Thursday, May 10, 2007


My beloved cat, Bill the brown Burmese, has his bedroom in our large double car garage. It is the best room in the house. It is cool in summer due to the concrete floors and the added insulation of being beneath the bedroom and bathroom section of the house. Also it is warm in winter as the bricks retain the heat and there are a number of windows which provide many pools of sunshine for Bill to sleep and to sunbake in.

Below is a picture of baby Bill when he was not much larger than a mouse.

When he is not in his bedroom, Bill is in the house on a bed or a lap. And, when he is not sleeping, he is pestering me for food.

I do allow him to venture outside the house on occasion but I do worry about his wellbeing as the farm is awash with dangers. There are snakes, of course, and you will hear more about them soon. And there are many feral cats, against which Bill has tested his fighting skills with unfortunate results.

I also try to limit his outdoor life because I don’t want him to practise his hunting skills on the local native birds and baby hares.

Fortunately he is intimidated by the birds that frequent my bird baths. They will squawk loudly at him and at times they will execute bomb dives towards him and he will retreat with his ears back and his tail between his legs.

When we are away from the farm, we always ensure that Bill is left safe and sound in his bedroom garage.

Well, we had always assumed he was safe and sound until a recent event when we found that we were in need of Steve Irwin and his snake handling skills.

I must digress here to say that I still find it difficult to accept the sudden death last year of my fellow Queenslander, the endearingly zealous and genuine conservationist, Steve Irwin.

Back to the event. It occurred on a Saturday night when we were relaxing with a drink, watching TV and Bill had retired to his bedroom. The son heard a noise coming from the garage and he remarked upon it. The spouse dismissed it assuming that it was Bill having a bit of a tussle with one of our many resident green tree frogs.

But the son wasn’t convinced and he felt that the sound was different and he went down to the garage to investigate. Suddenly we heard him yell, “Snake!”

The spouse, displaying a dose of optimism, said it may just be the blue tongue lizard that has been living in our yard. However he was soon to discover that it was a large and deadly brown snake.

Yes, Bill and a snake were having a bit of a dust up in the garage. Bill was taking an occasional swipe at the snake and the snake was lunging at him in defence.

We grabbed Bill from the garage and I took him to the kitchen where I started wiping his paws and body with a wet rag in order to remove any venom on his fur.

We all know how cats react to having nasty substances on their bodies.

“Oh dear, what is that on my coat. Best lick it off.”

The daughter decided that water was not enough to cleanse Bill so she got out the antiseptic and tipped it in a plastic container of water and she gathered a number of rags and she started to drown the poor cat in this solution.

Her actions only added to my distress. Will Bill die from an unseen puncture wound from the snake or will he die from ingesting the antiseptic solution after his next bout of grooming?

Meanwhile the spouse is in the garage with a torch and a spade trying to coax the brown snake out of his hiding place so he could dispose of it.

As a born and bred country lad, this wasn’t the spouse’s first encounter with a snake nor will it be the last.

The brave son was milling about behind his (extremely brave) father armed with a hoe and giving his father much moral support and lots of advice.

I was somewhere between the two events, that is, the drowning and/or poisoning of Bill in the kitchen and the dangerous "Steve Irwin" activity in the garage.

It should be noted here that snakes are a “protected species” in Australia. And that is fair enough if they would go about their business avoiding us as keenly as we try to avoid them. But when they enter the sanctum of your home it is another matter. We have the right to be just as much of a “protected species” as they are.

Also I would like to mention at this point that Australia has severe gun laws which restrict the ownership of guns to people who have a legitimate reason to own a gun and a gun licence. These people include farmers needing to cull feral animals and people who use guns for sport such as target shooting.

Oddly enough, criminals are not subject to any restrictions whatsoever upon their ownership and purchase of weapons or their ability to use their weapons on human beings rather than feral animals and shooting targets.

I don’t know why this is. Perhaps I should ask this current Howard Government who imposed these gun laws upon the non-criminal population about this anomaly.

I mention guns here because it would have been foolish of my spouse to have tried to “wing” the snake using his legal weapon given that all surfaces were concrete and brick. The ricochets would have made it very interesting indeed.

After a tense time, the snake was eventually “subdued”.

The Australian Eastern Brown Snake (Pseudonaja textilis) is one of Australia's more deadly creatures. They are fast-moving and aggressive and they have venom which can cause death to humans relatively quickly if left untreated. Brown snakes are not always brown and they can grow to over 6 feet in length and they are even claimed to be the world's second most deadly snakes.

After the encounter with the snake was ended, we had the long wait to see if Bill was going to start to display the telltale signs that he had been struck by the snake and in need of antivenom from the emergency veterinary clinic which was a good 30 minute car trip away.

We all watched his every move and he seemed to be okay and he even tried to return to the garage to finish off the argument with the snake.

The spouse's theory as to why Bill survived the encounter was because snakes are not good at moving about on concrete and it may not have been able to get enough of a grip on the slippery surface to make a really solid strike and therefore make good contact on Bill’s body.

Whatever the reason we are grateful for his survival. It was not his fault that his bedroom was invaded. The snake came into his haven, his bedroom. It may have been able to slip though the gap between the floor and the garage doors. Or it could have snuck in when the doors were open.

We are currently experiencing a drought so it is inevitable that the snakes may come in search of water in and about the house.

We have had a number of snakes arrive in the garage over the years.

And Bill has had three snake encounters that we have witnessed. Who knows what happens when he is on his boundary rides of the farm?

I should mention that Bill also survived his encounter with the antiseptic solution.

Below is a picture of older Bill relaxing.

The son was well pleased with Bill’s new odour. He insisted that everyone in the family have a very deep sniff of Bill because for once he smelt wonderful rather than his usual dusty, musty old cat scent.

Now I fear that the son may decide to take an antiseptic bath himself.


Anonymous said...

Your column has become an absolute addiction for me. Our computer was out of action for a few days - fixed now, thank goodness - and I just couldn't wait to see your latest offering. Scarey stuff, but thats part of being Australian.

mawaho said...

By coincidence I mentioned our snake experience today 10/12/07 in a Red Bubble message and thought we were dealing with a tiger snake. I took a photo of it and identified it as a Lowland Copperhead Snake and learnt that although venomous, they are very slow to react. Thankfully our animals were not harmed either. Always a worry.