Outside open-mic night at the comedy club, an airport is now the most humourless places on earth. To customs officals a joke is surplus to requirements, the way poking it with a stick is surplus to a leopard’s requirements. It’s not surprising they don’t like smart-arses, considering all the crap people try on. In some ways gentlemen from the Middle East with a newly acquired light-aircraft licence are the least of their daily problems.
“We see everything from wildlife to weaponry,” says Customs’ Matt Wardell. “Recently, we’ve seized a Freddy Krueger glove complete with blades, cocaine hidden in children’s books, heroin in a wedding album, snakes and assault-rifle spare parts. When officers went to the last guy’s house they found two assault rifles, nine magazines, parts of a Sten gun, several handguns, rifles… ”
David Finlayson is from the Australian Quarantine And Inspection Service (AQAIS), the dudes responsible for taking that nice Balinese mask off you and burning it. Their job is to stop furrin plants and animals getting into Australia and buggering its ecology right up.
“People try to smuggle grapevine cuttings in their knickers, or eggs for breeding purposes in their bras and armpits. People reckon if they just hide things at the bottom of their suitcase they won’t be discovered. But at airports we check over 90 per cent of anything coming through – with detector dogs, X-rays or baggage search.
“We get some really weird things. A couple of years ago someone tried to bring in queen bees for breeding. He had specially produced pens with a hollow chamber. A few people don’t understand that most of the food items they’re trying to bring in are available here already. Some bring prime steaks strapped to their body. One brought a barbecued monkey as a delicacy for the family they were visiting. In some cases, they just say, ‘OK, if you’re just going to confiscate it, we’ll sit here and eat it.’ So they eat a big side of salmon or something.”
It’s not all bad news. If you’re in the market for a cheap yacht or car, or an instant lounge full of tasteful furniture, Customs holds auctions of all non-prohibited items seized. There are about two a year, in either Sydney or Melbourne, and the last was in January. Log on to www.customs.gov.au to find out when the warehouse is getting full.
How did that get there?
In 2003 an insane Pom decided English pies were better than the wholesome fare of Four ‘n’ Twenty. He was found with 10 pies plus 200g of bacon on him and fined $1300.
In 2003 a bloke on a flight from Singapore collapsed with a nasty case of heroin in his guts. He was carted off to hospital on arrival, stuck on life-support and relieved of the other 109 – unburst – pellets in his stomach.
When a teenage kid declared “mace” at customs, they discovered a more permanent way of dealing with muggers – a spiked steel ball on a chain. Get that in your handbag, missus.
Just as an overseas tour guide was about to catch his flight out of Sydney, he was given the official shoulder-tap and asked what the f-k he was doing with 58kg of frozen protected shellfish.
In 2002 a bikie appeared in Perth Magistrates Court and fined 500 bucks for importing books. Apparently the law takes a dim view of anyone attempting Home-Made Firearms or Do-it-yourself Sub-Machine Guns. In the same year, someone else’s bedtime reading included How To Build Your Own Bazooka.
A guy in Bathurst NSW was disappointed not to receive his package of 11 badly pissed-off rattlesnakes, vipers and coral snakes. The things had been wrapped in socks and sent from Sweden.
Customs officers were shaken to their beaurocratic core by the discovery of a head (in two halves), half a head (without brain), two brains (one with spinal cord and eyes still on) and half a lung. The owner claimed to be a medical specialist attending a conference, and was let through holding a gory bread knife and laughing hysterically. Possibly.
In 2002 a Canadian knitted a protective penguin suit and sent it to Tasmania in case of oil spillages. It’s not illegal, but does say something about Canadians.
When a German man was asked why he’d put “yes” against the criminal convictions question on the passenger card, he admitted he’d been banged up for shipping three tons of cannabis into Germany. Unfortunately, he also mentioned the four tons he’d got away with. Cue the sudden thunk of a visa being cancelled.
The razor-sharp instincts of officaldom were aroused when a bloke reckoned he was in Oz for an 83-day holiday on a prawn farm. Fun as this might have been, his documents revealed he was actually there to – gasp – work.
Just before the millennium, a man arrived at Perth wearing a flak jacket and carrying a blow-gun plus darts, and other survival gear. He was convinced the Y2K bug meant nuclear destruction and was off to the arse-end of WA until it was all over. Like a beaut Japanese soldier, he may still be there.
Two passengers from Vietnam were found to be travelling with 63kg of live fish. The fish were taken away and humanely destroyed. Probably in a barrel. With shotguns.
Other stuff confiscated by Australian Customs in the last five years
Giant clams, ninja throwing stars, walking sticks with concealed blades, a tarantula, scorpions, a swordstick, teargas, 7kg of haggis, an 18th-century Spanish Blunderbuss, a crocodile head, a necklace made from goat hooves, the body parts of seals, rifles, a live goldfish in a bag, a stuffed pine marten with chicken wings glued to the side, 2000 bootleg DVDs of the latest movies a month, endless slimming or penis-growth pills containing banned ingredients, cash, spiders, millions of cigarettes and a bear skull.