Snakes Alive…

This is an extract from The Woman on the Mountain, Chapter 18, ‘Snakes Alive and Dead’, .

‘Once, when I was about nine, Dad and I and the leech-burning neighbour were in the bean paddock when we noticed a really big black snake sunning itself on a log beside the track. The practice then was to kill any snake one saw. The neighbour told Dad to throw his hat on the ground in front of the snake, and then run home for the hoe. He reckoned the snake wouldn’t move until the hat did.

‘I didn’t believe the snake would be so stupid, while the neighbour and I were standing — living, breathing, and so vulnerable — nearby. But he was right. That powerful, brilliant black creature was mesmerised by the hat and ignored us completely. Dad arrived, panting, and before I could think about it, swung the hoe high above his head and down, with all his strength, onto the motionless enemy. He chopped through the thick body once, twice, seemingly many times, in a turmoil now of thrashing black and red, and pink, until it lay still.

‘I think Dad felt as sick as I did.’

I have copies of The Woman on the Mountain which you can buy at a special price here.

Autumn visitor

The ornamental grapevine leaves are now red, so the little green tree snake who visited it in its summer green is no longer camouflaged.

The best it can do is mimic stems. Here it looks as if it has green frog fingers as well.

Although its head is teeny, thumbnail size, as you can see, its body is very long and fatter. Too fat to be a grapevine stem.

And way too active, although when it freezes in mid-air-curve, it could be a large tendril seeking a new hold.

I love the way it peeps out at me every now and then; or is it posing?

Vine Snake

My verandah is fringed with an ornamental grape vine, in full summer bright green leaf at present, its stems twining and curving and constantly reaching out to new holds.

Last week a familiar and faster twiner and curver was using it as camouflage.

I have seen this Green Tree Snake each summer here, but on those two past occasions it was extremely UNcamouflaged, on my tank and my ladder (see here and here). I could see the full length then of this slender snake, when it appeared about two metres long.

During this visit, it wound in and out of railings and vine stems so intricately that I could never see its whole body.

‘Green’ is a generalisation in its name as it has a range of colours, but I’d know that pretty head anywhere. Whether as Tank Snake or Ladder Snake or Vine Snake, I loved that it had returned.
And is it smiling ’hello’ back?

Ladder snake

I have seen a tree snake trying to climb a water tank here. I suspect this is the same slender Green Tree Snake, made smarter by that experience.

Now it uses the ladder.


My book says that this snake will inflate the fore part of its body when threatened; I’m not sure if it was me or the ladder that it considered threatening but it was clearly fatter at the front.


Just look at the way it manages to hang on to the ladder while investigating the old guttering leaning against the wall beside it. As unwelcoming a climbing surface as the water tank was…

My book also said that this snake can be can be grey, green, blue, brown, black or yellow, so I’m only assuming I’ve identified this one correctly.


The skin between the scales is apparently most revealed when the snake inflates – blue – but this one seems dotted with blue…?

Snake surprise

About to fill a bucket at the little overflow water tank, I just happened to see this little head poking out.

Not the sort of snake to make my heart leap, I knew — although quite what sort it was, I didn’t.


With amazing liquidity it poured itself up and over my drink bottle and further; it seemed to keep coming forever.

What was even more amazing was how it then threaded itself in and out of the netting rolled and stacked on the tank stand.

When it reached the top it searched for purchase on the plastic tank but kept slipping, so it gave up and reverse-threaded its way back down and away.


It is, I learnt, a Green Tree Snake, which can grow up to two metres long. This one was long enough!

It’s handsome and harmless, but maybe not so smart, to mistake a green tank for a tree?

Low life, high life

In the four months I have been here I had not seen a snake of any sort.

Given how many red-bellied blacks I shared my last mountain home with, and that here is equally wet and welcoming for such inhabitants, I have been on the alert, expecting to see their coastal cousins in the back garden or cruising across the grass.

Last week, I pulled up in the ute to see this handsome python digesting its lump of lunch in the sun. I was very pleased that this was my introduction to the local reptilia, and I am still on the lookout for that telltale flash of shiny black.


There is a tall grandfather casuarina on the bank above the house, and from here the magpies have a fine view and a fine stage for projecting their glorious songs each morning.


Now that the baby maggie’s most unmusical whinging has ceased, the adults’ carolling is uninterrupted, a joyful accompaniment to my breakfast.

Season of contrasts

Autumn, my favourite season, when crisp sunny days contrast with fire-warmed nights.  Taking a photo of the glory vine’s red leaves, it struck me that my roof embodies the contrasts inherent in my life here.

Here I sit in the midst of constantly surprising, stunning natural beauty, and yet just look at my roof, bristling with the technological and mechanical facilitators of my civilised life.

Left to right: mobile phone aerial, NBN broadband satellite dish, hot water tank, roof vent, slow combustion wood heater chimney, slow combustion wood stove chimney (half-hidden), and digital TV dish.


Then there’s the contrast of the temperature being cool enough to fire up the leaves of the Chinese Tallow tree, but also to stoke the solar panels with energy.


And not least, that while it’s cool enough for me to be constantly running a totally banked-down wood fire to keep the cabin cosy, the red-bellied black snakes are still  actively getting about their business of food-finding — not in my woodpile, please!

