My Aussie friend Ann was working in her Queensland garden when she heard her dog barking fiercely. Getting up she wandered over to see what the fuss was, and saw movement under a pile of grass clippings. Thinking she saw a harmless blue-tongued lizard, she bent over and brushed away the grass. Suddenly a venomous brown snake shot out straight at her. Before she could even react her dog leaped in front of her, grabbed the snake mid-air and broke its neck. Her heart pounding a mile a minute, Ann praised and hugged her dog. It wasn’t until a while later that he collapsed in the doorway. In his heroic protection of Ann, he’d been bitten. She rushed him to the vet and $700 later, he was alive and recuperating.
“The funny thing is,” chuckled Neil, Ann’s husband. “if Ann had been bitten, it would’ve cost less to have her fixed up!”
But with a dog like that, you do everything you can to make sure they’re OK.
When I arrived in Australia this January I was scared of two things: snakes and spiders. Reading Bill Bryson’s fabulous book “In A Sunburned Country” had given me a holy terror of venomous things awaiting me at every turn. My Aussie friends thought this was hilarious.
Nearly every person I met had startling stories of snakes leaping at them from the feed bin or slithering down from under the hood of their car, yet they told them with laughter and shrugs of shoulders as if there was nothing to worry about. Heavens!
They assured me that snakes (referred to as Joe Blakes or wrigglies) were hardly ever seen in town and rarely in the city. This afforded me little comfort since I was spending my entire trip in the country, so I did what any sensible person would do: ask for advice on how NOT to be bitten by snakes in Australia.
Their response: “Stay out of Australia.”
Helpful buggers, aren’t they? 🙂
Although Australia has some of the most venomous snakes in the world (click here to see shiver-inducing photos), my friends informed me that more people get injured or killed from honeybee stings and horseback riding accidents than from snake-bite. There are even more injuries from car accidents than snake bites (which doesn’t say much for Aussie driving! ;-)). In fact, according to the splendid Birgit from Outback Australia Travel Secrets, when snake bite fatalities per million inhabitants are compared, they are higher in the United States than Australia. Phew!
So, dear ones, here is how NOT to be bitten by snakes in the Australian countryside:
- Wear sturdy shoes/boots. Sandals, bare feet or flimsy shoes are not adequate protection.
- Bring dogs with you. They are marvelous snake-hunters and protectors. They’re also excellent at giving warnings, offering you the chance to take a different path.
- Carry a good stick. Aussie “bushies” (folks who live in the country) always have “snake sticks” scattered around their farms. The best ones are shaped like a hockey stick giving you both distance from the snake and a flat surface with which to bash him. As my friend Robbie said: “It’s very good at making two snakes out of one.”
- Make a bit of a racket. Use your walking stick to pound the ground regularly and don’t be bashful about stomping your feet. The vibrations will warn the snakes of your location and approach, giving them time to scurry away. They are naturally shy creatures and will only attack if they’re startled or feel threatened.
- Don’t just stand there. If you see a snake, hoof it in the opposite direction. Their eyesight isn’t so good and they may mistake you for a tree and attempt to hide around your ankles.
- Be observant. Snakes are most often to be found near their food source – mice, frogs, and small animals. This includes creeks, ponds and lakes, long grass, deadwood, and feed bins. Don’t go “fossicking about” with your hands in the grass, don’t reach into hollow trees, or stick your hand into dark spaces where you can’t see what’s inside.
- Get out of their way. Snakes don’t want to see you any more than you want to see them. If you see one, keep off his path.
After all my fretting, I actually didn’t see a single snake. Not one! I hiked in the bush, tall grass, by creeks, ponds, rivers and lakes, but no snakes. I guess all that stick-pounding, boot-stomping, and dog-guarding really does the trick. 🙂
Are you scared of snakes?