When I moved to Australia, my biggest fear was snakes.
They’re unnerving creatures: just a head attached to a singular strip of scaly muscle. Their stealth, their absence of limbs, flickering forked tongues and slit-like pupils – they’re so utterly different to humans that it’s unsettling.
Plus, the ones in Australia can fucking kill you. The Inland Taipan has enough venom in one bite to kill 100 humans. The Death Adder has the quickest strike in the world: less than 0.15 seconds. A bite from a Brown Snake will make you bleed from your mouth, bladder and asshole while neurotoxins seep into your brain.
I’m from New Zealand, and we don’t have dangerous creepy-crawlies. Deadly spiders don’t exist. There are no snakes lurking at your feet. In contrast, Australia is basically one big Fear Factor challenge, infested with things that slither, bite and sting. I was shit-scared.
You’ve got snakes at the beach (and swimming between the flags), snakes chilling at backyard barbecues, and snakes at the local footy match. There are snakes meaner than a racist bogan on a Sydney train, snakes who’ll bite you just for fun. I’d heard that snakes routinely skulk in toilet bowls – fuck, I wouldn’t even be safe taking a dump. Forget Snakes on a Plane – this whole country was one giant pit of serpentine horror.
There are things you can do to avoid encounters, of course. Stamp your feet to send vibrations through the ground – an alert to nearby snakes to GTFO. Stick to wide paths with good visibility (so you can see your impending death). Always check the shitter before you plonk your arse on the seat.
But as the weeks and then months passed, the fervour of my precautionary measures waned. There were no snakes in the streets, nor even in the wild areas where I went hiking. I grew bolder. I started wearing shorts that bared my legs while hiking (long pants can make your legs sweat like hot cheese wrapped in plastic when it’s 35 degrees out). Sometimes, I’d march carefree through the scrubby gums and golden tussock, without the threat of snakebite making me second-guess each step.
But I never felt completely at ease. This niggling thought would always return eventually, Even though I can’t see them, those noodly assholes are here, watching me. Hissing spectres haunted every bush.
When I finally did encounter a snake, it wasn’t quite the horrifying confrontation I expected. I was chilling on a surf beach south of Sydney, sheltering from the sun in the shade of a cliff.
A dull thud startled me. I turned to see glossy black rope nestled in the sand. It was a red-bellied black snake and it had just fallen from the top of the cliff. It sat still for a second, and if I could interpret snake facial expressions, I’d guess this guy was as shocked and confused as I was. He was shimmering ebony with jet black eyes and I could see flecks of fierce red scales where his body touched the sand. He was sinister but beautiful; bewitching.
As quickly as the thunk had hit, the snake slunk to the safety of a rocky overhang. “Wait,” I thought, “that’s it?!” No flattening of the neck. No baring of needle-like fangs. No angry hissing (snake-speak for “fuck off”). The only evidence of this peculiar meeting was a sinuous trail in the sand. I realised he was just as afraid of me as I was of him.
My relationship with snakes is now one of respect and wariness – and I reckon the feeling is mutual. Snakes don’t want trouble from some angry, spade-wielding fuckwit. They just wanna be left alone to sunbathe and scoff down tasty snacks. Sounds kinda like me tbh.
Since my first experience, I’ve come across snakes multiple times on my bush wanderings. I’ve seen huge thick brown snakes glide through the undergrowth, and a copperhead, coiled up like a dog turd, by the side of a trail. Each time, I’ve been alert with adrenaline and my bare ankles tingle. But the moment passes.
I think life is like that, sometimes. The things you build up and up to be scary and dramatic end up being nothing more than a confused snakey-dude wondering how on earth he ended up on a beach; a blip in an otherwise ordinary day.