Friday, November 03, 2006

When a Snake Is Not a Snake!

As promised to 'puss-in-boots' in my previous post, here is my tale of the 18th set the scene:

In the years 1986/87, I was very fortunate to live on Hinchinbrook Island. I managed the resort at Cape Richards, situated on the far northern eastern tip of that magnificent, beautiful island. 245 square miles of island to be exact, with the resort area covering only 22 acres of the island's rugged, awesome, picturesque expanse. My husband and I had separated early 1986, so I was alone in my management and the first female to manage the resort. My home on the island was a small studio-type abode situated far removed from the rest of the accommodation on the island, the restaurant/bar/kitchen building, staff quarters and machinery areas. It was only a few metres/yards below the track up to the look-out on Cape Richards itself, with views from all quarters of the surrounding ocean to Garden and Goold Islands, both very short boat trips out from Cape Richards.

Through the bushes to the left of my 'house', quite a distance away, stood two cabins each housing some of my staff. My chief maintenance guy, Ted, lived in the furtherest cabin from my home. Ted was a 'true-blue' Aussie bloke. A man of few words and one if he liked you, (particularly a woman!) you knew he would never let you down. I never questioned him on his work as I had total faith in his abilities. At the end of his day I always made a point of having a beer with him before I'd go back to my place to shower and change for the evening in the restaurant. He and I would talk about everything and anything, however over our beers I learned what was happening out in the 'field' without appearing like a 'boss'. I was the first, and I would say, the last, woman he has ever worked for. We held a mutual respect for each other.

A normal day on the island for me would commence around 6am, sometimes earlier. I would go across to my office housed in the restaurant building to attend to the daily rosters, sea plane and boat arrivals etc., etc. During the day I dressed very casually either in shorts or long t-shirts...that sort of gear. I would race home every afteroon around 5pm for a quick shower and change into 'smart island-casual' for the evening frivolities. I'd spend the evenings talking with the guests...just being 'the hostess-with-the-mostest'! All that sort of fun stuff...and it was great fun. I met so many interesting, fascinating people from throughout this country and from overseas. To digress for a moment, John Nettles star of "Midsomer Murders" was a guest on the island for seven days. Lovely fellow, he was, too.

One Sunday, I'd got 'stuck' over at the restaurant all day. The Ansett Airlines Sales/Marketing people turned up that day for a "famil"...which in other words a 'freebie' for them. In fact, it was business for both of sides of the fence. They assess the resort and what it has to offer for their travellers. I was "talked-out", "smiled-out" and feeling tired...and just plain tired of people. so I wanted some "out" time for myself. Such "time" I never took for myself, always being on hand and "performing". As the Ansett crew were staying for two days/nights, I excused myself from not dining with them the first evening of their visit with a white fib...I had "paperwork to catch up on". I said I would dine with them on the following evening. I finally escaped from the restaurant at around 7.35pm for the first time to return to my abode since early that morning. Normally, when I went home in the afternoons to shower and change for the evenings, I would close the windows and doors of my house for the night. This, of course, I hadn't had a chance to do that particular day.

I remember the time very well, as if it were only yesterday. It was 7.40pm when I walked into my home. I'd not seen television for months. Upon arriving upstairs to my living and sleeping was open-plan...I threw off the long t-shirt I had been wearing and without putting on the lights, I reached up to switch on the TV to watch "Sixty Minutes", turning on a wall light next to it at the same time. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed something move on my bed. When I turned to look, there was "George" the 18ft python that had been so aptly named by the staff. I had never set eyes on "George" before that night, though I had heard a lot about him. I wasn't very thrilled, as you can imagine, to find him on my bed! I froze. The first words that came out of my mouth were, "Jesus Bloody Christ!"

In my shocked state, I couldn't find the clothes I had just abandoned! So, I grabbed the nearest thing I could and threw it on me. I grabbed "Ruska", my twelve-year old ginger cat (yes, I was allowed to have my cat on the island. He was a house cat, rarely wandering outside other than to do his 'business'...obviously, "George" had his eye on Ruska)...and I put Ruska into the bathroom closing the door behind me. I then rushed down the spiral staircase...I don't remember my feet touching any of the stairs! I raced through the bush to Ted's cabin, yelling, 'Ted! Ted! Snake! Snake!' Ted rushed out at the sound of my strangled voice. Laughing his head off all the way back to my place, with me close behind him telling him it wasn't funny, we flew back up the staircase to find 'George' still squirming and slithering over my king-sized bed!

