Banjo Paterson nailed the whole ‘battler blokes on horseback’ thing with The Man from Snowy River. Absolutely nailed it. ‘Wombat holes’; ‘only Clancy stood his friend’; ‘blood from hip to shoulder from the spur’ and so onto ‘at the bottom of that terrible descent’. I don’t mind admitting that salt tears run from my eyes whenever I read ‘and alone and unassisted brought them back’ (sob). And those ‘wombat holes’ (shudder). Makes you proud to be an Aussie.
So how come Australia hasn’t produced a world-class snake poet? I mean we’ve got far and away the world’s best champion deadly killer snakes, but no iconic ballad to celebrate them. Shame!
The world’s best snake poem was written by Emily Dickinson. She was no Aussie bush girl; she was a Seppo lass from Massachusetts who spent most of her life in her bedroom thinking morbid stuff.
Check this out:
A narrow Fellow in the Grass by Emily Dickinson
A narrow Fellow in the Grass
Occasionally rides –
You may have met him? Did you not
His notice instant is –
The Grass divides as with a Comb,
A spotted Shaft is seen,
And then it closes at your Feet
And opens further on –
He likes a Boggy Acre –
A Floor too cool for Corn –
But when a Boy and Barefoot
I more than once at Noon
Have passed I thought a Whip Lash
Unbraiding in the Sun
When stooping to secure it
It wrinkled And was gone –
Several of Nature’s People
I know, and they know me
I feel for them a transport
But never met this Fellow
Attended or alone
Without a tighter Breathing
And Zero at the Bone.
How’s that last stanza? Emily nailed that whole ‘Holy Sh%*$, a snake!’ thing. ‘But never met this fellow attended or alone without a tighter breathing and zero at the bone’.
We’ve all felt that way when surprised by a snake, but Alice Piddens is the living embodiment of that freaked-out sentiment.
At the Piddens residence.
Wes: Brown snake tried to peck Cleo Spudmutton the other day.
Alice (shivering): I’m telling you now, if I ever die of a heart attack, look for a snake. There will be one, for sure.
Wes: Just let ‘em know you’re coming and they’ll get out of the way. I remember when I went to Tasmania I came across 12 tiger snakes in three days and 11 of them were already taking off before I saw them. Just stomp a bit when you walk.
Alice: It’s all right for you with your size 16 hooves. The whole house shakes when you walk around, and it shows up on seismographs in Alaska. Anyhow, what happened to the 12th one?
Wes: Yeah, well, he bailed me up.
(Shuddering Life Partner)
Tiger had the Right of Way. I acknowledged that, stepped around him, and we parted friends.
Alice (Shudder): Well aren’t you a regular Doctor Dolittle? You haven’t had them spring at you from pot plants, shoe boxes, empty wine casks, crawl across your bare foot (shudder) twice.
The truth compelled Wes to acknowledge that Alice had in fact suffered these indignities.
Wes: Fair point. There have been indignities.
Their son, Big Minch, was in no way a scaredy cat, but he did favour his mother in his attitude to snakes.
‘I hate the Joe Blakes. Your ‘phobia’ is my ‘healthy aversion’, and I reserve the right to get the heebie-jeebies at the very spotting of anything snake-ish.’
Big Minch, a career firefighter, had cleverly avoided the mandatory ‘Safe Snake Handling’ training for years, until…
At the Fire Station
Superintendent: You all good for the snake wrestling course next Monday?
Minch: Oh, damn! Sorry. What a shame. I’ve got that doctor’s appointment at the dentist to get the jury duty seen to before my Mum’s operation. It’s touch and go.
Superintendent: Well there’s a stroke of luck, because the course is actually happening today. Off you go!
Minch actually sported a bit of swagger in his step upon return from the snakefest.
Yeah, well I handled a tiger, a death adder a red belly and something else – double-banded whip slinger, or something.
Minch: They’re all different. I didn’t know snakes had personalities.
Alice: So do axe murderers.
Minch: But do you know which is the worst? The bloody carpet snake.
Alice: But they’re not poisonous.
Minch: Here’s the thing. Most snakes just want to be left alone. They want to get out of your way.
Wes: There you go, Alice. Told you.
(Alice’s eyes narrow, snake-like)
Minch: But not the carpet snake. Oh no. All a carpet snake wants to do is eat you. The only thing it is considering is where to start swallowing you. Knee? Elbow? Foot? Buttock? Face?
Alice: Face? (Thump)
Minch: Mum? Mum! Put her in the Recovery Position, Dad. I’ll get a glass of water.
A lesson to us all.