The kids took me to visit the “Jesus Cave” on the bluff out of Balgo. This is a cave once used by the mission nuns as a place of prayer, hence the name. Access to the cave is by an aluminium ladder down a manhole-sized opening on the top of the cliffs of the escarpment. As I climbed out of the troopy and limped down towards the cave entrance, the kids all raced ahead, and then, suddenly came racing back again, screaming.
Sunning itself right by the top of the ladder was a two metre king brown snake. The biggest I have seen in the flesh.
The King Brown, or Mulga snake (Pseudechis australis) is one of Australia’s top ten deadly venomous snakes. I have handled a couple before, but none this big.
I cursed myself for not having brought my camera. I had not brought my catching gear either. One of the boys in particular was totally panicked, and wanted to kill the snake. I tried to explain that this was not a good idea and that provoking a snake was foolish and more than likely to result in someone being bitten. I told them that we should just leave it alone and come back another day. They would not come away with me, and were determined to kill it or chase it away. I could not have that, so I ordered them all to stay back while I moved the snake away with a couple of sticks. This put the lad into even more of a panic, and I realised with just a little gratification that he was afraid for my safety even more than I was concerned for his.
I gently lifted the snake with the sticks and started to move it away from the cave entrance. It did not seem too bothered and allowed itself to be carried, then guided away.
But my young friend was still screaming hysterically that the snake would kill me and started shying stones at it. His aim was not too good, and a couple of the rocks narrowly missed me. I told him to stop because now he was really putting me in danger, but he was too far gone to listen. The others joined him, ignoring my orders to stop. A stone or two hit the snake, and its demeanour changed instantly from passive to aggressive.
I stepped back quicker than my semi-crippled condition would normally allow. The snake followed me as stones continued to rain down on it. Finally it decided it’d had enough of being pelted, and slid down into the cave entrance, ending our chance to visit the cave that day.
On the way back I tried to explain to the youngsters that they should leave snakes alone and that most people are bitten because they try to kill them, but I could tell they were not convinced. Irrational fear is just that. Irrational.
One of the girls had filmed the incident on her phone. I will try to get a copy from her.