I like the bush. I like travelling the outback, seeing the diversity of this place. I am tolerant of flies, mosquitoes, heat, dust, corrugations, intermittent showering, digging holes for toilets, wet canvas and damp firewood. But if there’s one thing which I can’t abide, it’s snakes.
Psychologists may blame childhood misadventures, but I don’t care. I’m not interested in their rationalisations; I just don’t like snakes.
I mean, how can you trust any organism that doesn’t have shoulders? And they have those mean little eyes and no ears, and get about by sliding along. Then there are those horrible little forked tongues with which they ‘smell’! It’s all just too creepy for me.
Snakes in photos or behind zoo enclosures don’t worry me, but when I’m zipping along a bush track, my mind freezes at the sight of a menacing reptilian lump, and my natural defences turn to mud: I slobber, gurgle and plunge in the opposite direction, my knees giving way, like I’m walking on marbles in high heel shoes.
It’s enough to warrant an underwear inspection.
So you can appreciate my apprehension during an encounter at an outback national park a few years ago.
We’d found a neat little campground tucked away on the water. While it wasn’t summer, it was hot enough, and there was a certain listlessness about the camp. Consumption of fermented hops was high and the campfire ignited the familiar conflagrations.
Days in, an afternoon of shut-eye beckoned, so I disrobed. Nodding off in only underwear and a t-shirt, I woke as dusk began to descend. You know how you are after such naps: cloth-brained and immobilised.
I sat up, blinked then peered out. The others were gathered around a smoky fire 50m from the camper, so I edged along the bed for my pants and shoes. In the poor light, it took a few seconds for the reality of what I was looking at to sink in.
What I thought was a disorganised pile of clothing revealed itself to be the largest snake I’ve ever seen, coiled comfortably in the middle of my camper’s floor, smack on top of my jeans and with its chin resting on one of my shoes!
My initial instinct to holler like a Justin Bieber fan was outweighed by the realisation that the snake, so far, seemed unaware of my presence. So I gathered myself together. I’d be strong, I’d be brave, I’d be resourceful. I was, after all, the evolutionary highpoint spanning several billion years, and I was dealing with little more than a tube of ribs, muscle and bad attitude. I could get out of this without dropping the ball completely in front of my camping compatriots.
I stood warily on the bed step and reached out with my right hand for the rear tent bow protruding out over the door of my hardfloor camper. I thought, I’ll just grab that, swing deftly around, Tarzan-like, and drop outside, then I’ll wrap myself in a tea-towel and call the others over in a calm, stoic voice and we can all (with me at the back advising) do something about removing the prehistoric roustabout.
But it was further from the step to the doorway than I’d thought, and in extending myself to reach the top of the aperture, I lost my balance and fell. In a blind panic as I plummeted towards my assassin, I grasped and clung with arms and legs monkey-like to the steel tent bow. The tent stretched and the tube sagged, and casting glances over my shoulder I saw the snake, as thick as my forearm and with malevolence oozing from under every little scale, lift its head and glare. For the first time since it had made its way into the camper, it realised that it was not alone.
Summoning strength and agility untapped since before my 21st birthday hangover, I managed to get one leg around the centre upright of the three bows, pull myself around until I was standing on the pivot point then leap back on to the bed.
I edged to the top end of the bed, and assembled a barrier of pillows and bed clothes between myself and the serpent, but as I cowered into the back corner pondering the merits of a gut-wrenching scream, I saw it lift its head to scan the doona and the interloper who had mysteriously appeared in its new home.
I knew it had it in for me. It had that aggressive “I’ve got your number” look in its eye. I had to try something else. But what? With my face pressed into the camper window’s mesh I called, “Uh, hello. Can you hear me?” Nobody responded, my pleas drowned out by banal tunes from an iPod. The viper seemed agitated when I raised my voice to try again, slithering and bumping around on the floor, raising its head again as if to say, “Hey, cut that out. I’m trying to get some rest here. I’ll give you a fanging if you don’t settle down.”
I searched the bedside tubs along the side of the camper for some weapon – a flame-thrower, trench mortar, tactical missile – to direct at the cold-blooded beast but all I could find were soft toilet paper, tissues, a magazine, a pair of reading glasses and a beanie which were more likely to encourage my persecutor to stay. This was all going wrong.
Then I found a large Phillips head screwdriver but stabbing the asp would involve getting far too close – and if I threw it, I feared this would merely add to its arsenal (though in retrospect, an absence of arms makes it a fairly useless option for a snake).
But in my own arms, the screwdriver offered salvation. Turning to the front of the camper, near the bed head, I undid the large screws holding the tent to the body of the trailer. There must have been at least 10 of them, each with a fine pitch requiring multiple turns. Some were stiff too – they probably hadn’t been undone since it was built.
Eventually, I created a narrow gap along the tent’s front to squeeze through, and on to the top of the pantry, then over the gas bottles at the side and on to the ground.
Our group was the sole occupant at this out-of-the-way camp but, to my eternal embarrassment, during my kip, new neighbours had towed in and set up next to us. As I exited my camper backwards, underpants first, all eyes on the serpent, I could hear muffled cries of astonishment.
I nodded politely to the middle aged lady sitting open-mouthed under her awning, and tried explaining about a big snake only to see her run off. I took this opportunity to nip into the car, grab an old pair of shorts, and stroll as casually as I could over to our camper group.
“Who here reckons they can handle a 2m snake?” I asked, in my most casual soprano voice. After a brief pow-wow we moved, scrum-like, towards our camper, only to find the rear-floor clear of any reptilian intruder, and the front wall flapping in the breeze.
I never did find where that snake went, but now I put heavy mesh along the bottom of my camper’s entrance prior to catching a few winks, just in case.
Check out the full feature in issue #100 May 2016 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine. Subscribe today for all the latest camper trailer news, reviews and travel inspiration.