There was an article in our local newspaper, The Mosman Daily, last week, entitled:
“Man finds python living in his shoe”.
Australians are a fairly literal, “does what is says on the tin” kind of nation so the essence of the story was well summarised in the title. Mosman is pretty much the heart of Sydney and is completely urbanised. There are no farms, forests or significant expanses of bush land. All the roads are paved, the buildings are made of concrete and brick and we have Starbucks on every corner. Yet one of our neighbours (yes neighbours i.e. somebody who lives very close to me, in my neighbourhood in a “this could just as easily happened to me kind of way”) took a shoe from his wardrobe, went to put his foot in it and found that his foot wouldn’t fit because there was something inside. My first thought of what this might have been (remember we live in the urban jungle, not the actual jungle with trees and Tarzan swinging on vines) is a forgotten balled up sock. But no, when our neighbour went to investigate the impediment he discovered it was a baby python, curled up and having a little doze.
What I found more incredible about his story was not the actual finding of the python, but the man’s reaction to the find:
“I grew up in the country so I have found snakes in unusual places many times before. I recognised it straight away as a python and thought it was probably fairly harmless so I put it in a box with some holes in the lid, had a cup of tea and a bun and then my wife and I took a leisurely stroll down to the zoo with the python in the box and handed the little fellow over.”
I like to think that this would have been my exact reaction in the same situation (obviously after I had finished screaming until my lungs bled and had been coaxed down from the top of the wardrobe!)
In the same week, the national press carried several stories about the impact of a piece of legislation introduced in 1972 forbidding the hunting of crocodiles. As a result, in the far north of Australia, the population of saltwater crocodiles (number one predator on Steve Backshall’s Deadly Sixty list by some margin) has increased alarmingly. The rapid increase in their numbers has led to severe food shortages and has resulted in the “salties”, as they are affectionately known, having to become more resourceful when out hunting. One of the ways their ingenuity is manifesting itself is in the numbers of salties who are regularly seen wandering down high streets or into people’s gardens, primarily looking for a snack of pet dog or some other tasty morsel (small child or similar).
Steve Backshall has some interesting thoughts on the saltie and its view of humans as food in Matthew, Ben and Zach’s favourite book, “Deadly 60”:
“Of all the creatures we met that which occasionally injure or kill people, I’m sure that the vast majority only hurt people when the animal is harassed or threatened, or it mistakes a human being for something else. This is not true of the saltie. It is one of the very few animals on earth that will deliberately hunt, kill and eat a human. If you enter its watery world you can expect to disappear in a brutal flurry of water and gore.”
According to Wikipedia, “It has the strongest bite of any animal today, but its teeth are not designed to rip flesh, but to hold onto the prey item, which is an advantage that reduces the animal’s (or human’s) chance of escape. These two properties allow the crocodile to catch and drag the animal into the water with the minimal possibility of losing its prey. Then, the prey item is swallowed whole or torn into pieces either by death roll or by sudden jerks of the head.”
One of the main points of the story was to offer advice about how to react if you found yourself one day quietly sitting on the sofa watching the tea-time repeat of “Home and Away” and a saltie should wander into the lounge. The advice was priceless:
“Firstly, do not panic as this could alarm the animal and provoke an unpredictable reaction in him.”
Given that a “predictable reaction” is that it would wrap its immense jaws around your middle (jaws capable of exerting up to 3,700 pounds of pressure per square inch!) and snap you in half like a pretzel, I would definitely be prepared to take a chance on an “unpredictable reaction”.
“Secondly, do not try to tackle the animal yourself (you don’t say!). Calmly make your way to the telephone and call for help.”
For me the advice in the article was slightly incomplete as it offered nothing in the way of a suggestion as to what to do if the 3000 pound reptile was standing between you and the phone. Even having Crocodile Dundee on speed dial would seem to be of little use in this situation.
A few weeks ago, Rich took the children on a “Dads and kids” camp, back to their favourite campsite in Myall Lakes, about three hours north of here. I declined their kind invitation to accompany them on account of the fact that a) it is midwinter here and b) Myall Lakes does not qualify in my book as a campsite, it is actually just a field with no toilets or showers. I chose to spend a rather pleasant kid-and-husband-free weekend in Sydney with some other mums who felt the same about mid-winter, toilet free camping as I did!
The dads sent the kids off to collect fire wood and Zach came marching back proudly with a log bearing a baby red bellied black snake. (Number three on the Australia’s list of most venomous snakes if you remember from a previous article.) Luckily, it was more of an “ex-snake” very dead and I thank goodness for that. But I put it to you that this was not always the case, it had once been very much alive. And presumably has many relatives still thriving in the area.
So once again I am forced to ponder the question of how exactly so many Australian children make it in to adulthood when it is so easy to get eaten by a crocodile on the walk to school. The result of my mindless musings is that in fact many of them don’t make it to adulthood; the Australian population is being wiped out in droves. That explains why nobody here is actually Australian and why the government keeps repopulating the country with gullible Brits!