My holidays are now ending after two lovely weeks at our wooden cottage in the hill country, about an hour to the north of Brisbane. On a clear day we can just see the city lights in the distance, as well as Moreton Bay to the south east with the 1000 feet high sand hills of Moreton Island in the distance, and Bribie Island about twenty miles away and the Bribie Passage. To the south, between us and civilisation, loom the evocative and always beautiful Glasshouse Mountains, so named by an imaginative Lt Cook in 1770, with their poignant aboriginal stories dating back to the Dreamtime.
My son and his wife and baby son had recently moved into our cottage after relocating from Tasmania and had only been in it a few days when my son rang me in Brisbane to say that the tank water “smelt funny”. Although he had lived in the Northern Territory and flown extensively all over the Outback as a young pilot, I was not sure if he was just describing the smell and taste of normal rain water which was stored in our 10,000 gallon concrete tank under our back deck.
“No, Dad, it smells a bit like bore water.” I knew he had tasted and smell of artesian bore water some of which has a sulphurous odour. I also knew that he had a fine wine palate having worked for years running a bottle shop and doing advanced wine tasting courses. I was beginning to fear the worst as a man who is no stranger to the bush, contaminated water and the like.
When we arrived on Sunday morning, I turned on the kitchen tap and could smell what he meant. It was not too bad but it was not normal. We then went down to the tank under our deck and hauled the heavy square concrete lid off the top and with a torch peered down into the six feet deep tank which was nearly full after our record winter rainfall. We could see nothing but there was a definite “pong” whose vapours I recognised but did not let on.
With fears temporarily allayed, I called the plumber who to my surprise answered on a Sunday night and said he’d come over on Tuesday as he had some urgent jobs to do on Monday. That meant a two day wait. To add to our worries, my grandson who was six months old was sick and snuffly. No one was game to use the shower or the bath as we feared the worst and we had by this time bought drinking bottled water from the supermarket in town.
(On the left – Photo of the dead python and moi, taken by my wife with Cannon Powershot SX1 IS)
On Tuesday morning my wife left me with the children to drive to Brisbane, a trip of about one and half hours in peak hour as she had left one day in her two week holidays to see patients. The plumber arrived early and smelt the water from the kitchen tap. He sniffed and tasted it like a wine judge and concluded that it was not as smelly as my son had made out. Indeed he though it was fine. With this in mind, I showed him the tank the top of which we reached by a ladder I had at the ready. I again lugged the titan lid off and gave him my long black Maglite torch which we also keep as a weapon for intruders.
“Ah, yes, I smell what you mean, “he said with the air of a detective about to unearth a body. He peered into the gloom and then further afield than we had done. “Ah”, as his voice echoed in the tank. “I see something floating in the distance. Do you have a long stick?”
I had one handy and cut from a fallen bough. I held the torch as the smell and the object drew nearer towards us. “It’s just as you suggested, Roger. It’s a carpet snake and a big one at that.” For those of you unfamiliar with the word, “carpet snake” read “carpet python”, so called because of its markings which is like that of 1960’s carpet patterns. With a long stick we pulled it towards us until its familiar and nauseating form was in reach. I took the stick and hoping that it would not fall apart with decay, managed to pull it in toto out of the water and with a heavy “kerplop”, it dropped six feet onto the ground below. My words cannot convey the stench and as I gathered it up to take it to my vegetable garden for burial, I came close to being sick. I have a hardy stomach as a sailor in the roughest seas, but this took the cake. I hurriedly buried all eight feet of it in a long trench, fairly deep and out of reach of the frequent visitors to my garden such as nocturnal bandicoots, possums, owls and early morning scrub turkeys. There was a big lump in the middle which was probably a possum or a big rat.
To digress, about six months earlier, one morning, on opening the back door of our kitchen onto a wooden deck, my wife discovered a big carpet snake about eight feet long happily sunning itself and as result was in no hurry to move despite her fearless and repeated attempts to move on the lodger with a straw broom. She is a brave one when it comes to snakes; a true Gryffindor (viz. Harry Potter). The final result was: LINDA 1; SNAKES 0. It was this very snake which I think had crawled up the overflow pipe after a marsupial meal and hence into the one-way snake trap of our rain water tank.
When I first met her at her house in the country in 1994, she was wearing gum boots and a string of pearls around her neck (and clothes I hasten to add). One day just prior, a long green and yellow tree snake had fallen onto her from an overhanging branch while she was carrying a basket of eggs from her chook shed (fowl house) where there was also in residence a kindly old man carpet snake who kept the rats under control. She dropped the basket and pulled off the snake. It was scrambled eggs for breakfast that day.
My next task was to empty 10,000 Imperial gallons (about 50,000 litres) of stinking i.e. non-potable water down a long make- shift 100 mm pipe onto the lawn and down to the stream at the bottom of the garden. This took six hours with the pump going continuously until 9pm. I was worried the motor night burn out. As the tank is our only water supply, and in a country where water is precious, and with the tank full after the heavy winter rain, seeing it drain away to dryness was hard to watch.
The next day some men in a big truck with pumps and brushed to clean out the tank followed by the water man who reversed his 25 ton water tanker down the boggy lawn to the tank and unloaded 6,000 litres. It was nearly midday the next day, when with a tank about half full, I finally reconnected the pump. At last, I thought, I could have a shower and a shave after two days and my family members including a six month old grandson would be able to bathe again. The pump started but as it did, the man delivering the water, pulled out his long brass nozzle only to dislodge the thick, black poly-pipe which went down into the tank from the pump. It dropped out of site into the depths of the tank. I could not believe it. There it lay on the now clean bottom along with the siphon-head at the end which is a one-way valve. It was beyond reach and the tank lid was a tight squeeze even for a boy and hard to get out of, even for a snake.
Exasperated I rang up the local pump place in town some ten miles away to get someone to come out and fix up the pump. “Sorry, mate” they told me, “We can’t get anyone out there for three days.”
“Expletive”, I thought.
Everyone in Australia is your mate and one is usually addressed as “mate” irrespective of rank, birth order or age. Even the prime minister can be called, “mate” by the more informal of our species. This comes from our egalitarian ideals, being long weaned off the nipple of Mother England and with a certain minority of us being sent here “At His Majesty’s Pleasure”, and “For the term of your natural life”.
“Expletive!” once again, I uttered.
However If I dissembled the pump and brought it in, they would have a look at it. Being a “Bob the Builder”, I pulled the ends off the pump, disconnected it from the mains, and lugged it off the tank which is under our back deck, into the car and sped off. I returned soon after with new connecting hoses, complete with fittings and a temporary pump which after some wrenching, a bit of cussing and copious high pressure jets of water in the face, I had the thing working in no time and as Archimedes once said, “Eureka”. My wife was still at work and none the wiser. “The water’s back on” I shouted from under the deck, and by this time covered in mud, wet and cold and smelling like a decaying mummy.
The rest is all history….a new high pressure best Australian Davey pump in the cosmos by the end of the week, more stuffing around with teething problems, pump alarms, flashing pump warning lights examined by torch light in my pyjamas at 10.30 pm, and a few days we were drinking and all smelt like new.
However the action does not stop there. While out in the garden the next morning I notice a slim, scaly black tail disappear into the hay of our former fowl house (chook house or chook pen for an Australian). My wife, being a Gryffindor (brave) headed for the hay armed with a pitch fork while I waited around the back door-come-snake-escape route armed with an iron rake and a US Army machete which I keep by my bed at all times. It was a red bellied black snake about six feet long in the old money.
Now it is illegal to kill a snake in Australia, nay even the most venomous ones, and including the red bellied black which are not as lethal as brown snakes or taipans which are very aggressive especially when “horny”. However, being “relatively lethal” does not compute in my lingo; no politically correct mumbo jumbo for me. On the other hand, we regard snakes around the house as a sign of a healthy ecosystem but sometimes I draw the line as one could kill a child in minutes or for that matter one of our dogs, not to mention what they could do to 10,000 gallons of water and a snake-phobic young mother. Healthy is as healthy does.
I am sure some lawyer, law maker or parliamentarian, when faced with a six foot red bellied black would let common sense prevail. There is a certain law of the greater moral good which should prevail. I once nearly stood on a death adder while hunting wild pigs as a young lad and I was alone and many miles from the homestead in the outback and on dusk. In an instant, I unloaded all 13 rounds of my Remington 22 automatic on the snake as my heart stopped and I nearly unloaded my pants. I’d do it again.
P.S. It is unusual to see so many snakes in winter.