic animals had little or no knowledge of dung beetles, and even when their importance to the ecosystem was recognized, many of the beetles imported from the home country simply refused to survive in the Australian outback long enough to do their job.

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“The Australian grasslands were profoundly disturbed by the arrival of domestic stock. Prior to that the nutrient cycling is thought to have functioned smoothly in that the dung of the principal herbivores, the marsupials, was relatively unimportant and probably never accumulated in polluting quantities. A portion of the marsupial dung was buried by the native dung beetles. This burial speeded up decomposition and returned essential nutrients to the soil.

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“Dung beetles, or coprids, are highly specialised insects. Most of them are adapted to dung from the particular kinds of animals that are endemic to their region…..Pastures and rangelands in Australia are polluted with cattle dung at the rate of some 350-450 million pads each day….Unburied dung is the principal breeding site of two of Australia’s most important live stock fly pests; the ubiquitous and obnoxious bushfly …. and the tropical, block-sucking buffalo fly….”

from the Australian Dung beetle project 1965-1975 Dr. G. F. Bornemissza, CSIRO

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All of that to say there is a fly problem. The flies around here are slow and stupid, somewhat suicidal, and in certain parts of Australia the numbers are simply overwhelming. Even in the city, strollers can be frequently seen waving their hands in front of their faces. This is known to every Aussie as the Australian salute. Here’s an excerpt from one post I wrote about a bike ride on the day of the running of the Melbourne Cup.

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The flies are particularly fierce this time of year. Aussie flies have evolved with virtually no Darwinian sense of self preservation. They do not fly away when you start swatting, simply renew the attack from a different angle. Kamikazes of the insect world. Perhaps the horses here run so fast simply to leave flies behind.

I have seen people literally covered with flies. Any sign of sweat is an open invitation to land on the body for a free ride, wherever one happens to be going. You would think that a country with an obvious and overwhelming problem would have fly swatter stands on every high street selling the very best fly swatters money can buy, with twisted titanium backbones and plates of finely-woven mesh.

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Think again. I happen to be within walking distance of a hardware store that rivals the Pentagon in size and assortment. It could serve as a hanger for maintenance work on a Dreamliner. It is a small cog in a huge chain of hardware stores called “Bunnings.” The centre aisle has a long, elegant escalator offering access to the second story. In a section of the store loaded with deadly chemicals, they have one small box of “flyswats,” as they are called here. Made in China $1.86. They might be useful for scaring flies to death, triggering tiny little heart attacks, but they are not exactly the tool you want to kill the buggers. You need something with a steel backbone, something with stopping power, a FLYSWATTER. I have taken some trouble searching for one. Get real, they tell me. What would you want that for?

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Want to know the reason almost all Australians all live in cities? Think about it. Down Under, flies lord it over everyone, me included.

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