Python post

It is always wise here to carry a torch when stumbling about outside at night. However I am usually looking down, not up.

The other night, it was merely out of the corner of my eye that the top of one verandah post looked different, amongst the labyrinth of twining vines and leaves that encase them.

Indeed it was different: decorated by a diamond python, who slowly curled up almost out of sight.


Wrapped around itself into an extraordinarily tight bundle, that’s where it stayed all the next day, although as the day warmed up, the tin must have been too hot.

I assumed it had fed the night before and was quietly digesting. But I’d kept checking its whereabouts — just in case.


Next evening the torch revealed that it was hungry again and on the hunt. Poised motionless, flexed ready to strike, above the erratically filled bird feeder, where small marsupials might come to nibble leftover grains.

Whether it was successful or not, I haven’t seen it since. But I still look, above the door for example, as I go outside at night!

My scaly residents

I have always loved seeing the Jacky Lizards here, but the other day, for the first time in over 30 years, I saw a different Dragon lizard on my place.

It was bigger, with a different head and different colouring. It looked even more prehistoric than my Jacky, not really able to called ‘cute’ at all.

When I looked it up, I think it’s a Bearded Dragon. I am delighted to have it here, but as I watched it lower itself into a stalking position, I am glad it’s smaller than me.

And of course, my regular scaly but much shinier mate has been showing itself around the house almost daily. Or I may have two.

I have now seen one disappear into several log/rock places, so I know to expect one to be right near me, unseen, just about anywhere I need to be, like next to the tap or the steps.

I depend on its shyness to respect my right to get about, as I do for it.

Back on the mountain

After almost a month away, I half-expected the critters to have taken over the last bit left to me, the cabin.

They hadn’t, really — just the usual antechinus invasion, persistent but not escalated.

The verandah wasn’t so lucky. The spiders had tied the cane chair to my dad’s coffee table, with a densely woven zig-zag mesh. No room for even a skeleton to fit their legs in between table and chair.

The possum had knocked the pot of the flourishing red Wandering Jew-type plant right off the railing to crash and empty on the ground below.  One of its trailing arms hung like a decoration, caught in the climbing rose.

The destruction is particularly aggravating as this was one of the few plants that the possum doesn’t eat.

But down on the ground most of the bulbs had bloomed while I was away. Snowdrops and yellow jonquils in their large naturalised clumps had joined the Erlicheer jonquils that were, as always, first out.

The tuberoses, strongest smelling and longest lasting when cut, were flashing their incongruous pink (left) amongst all the white and yellow and green.

Up in Queensland, it had been spring, with fruit trees in blossom and deciduous trees in bright green bud. Here we are usually about six weeks behind.

Fearing I had missed the brief bridal show in my orchard, I am relieved.

The change of seasons is still an anticipated pleasure!

However, as this is my particular Eden, the warmer weather also brings out the snake in the grass — or the snowdrops!

Winter warmth

Much of this winter has been spent at the computer, writing more book talks. It’s cosy inside my cabin, with the slow combustion wood heater going all the time but fully banked down, as once the mud brick walls have heated up, they hold the warmth. No heat transfer at all.

But I am also out and about giving those talks, and was lucky to see this fabulously fiery grand scale sunset as I headed up through the Hunter the other week.

At home, in between deluges and dreary dampness, the Liquid Amber tree continues to hold all the colours of a sunset in its leaves. It glows even on the greyest of days.

I’ve enjoyed seeing that the roo family has been hanging about a lot lately. I took the photo on the right the other day, thinking how pretty the carpet of fallen leaves was.

But on the other side of the tree, in that same carpet, I spotted the red-bellied black snake whom I’d been blithely assuming was safely asleep. It was moving quite briskly too. Not fair! Winter is supposed to be my time of ease of mind when walking about in the bush, let alone the yard.

A  visitor to this site had said they can wake up if it gets warm, interrupt their hibernation.

So I want this slight winter warmth to go away, back to really cold for at least another month. And the snake to go back to bed.

Red-bellied Houdini

Just when I thought it was cold enough for any sensible snake to have gone to sleep, so had relaxed my vigilance around the house yard…

Out of the kitchen window, I spied my old mate, looking quite spry and healthy and not all sleepy. It was sniffing around the tankstand overflow pipe, which is open-ended there on the short grass.

‘Hope it doesn’t try to go up that’, I thought. ‘It’d never get back out!’

No, it turned about and came down the hill a bit. I thought it was curling up to sleep in the sun. This is one of the few parts of the yard that I have mowed in the last year, so it’s nice and open.

But the snake uncurled — and began to disappear. Its long body seemed to be sliding straight into the ground!

Yet I’d mown there a hundred times; I knew there was no hole…

Then I remembered having run over the end of the agricultural drain pipe a hundred times too. It’s just ribbed soft black plastic with drain holes, and this is the far end of the one that runs behind my backfilled cabin.

We’d buried it and just let any seeped water run away over the grass. The end is invisible but yes, it’s in about that spot.

I was worried; this was one fat snake. It would never turn around in there.  How would I get it out?? I’d just have to keep checking: could a snake back out?

But next day there it was, sunbaking in its front yard. As the day clouded over and chilled, back indoors it went.

No wonder I’d seen it around the house so much this year: it lived here, right under my feet so to speak. But I still don’t know if it backs out or turns around…