I grabbed my broom...I have no idea what good I was going to do with that...but it seemed right at the time. Ted kept up his laughter, gurgling "Get the camera! Get the camera!" While I'm cursing at him, telling him, "The effing camera is over at the effing get the effing snake out of here!" This went on for minutes! Both of us shouting at each other. Ted in glee and me in frantic panic! I was scared that "George" would get under the bed and we (or Ted) would never get him out!

Finally, Ted grabbed "George" by his monstrous tail. Manhandling the huge creature, Ted flung him off my deck on the Cape Richards' side of my house.

I can tell you honestly, I was a shaking mess for a little while! And I felt a bit of a hypocrite. Every day, sometimes up to three times a day, when guests arrived by seaplane or the boat contracted from the mainland, I sat them down while their luggage was being taken up to their cabins, for a "greet and meet". Over coffee, tea or juice, I would tell them about the island and what they could do and what to expect during their visit. During my talk with them, I would explain that there were snakes on the island but as the island was their (the snakes) natural habitat and we (humans) were the invaders of their territory.

The end of this story is....a few weeks later, I left the island to spend a night in Cardwell on tourist business. Upon my arrival back the following day.....Ruska was missing. I never saw him again. My heart was broken. He is still in my thoughts to this day. Ruska was a wonderful, loving pet that did no harm to anything.

What we should have done was put "George" in a large bag and transported him by boat to another part of the island. A lesson well-learned...but a lesson I wish I'd never had to learn.


  1. Anonymous2:01 AM

    That's a hell of a lot of snake Lee, I reckon the biggest I've seen would have been about 12 feet long, (he extended well over both sides of a track that was about 9 feet wide.)

  2. Yes, it was, Peter...I have not used 'poetic license'....they grow 'em big in the North!

    It certainly wasn't the nicest critter I seen on my bed!

    It's an episode I will never forget...the moments are embedded in my mind forever!

  3. "I've seen"...even...!

  4. Boy do I feel like a sissy for screaming about a spider the other night. A python in my bed might just give me a coronary.

    What a story!

  5. Don't you worry, Robbie...I think I almost had one myself! He was a big fella, that's for sure! Thick in body, as well as being so damn long! Biggest snake I've ever come across. There others around the place that I'd come across on the paths walking back to my house late at night but even though they were large, they weren't as large as 'George'. He was the grand-daddy of them all!

    In the grounds outside the restaurant grew bird's nest ferns, staghorns etc.,lots of lovely lush greenery. To protect some of the foliage from the wallabys chicken wire surrounded the beds at the bases of the trees. One could barely notice the wire as the plants disguised it.

    A couple of times a python would get through the wire but once in there it found a white-tailed bush rat or some other animal and it wouldn't be able to get out again for a couple of days or so until it had digested its dinner! Guests thought this was great and would do regular checks to watch its progress! The viewings didn't become a regular pastime of mine, though! ;)

  6. Anonymous3:15 PM

    Hells bells, Lee, what a thing to have happen to you. At least you weren't in the bed at the time! I must admit to laughing my head off at your description of you and Ted dealing with the monster, it was very well written!

    But I do feel sad about your lovely puss. I'd have hated George after that, even though he was only doing what snakes do. I have a very vivid imagination and it would have been too much for me, even now I can visualise what would have happened to Ruska. Poor pussy cat and of course, grief for you, too.

    Aside from all that, what an experience. You have led a very interesting life Lee, and I bet you have heaps more stories. Thank you for writing about that, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Glad you are here to tell the tale!!

  7. Anonymous4:13 PM

    Lee, I've never seen a snake that big, but one day many years ago when I was still living at my parent's home I wondered into the lounge room where Mum was watching TV. My chair was next to the front door which was open but there was a screen door closed. My mother's chair was next to mine when I noticed something under my chair. Upon closer inspection I saw that it was a curled up brown and yellow coloured snake - a carpet snake. It was about 4 or 5 feet long. I said to Mum "do you know there's a snake under my chair" and she replied "no but if you hum a few bars I'll fake it"...boom! boom!
    Ooops wrong reply. She immediately jumped out of her chair and peered at the snake. I moved the chair, the snake appeared to be asleep, so I got the broom and carefully hooked up the snake and took it downstairs where I let it go in some bushes.
    Don't know how it got in, there were no holes in the screen door and never saw the snake again.

