In my long life, I’ve learned more than a few lessons, so I thought I’d share. This week, it’s my foolishness around dangerous snakes.
Things I did as a boy which I recommend you never ever let your own children do.
Today: don’t tease brown snakes unless you can do it from a distance.
The eastern brown is the second-most venomous snake in the world, it can be aggressive and is responsible for approximately 60% of snakebite deaths in Australia.
They were very common in Queensland where we lived on our farm in the Dawson Valley.
As school children we used to carry little kits consisting of a small tube which had a scalpel one end and Conde’s Crystals in the other.
The idea was that if you did get bitten you would slash the bite with the scalpel and sprinkle the Conde’s Crystals on the freely-bleeding wound.
This practice has subsequently been put in the “very bad idea” category and completely abandoned.
A popular prank of the era was for one kid to say to another “There’s a snake behind you” to make them jump and look around in a panic to see if they needed to find a stick in a hurry or just plain run for it.
This almost always worked because there were so many snakes.
One of my proudest moments was when one of the other students at our one-teacher school said “Michael there’s a great big brown snake behind you” but I didn’t react – didn’t do the startled thing – didn’t jump – didn’t turn around.
However, the other party persisted and very quickly the rest of the school – all 20 of them – we’re standing looking at me saying “There really is a great big brown snake behind you.”
I did eventually turn around and there really was a great big brown snake behind me, quietly sunning itself. Stifling the adrenaline rush and the natural flight instinct telling me to for God’s sake get out of there as fast as humanly possible, I said, with as much “what of it” tone as I could fake, “Yeah, so there is.”
It was a very satisfying moment but not a course of action I would recommend.
Eastern browns don’t necessarily respect or even comprehend cool.
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One day a small green tree snake found its way from the mango trees which overhung the verandas onto a lintel above the kitchen door.
Mother spotted it and sprang into action.
Saying “Stand back children, stand back, don’t move – I’ll get the gun” she grabbed Granny’s .410 from the wardrobe.
It was a real ladies’ shotgun with a silver hammer and lovely inlay in the woodwork and was as elegant a shootin’ iron as you’d encounter in a month of Sundays.
We said “Awww Mummm. It’s only a tree snake.”
But one of mother’s rarely-seen maternal surges was in full flood and not to be denied.
With curiosity overcoming ennui (just) we watched while she shot the snake, removing a small portion of its tail and a chunk of wood about the size of a twenty-cent piece (it would have been two shillings in those days) from the door surround.
The noise bounced off the kitchen walls, rattling the crockery and doing nothing good for our collective hearing, at least in the short term.
The snake wisely headed back to the mango trees as fast as its remaining reptilian self could slither.
It was one angry animal – rearing up and hissing while trying to free itself. I’m no Harry Potter – I don’t speak Parseltongue – but that snake’s body language made its intentions very, very clear.
I never did tell mother about the times I had chased eastern browns with sticks and stones, picked one up by the tail where it was coiled up on a tank stand minding its own business and tried to snap its neck the way I’d seen someone supposedly do on Movietone News, and generally treated those scaly creatures with foolish – outstandingly foolish – contempt.
But my best effort when it comes to sheer over the top foolhardiness was when I trapped one in a wheel rut by landing a large rock right on it about half way down its length.
Then – get this – I kept on throwing stones at it.
It was one angry animal – rearing up and hissing while trying to free itself.
I’m no Harry Potter – I don’t speak Parseltongue – but that snake’s body language made its intentions very, very clear.
It really, really wanted to sink it’s fangs into its tormentor and administer a lethal dose.
While this was a much more exciting way to pass the time than bringing the cows in, I fairly soon had to resume that activity.
The snake wasn’t there the next day so I guess it got away or ended up dinner for an owl but obviously it didn’t track me down, much as I’m sure it would have enjoyed levelling the score.
So what do we learn from this?
1. Young males often have no sense of their own mortality, but you can’t keep an eye on them all the time, particularly when they have 500 acres to roam in.
2. Firing a shotgun – even a small one – in a confined space without ear protection is never a good idea.
3. The fact that I’m here to recount this event is more a tribute to good luck than good judgement.