I really dislike snakes. David is ambivalent towards them, but there's no ambivalence for me. I mean I REALLY dislike them. There are lots of snakes in Australia. In fact, there are about 170 different species of snakes here on land and in the sea. Eight of the ten most poisonous snakes in the world call Australia home, yet snakes are protected animals in Australia. To make you feel better, only 25 of these baddies are actually capable of killing humans. What a relief! Not that I wish them harm, but geez, they seem to have enough protection of their own with all that venom. We had our first encounter with a venomous brown snake near the marina in Bundaberg right after we first arrived. We were taking a walk and we barely saw a trace of him as he slipped under some cane stalks and slithered on his way. In fact, we weren't totally sure we'd seen a snake at all and quite honestly, we weren't interested in finding out. The eastern brown snake is responsible for about 60% of all the snakebite deaths in Australia. Several other folks had seen snakes in the same area. We avoided that path thereafter.
On my birthday in November, springtime in Australia, we headed to Burrum National Park for a day of hiking in a tropical paradise. I had my camera and I mentioned that I was hoping to see a snake far enough away to be safe, but close enough to allow me to photograph it without feeling intimidated. I got my birthday wish. What we thought from a distance was a large branch fallen across the path was instead a carpet python blocking our way. I photographed part of him as he slid back under the dense fern foliage. I found myself mesmerized by his size and undulating motion. At least pythons are not venomous. They're constrictors and just squeeze you to death. According to experts, the largest python on the continent is nearly 20 feet long and capable of eating large wallabies (or small children). I'm not sure this was a snake I wanted to meet or photograph. We watched as our python specimen slowly eased his way into the underbrush and I stayed determinedly in the middle of the path for the rest of the hike.
We note that there are always several brochures available for snake first-aid in the tourist centers. We read them: No tourniquets, just pressure bandages. Don't let the snake bite victim move. Identify the snake. The Bundaberg Port Marina even offered a first-aid seminar to cruisers for snake bites and had professional snake handlers on hand for demonstrations. That was reassuring.
Now that we're in Tasmania, I thought it would be too cold for snakes. But, no...there are three varieties here...all venomous. We spoke with the locals and several confirmed they'd never seen a snake here, so we felt pretty confident we'd never see one. What we forgot is that most Australians, like most Americans, don't tend to go out in the bush too much and most live in urban areas.
We sailed the boat into Macquarie Harbour, on Tasmania's west coast and then up the Gordon River. This was about as far from “urban” as you can get. It's described as “the western wilderness”. Across from historic Warner's Landing where we'd tied Nine of Cups, we waved at a kayaker who paddled by to say hello. Bob, an octogenarian kayaker no less, was camping across the river at a bush hut and we invited him to dinner aboard. During the course of our meal, he mentioned the "caretakers" that were local residents. Two large tiger snakes, the most venomous snakes in Tassie and third most venomous in Australia, liked to sunbathe on a rock behind the hut. He invited us over to take a look. Did I really want to see them?
There were no snakes in sight as we beached the dinghy the next morning. Bob met us and confirmed he hadn't seen the “boys” yet, but if we waited for few minutes, they'd probably show up. I half expected them to lurch out at us at any moment. We chatted and waited. Sure enough, a small tiger snake about 2' long poked his head up between the slats of a rotting, wooden drainage grate not far from where we were standing. As he lifted and extended his body, I could see the orange and black stripes on his underside that earned him his name. His tongue flickered and he slithered out of hiding across the porch along the side of the hut and into the grass. I could feel my skin crawl and the hairs on my arms stand at attention. I was even less than enthralled when Bob shared the fact that these slitherers can swim and they're pretty good tree climbers, too. As the little fellow disappeared behind the hut, two other tiger snakes, much larger by a couple feet, appeared, heading for the favored rock. That was enough for me. I climbed back into my skin and headed for the dinghy. I later read that tiger snakes are diurnal and generally favor cool moist areas and tussock. They are abundant near human settlements and are responsible for several fatalities.
Here in the marina, I enter the toilet and shower block with a bit of trepidation. I always check around carefully. The entry door is not raised at all and the locked metal gate is designed to keep out people, but not slithering critters. I envision a huge snake coiled up in a corner somewhere when I head in to do my business. The toss-up is whether the spiders or the snakes will get me … and then, of course, there are always the slimy worms.
There have only been six deaths in Australia attributable to snakebites since 2000. I read that bites usually occur when someone accidentally steps on the snake. It makes them irritable. According to statistics, we'd be more likely to die from a horseback riding or scuba accident or a lightning strike. Hmmm...I think we'll continue walking with our heads down.