The art of the warning sign
I’m in the heart of the Daintree Rainforest in Far North Queensland, Australia. I’ve never, ever been this vigilant. At every turn I expect a redback, taipan or crocodile to spring out and sink its teeth into my face.
In my mind, every plant I accidentally brush is a gympie-gympie; a tree with a sting that can leave you in agony for years. Every rustle in the undergrowth is a cassowary; a huge bird with a dagger-like nail on its foot that’s been known to sever carotids.
In the end, the closest I get to danger is a golden orb spider that’s set up home in a café. And as any half-decent arachnologist will tell you, the golden orb spider is about as cuddly as it gets in Queensland.
But it got me thinking. With so many dangerous animals and plants, surely Australia’s warning signs represent the pinnacle of warning sign achievement?
Let’s see. Here are three lessons from three signs.
Lesson 1: The perfect warning sign only tells me things I need to know
I saw this sign on a stroll along the banks of the River Torrens in Adelaide.
I love it for its madness. And it’s pretty effective too. It made me both wary of pelicans and aware of what to do if one turned its fearsome gaze in my direction. I assume that pretty much nails the brief.
So I’m giving it one thumb up. It does the job it’s meant to do, but it could’ve been a lot shorter. I don’t need to be told to leave the park if necessary; I’ll just do it when the relentless pelican attacks get tiresome.
Lesson 2: If you want to warn people about four things, you need four signs
I saw this before a walk to Erskine Falls, just off the Great Ocean Road.
There’s something wonderfully deadpan about the last item on the list. This is Australia, it says. There are always snakes.
But I can only give it one thumb. It made me watch out for snakes, but I instantly forgot about all the other things. And anyway, what could I possibly do if a tree decided to fall on me?
Lesson 3: A sign should make you smile. (Or at least not frown.)
Australia’s signs are good. But it wasn’t until I got to New Zealand that I saw the perfect, two thumbs up sign.
It might just be me, but I think whoever wrote and designed this one did so with a bit of a wink. The subject matter is silly (penguins) and the sign is formal (shouty capital letters, black on yellow). That combo is one of the oldest tricks in the comedian’s book.
So thank you, Australia (and New Zealand). Without your warning signs I might’ve been mauled by pelicans, drowned in a flood, concussed by rocks, crushed by trees, poisoned by snakes and pecked to death by bloodthirsty penguins.
Now if someone can just tell me what this is all about, I’ll be a happy man: