Travels in Tasmania
01.04.2009 - 15.04.2009 20 °C
“Stop!” I hissed through clenched teeth, my eyes never leaving the black, scaly tail ahead of us. Every muscle in my body was tingling, I didn’t dare breathe. Brilliant plan, moving to a country filled with venomous snakes, just brilliant. “What do we do now?”
The trail was barely wide enough for one person to stand abreast, overgrown with scraggly, chest-high brush. For all I knew, we could have fifteen angry snakes on either side. “Looks like a copperhead, they’re pretty chill,” Marcus whispered from behind me, with less-than-convincing confidence. “Maybe make some noise, let him move off?” We stomped and rattled bushes hesitantly for a moment, then paused to watch and listen again. I could just see the front half of the metre-long dark, scaly body. It slowly turned in our direction.
“That’s NOT a copperhead!” I squawked, moving and breathing as little as possible. “That’s a #$#%ing Tiger!” Tiger snakes are the world’s fourth most venomous and are notorious for being curious and territorial, particularly during the breeding season. And, apparently, attracted by rattling bushes.
“It’s coming this way! You said it would be scared, WHY is it coming this way?!” My whisper had risen to a panicked squeak and I was now attempting to flatten myself against Marcus and the bushes behind me without moving my feet.
Australian Tiger snake, photo courtesy of DPIWE, Government of Tasmania
We could only catch glimpses of it through the scrub as it undulated closer and closer, until its scaly form emerged precariously near the toe of my boot. My throat closed around my heart as the seconds dragged by. As quickly as it had appeared, it turned and moved away through the brush.
Now I am not generally afraid of snakes. As a kid I caught my share of garter snakes, and I’m happy to pat pythons and embrace boa constrictors. There is just something entirely different about venomous snakes, something deep and instinctive that gets my heart racing and sets my nerves tingling even before I’ve consciously identified a snake’s presence. A few million years’ worth of evolution saying, “Dude, stay away from that,” I’d venture to guess.
That said, once I recovered from the shock, I felt privileged to have seen such a powerful and elusive creature in the wild. Despite their toxic venom, tiger snakes bite few people each year and kill very rarely, they don’t deserve an evil or dangerous reputation. Given every opportunity, they will generally leave you alone, and you should do the same. The image of that snake at my boot is burned into my memory and still sends a shiver down my spine, but I’m glad to know that he’s out there somewhere, happily snacking on potoroos. After all, it just wouldn’t be Australia if it wasn’t full of venomous snakes.
Aussie slang of the week: rough as guts (adj., uncouth), yobbo (redneck), just a titch (only a little), ‘Struth! (exclamation, abbr: ‘it’s the truth!’)