Everyone knows Australia is teeming with beasties. And even if I hadn’t been aware of it, someone very helpfully gave me a book called ‘Dangerous Australians: the complete guide to Australia’s most deadly creatures’ when I first arrived. It pointed out all the various horrors that awaited me if I dared venture into the sea or the bush or even if I just stayed inside. Accordingly, I spent my first year jumping whenever a leaf fluttered on the pavement and tiptoeing across any grass that was more than a centimetre tall. Thankfully, the perceived danger began to lessen the longer I lived here and I discovered there weren’t sharks at every beach or poisonous spiders waiting to sink their fangs into me in my bed.
Over the years I became used to the tiny skinks that rifle through the leaves in the garden or finding a blue-tongue lizard sunning itself on the doormat. I learned to wave my arms before me so I wouldn’t get entangled in the spinnaker sails of spider webs that bedeck the garden in the morning, and I checked my shoes for all kinds of insects before I put them on. And I thought how wonderful it was that nature managed to assert itself when humankind kept paving over paradise, ripping out the trees and replacing gardens with al fresco living spaces complete with rugs and upholstered patio furniture. How amazing it was to see pelicans soaring above my house and to hear fruit bats and king parrots stealing the bananas that we were just about to pick. I began to feel pretty relaxed.
That was then, though, and now we’re away from the suburbs and in fair-dinkum countryside, those dastardly Dangerous Australians keep showing up. It helps that I find Australia’s nature endlessly fascinating. The other day, for instance, there was a rare sighting of a Regent Bowerbird in the garden, a flash of brilliant gold and black, and I was so thrilled I almost had to lie down. All the same, I don’t walk with such abandon in the grass anymore or reach down to pick something or even smell a flower without first checking. You have to be mindful. Like yesterday morning, when something caught my eye as I closed the door behind me on the back veranda. In the moment it took for me to understand what it was, the snake made a frantic bid for freedom, trying to climb the wall in its effort to get away from me. It wasn’t a tiny thing, not the sort of shoelace-size viper you might come across in Europe, but a metre-long red-bellied black snake. I hadn’t expected to find one there but I should have, given that green tree frogs and microbats live in the crevices of the veranda posts and geckos forage for insects in the cracks. That’s quite a feast awaiting a hungry snake. A red-bellied black is a timid snake, usually eager to get out of your way, but it’s also a venomous one and so, for several hours, Anthony and I tried to get it to move on. To no avail. It’s currently draped around the plant pots and we’re using a different door to go outside.
As I stood and wondered what to do with this new intruder, I glanced along the breezeway to the carpet python that was curled up asleep under the clear roof. I have an entirely different relationship with pythons and I’ve become quite fond of them. They’re not venomous, for a start, and really quite docile, even if their size makes them look so startling. We removed the last one when it entered the coop and the guinea fowl were trapped (see this previous post) but, like a London bus, I knew another would be along eventually. I welcome them because they eat the rats and mice that are always found in country properties, and especially here, given we have a macadamia farm next door and five acres of our own pecans. Nuts = rats = snakes. We humans have attracted them into our lives and so we only have ourselves to blame.
Rats also mean brown snakes, like the one that is currently coiled up in the flower bed next to the drive. The problem with brown snakes is not just that they’re the second-most venomous snake in the world (yep, just) but that they don’t get out of your way. They remain very still and hope you’ll pass. So you tend not to notice them until you’re virtually on top of them and that’s when most people get bitten. An average of two people each year are killed by them which doesn’t make me feel better about having them in my garden. My blood runs cold the moment I spot one – it’s a primal response. Of course, everything is connected, and it’s good to know that black snakes eat the young of brown snakes.
This is the stuff of many people’s nightmares and certainly I have moments when I think: bugger this, let’s move back to Britain and deal with nothing worse than wasp stings. The snake issue is why Anthony has created the new borders at a distance from the house, giving us a barrier of mown grass even a python is less likely to cross. I’m hoping the guinea fowl will, in time, alert us to the presence of snakes, too, although my little brood don’t seem to have found a voice yet.
We can’t have the bountiful nature we so love without there being predators. Not in Australia, at any rate. Our land abounds in nature’s gifts, goes a line of the national anthem. Well, yes it does. This morning I watched a wedge-tailed eagle fly low over the grass in front of the house (hopefully looking for snakes) and just half an hour later, there was the pure white of a grey goshawk making its way along the side of the house. They were hunting and, just like the snakes, they’re not interested in us unless we get in the way.
In the end, I suppose, if you choose to live in Eden then you must accept a snake or two. I’m coming to terms with my Dangerous Australians but it is definitely a work in progress. I’m fine, really I am. So long as I can continue to use the other door.
What’s your Eden?
Beautifully written Colin. I loved reading it.
Thank you, Mr C!
So perfectly put! I can really understand the tension between feeling amazed and fearful at the same time. A friend of mine who briefly lived in Oz described it as ‘the only place I’ve ever lived where I was aware that humans are not the dominant species’. I liked that a lot – I mean, why must we always assume we should be?
That’s so true – I feel the same. Turn your back and nature will hop in (literally, in some cases)! I think that’s one of the things I love about this country, that it simply refuses to be curated, or maybe tamed is the better word. The black snake is still there – I’m getting used to it now…
Scary stuff! Kudos to you for learning to live in relative harmony with the beasties. Not sure I’d be able to do it, even if your spectacular nature is a big plus!
The flip side to the lovely things, and yet they’re lovely, too. So long as they keep their distance!
Love this epistle
Thanks, Matt. A letter from the snake front…