Saturday, October 23, 2010

Adventures With Snakes!

You already know I have a THING about spiders. Well, that is nothing compared to my THING with snakes. And if you are a snake lover, then I should apologise, but I won't. I was born with an aversion to snakes. Not lizards, which is strange because snakes are basically just lizards without legs. I even had lizards as pets when I was a little girl. Two blue tongue lizards and two sleepy lizards. I fed them every day and spent a lot of time holding them. But try to get me near a snake and it's like I sieze up. I actually went to the trouble of approaching a snake handler at a rural show a few years ago and asked if I could touch the python curled around his neck. I really wanted to overcome my fear of snakes. My hand moved towards it, but as I got within a foot of the creature, I simply went into meltdown and had to leave quickly. So, to my first encounter with a snake. Well, that isn't hard to remember. When I was ten, my family moved from the city to the South Australian Riverland, a fruit block of approximately 20 acres. We went from a very modern house in Adelaide suburbia to what can only be called a shack in the middle of an old soldier settlement block (hence the term "block" and "blockers") surrounded by mature apricot, peach and orange trees, with a small section of natural scrub with a few big gum trees. The block was right on the River Murray with a steep cliff dropping down to the river. There were many adventures during the decade I lived there, but today, I'll just tell you about the snakes. Black snakes, brown snakes, pythons, but mostly tiger snakes, the most common snake on the Riverland. They are nasty snakes because, whereas black and brown snakes will mostly run from you, tiger snakes will go for you. You don't take chances with a tiger snake. And there were lots of them! Oh, and I mustn't forget the purple snake. Yes, purple! My first memory of a snake was with a purple one. We had a long sandy track running from the house to the main road where my Bro and Sis and I walked to catch the school bus into Loxton. The track passed through some of the natural scrub and one day, as we were walking home after getting off the bus, I looked down and there at my feet was a BRIGHT PURPLE SNAKE! Oh, yes, it was PURPLE! I went into snake meltdown, threw my school case in the air and RAN. Of course, we'd had the lecture from all the locals about what to do when you came across a snake. You were supposed to FREEZE, not move AT ALL, and let the snake move on. Are you kidding? All sense, reason and planning goes out the window at the merest hint of a snake in the vicinity of my person! So I ran, all the way back home, where my father said, "There is no such thing as a purple snake! And where is your school bag!" He didn't believe me at all. Bro and Sis hadn't seen the snake, so I got no backup there. And Dad drove me back up the track and made me go through the scrub looking for my school bag. I was in tears. All I could think about was that purple snake! And for years, I have not been able to explain it, until a couple of years ago. I was visiting some sort of animal reserve that had some snakes in glass cages. In one of those cages was a big healthy black snake. As I walked past it (feeling sick and shaky), I saw how the sunlight glinted on its gleaming black skin, like sunlight glinting on oil floating on water, and it had a PURPLE SHEEN! Mystery solved. Pity Dad isn't still around, I would have phoned him and told him straight away. I wasn't making it up, it WAS PURPLE! Maybe he's listening up there somewhere, or reading this Blog in cyber-heaven or whatever. Hope so. Would also like to thank him for teaching us kids how to use snake wires. He made them out of heavy gauge wire, about six feet long, double over and twisted around itself. We were made to carry our snake wires with us whenever we went out onto the block without him or without Patchy, our dog who was the best snake dog in the world. But I'll tell you about him in the next blog. I always felt safer with my snake wire in my hand. And I had more than one occasion to use it! I'll finish Part One with the Day of the Four Tiger Snakes. As I've said, our block ended in a steep cliff which dropped down into the river. Across the river were the endless flood plains of untamed bush and backwaters. The pump which we relied on to pump water onto the block to irrigate the fruit trees lay at the base of this cliff and there was a set of steps carved into the cliff face to access the pump. Grass grew on either side of the steps and got quite high before it dried out during the summer months. My siblings and I had carved three seats into the cliff face and would sometimes take our fishing rods down there, sit quietly on the sandstone seats we'd carved and watch the Murray Cod swim around our hooks and bait (yes, the river was clear back then, we're talking early and mid 60's). I decided to go down to do some fishing myself one hot summer's day (it was ALWAYS hot there in the summer) and was about to descend the carved steps when, to my immediate right, a tiger snake raised it's head above the brown grass, hissed and flattened its head. Yes, just like a cobra! Just as I was about to throw my fishing rod in the air and run, another snake to my immediate left raised it's head, hissed and flattened its head. Now, if you think that is a tall story, I haven't finished yet! I was so terrified (both snakes were within striking distance of me) that I actually did freeze, not because it was the correct thing to do, but because I thought I was having a heart attack! As I stood there, truly frozen with fear, a third snake lifted its head about four feet to the right of me, and then a fourth snake did the same about four feet to the left of me. FOUR TIGER SNAKES hissing with flattened heads! I thought I was dead for sure! I was about twelve at the time, just a little bit of a girl with no courage at all. At that moment, our dog Patchy came up behind me and went berserk. He went for each of the snakes in turn, barking (he had a particular bark for snakes), jumping up and down in the grass (he was only a little dog but completely fearless), and drove each of those snakes back down into the grass. Which meant I couldn't see them and didn't know which direction they were going in. That was when my legs started to move again! And the next thing I knew, I'd run all the way back up the track (uphill) to the house and run inside to tell Mum. Who, of course, thought I was just exaggerating and didn't pay me much mind at all. But Patchy knew, bless him. He knew we hated snakes and used to bring us gifts of dead ones he'd killed. He dropped a big black snake onto the front doormat one day. Dad went out to get rid of it and it rose up and challenged him. It wasn't dead! Dad killed it. And that's just the first part of my adventures with snakes. I killed quite a few over the years, but that is for Part Two.


  1. Thank God for Patchy!

  2. Runs in the family, I remember jumping 10 feet in the sky on the way to school in Strath at the glimmer of a brown snake and high tailing it back home. I've never run 1km so fast in my life, all the neighbours saw was a screaming blur.