  8. You can bet your bottom dollar I hated 'George' after that, Robyn. I still do! I was inconsolable. My staff searched high and low for Ruska. I was a wreck. I still try to push his loss out of my mind. He was such a wonderful, loving cat. He was quite unique, Christmas he would open his presents!! One Christmas his little act was witnessed by others so they finally believed me! One night...he was at his food bowl that had that dried cat food in it...he picked out one at a time, placing them in a circle around his bowl and then proceeded to eat them, one at a time around the ring! It was so funny! He would hug me with his front legs around my neck. As I said, he was a unique cat.

    Glad you enjoyed my not embellished in any way...I just took out my language at the scene, but you can imagine what I was saying! lol

  9. I'm not overly fond of snakes, especially BIG ones, which thankfully we don't have around here! Honestly, I don't know how I'd react if I'd find a python on my bed...a spider paralyzes me! lol What a shame that it must have gotten Ruska:-( I know it's part of nature but.....sigh!

  10. Pea, I'm not fond of snakes, long as they keep out of my space and leave my pets alone...I don't care what they do....just stay away from me. I killed a red-bellied black here in my cabin one night! Damn thing! And it was one of my cats that alerted me to its presence...slithering along a curtain rod! I know I probably will upset a lot of snake-lovers but it was in my territory/space...uninvited...and as it was around 10pm, I wasn't about to invite it to stay for drinks and the night!

    Spiders don't worry me, which is probably a good thing, as there are a lot around here. Sometimes my car looks like a mobile spiderweb!

    The creatures I fear most are wasps. I give their 'homes' a wide berth when I stumble across them...then grab some rolled up newspaper and burn them out. I react to their bites and they are painful.

  11. You can be sure, Wazza, that the snake didn't travel far and would have remained in the vicinity as carpet snakes are very territorial and usually, there is one per that territory.

    If there is a lot of movement, vibration around...they will keep away...that's why I warned my guests about snakes and their habits. Because I had a large 35kv generator going 24/7 on the island, around that particular area snakes would have steered clear. I told my guests when they went for their walks to other beaches, through the rainforests and bush to make sure they walked 'heavily'...snakes feel the vibration and mostly, will head in the opposite direction. There are death adders on the island. If one was caught, we bagged it (not me, I didn't bag them!) and sent them across to the mainland to the reptile park in Cardwell who were grateful for new stock. If a snake is frequently milked for its venom...the potency decreases. So new stock was always welcome.

    One of my staff members was 'snake mad' and had often worked at reptile parks and the like, so he was always out hunting snakes...and catching them. Actually, he was quite an handy fellow to have about. He often brought snakes down to show the guests and give them instructions and information about the various critters! The last time I saw Steve he was working at the Wild World Park just south of Port Douglas. He probably is still there or some place similar.

  12. Wow, what a story. I could picture all of that as I was at the resort you described a couple of years ago (it was closed down for the wet season at the time - I was there for a university field trip). And I can imagine your panic - I had a snake in my house a while back. It looked like an immature brown snake (very poisonous) and I was just lamenting the fact that it wasn't a python (not venomous). Still, 12' would be enough to make anyone nervous.

  13. Hi, Tanya...I'm glad you've spent some time on the island. It used to close always in February but when I was managing it, I kept it open. I could see no point in closing...someone had to be there, in my point of I just rostered staff for them to take staggered holidays. We managed to get maintenance work done in the quieter time, but I still received guests and it paid for me to remain open. Having the less people there was fun, too...because it was much more 'intimate'.

    One night I organised a Chinese night...with many courses being served throughout the evening...I'd set up a long, low table(made from what I forget now) and surrounded it with comfortable cushions on the floor and I joined the guests...and some of my staff who weren't working...and it was a really fun, relaxed evening.

    Then we had a 'poker' night...we set up tables and it was a lot of fun, too.

  14. Excellent posts, Lee - I'm doing catchup on reading - my sister Roberta had a 'pet' python - created havoc one day when she 'lost' it and had to go round the neighbourhood to ask if anybody had seen it.

    Love your take on Christmas, yes, put out the nativity!

    Love poems from another time - if only we'd known then eh?