A Snake in the Sand

 Paul Jacko

  Australia boasts about 25 species of venomous snakes and over 75 of benign ones. One of the latter is a Woma – aspidites ramsai, which, amongst other prey, also includes snakes, including the venomous ones. Obviously a friend of the mankind! Ordinary white folks known it as a sand python. A mature one is “2.3 m pale brown, yellowish brown, reddish brown to olive, with numerous irregular darker bands. Juveniles have a conspicuous dark patch above each eye, a feature normally lost on adults, but retained to adulthood in pops from SE interior of Qld and sometimes those from central Australia.”

 No scientific paper in Australia today can be published without some reference to the so called original inhabitants; whether it makes sense or not. The following some sense makes, though one has to bear in mind, that Anangu troop came to the area around Ayers Rock relatively recently, in the 1930s. See Fog of Chaos Aboriginal myths.

 Anangu state that a characteristic behaviour of Kuiya (Woma) females is that they lay their eggs on a little circle of grass or other ground debris and then coil their body around them ‘like a nest’ to keep them warm and to protect them. This behaviour of the female Kuiya is described in the song-line celebrating her travels as an ancestral being to Uluru from the east.” /Uluru Fauna – The Distribution and Abundance of Vertebrate Fauna of Uluru (Ayers Rock – Mount Olga) National Park, N.T. (1993) p.92

 Perhaps she did travel from the east. Anangu apparently travelled from the west and disposed of the previous frequent travellers with extreme prejudice. Naturally, we get different stories from different tribes, which used to be plentiful, diverse and not infrequently hostile to each other. See the map in Fog of Chaos Aboriginal literacy and its enemies. One such story, which could be alluding to the displacement of one tribe by another, follows:

 The Woma Snake-Man

 Two groups of Snake-people, the Woma and the Kunia, once lived together in the desert country of central Australia. Every day they went out hunting, and every evening they returned to the same camp and cooked the birds and animals they had killed.

 But, as time passed, the Kunia Snake-men began to leave the soft and warm sunshine of the desert, and to hunt for their food among the boulders of the ranges. So one evening, after a long discussion around their campfire, the Snake-men agreed to separate – the Woma to stay where they were, and the Kunia to make their homes in the rocky places of the hills.

 A large family of the Kunia Snake-people settled among the great boulders on the eastern and souther sides of Ayers Rock, where they lived contentedly, gathering their food among the rocks, and their water from a nearby springs. But one day a party of the venomous Liru Snake people came from the west, and attacked and killed all the harmless Kunia. Today, the bodies of those Snake-people, and the camps in which they once lived, have been transformed into large groups of boulders around the base of Ayers Rock.

 Then came a time when one of the Woma Snake-men of the sandhill country, wishing to visit his friends the Kunia people, set out on a journey to Ayers Rock. But when he saw, from a distance, that the Kunia had all been killed, he was so overcome with grief that he transformed himself into a snake, which lives only in the red sandhills of the central Australia deserts. / The Dreamtime – Australian Aboriginal Myths in paintings by Ainslie Roberts with text by Charles P. Mountford / 1965 Rigby Limited, Adelaide

 However, that above mentioned violent eviction by the current dwellers apparently happened sometime between the First and Second World War, so either this story is relatively recent (not entirely out of the question), or it refers to the preceding invasion. It is also possible that it is based on nothing at all.

The author and his subject

The author and his subject

 Here is a different reptile story, The Wonderful Lizard, by a different tribe. The lizard, “saw the snakes busy cooking their food with fire that was cunningly hid behind the ant-bed and enjoying their meal. The lizard crept up cautiously, stopping now and then, and beckoning to the others, first with the right hand, and then with the left. During all this time he carried a grass-tree stick, and when he came near enough he poked this into the ant-bed, and allowed it to remain for a few minutes. The he withdrew it, and found that it had caught fire. When he saw the grass-tree stick burning he ran away towards the place where the others were waiting, and on his way he set fire to grass and bushes, and soon the country was all ablaze.

 The snakes become very angry indeed when they saw that their secret was discovered. They vowed that they would take vengeance upon everything living that came within striking distance, and that they would inflict a wound that would cause death. … What made them so angry was that they themselves were deprived of fire, because they were able to use it only when it burned within the ant-bed, and now, since it had been all taken away, they were unable to restore it or to use it.” / William R Smith – Aborigine Myths and Legends, 1930

 megafauna.stampCan we learn something from this? Yes, we can, as that hypocrite used to say before he got to occupy the White House, but what exactly should we? We know that at the time the white people arrived in Australia some local tribes could not make fire. We know that Aborigines were so careless with fire that they, very likely, caused the extinction of the Australian mega-fauna. We know that the arsonist tendencies amongst some of them remain. And the notion of collective guilt? “.. they would take vengeance upon everything living that came within striking distance..” That also seems to remain. Some even strike at the hands which feed them…


About Paul Jacko

Jacko was born in Czechoslovakia not long before the communist putsch in February 1948. He studied industrial chemistry there and left in 1969 for Australia, where he became a lawyer and established his own practice. He has now retired and beside hunting, fishing, camping, prospecting and playing golf he amuses himself by writing.
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8 Responses to A Snake in the Sand

  1. Max Tarantner says:

    Good stories. I wonder how old they are in fact.

  2. Kartell says:

    Some snakes are OK, but … Why take the risk?

  3. Monticler says:

    I ɑm not sure where yоu arе gеttіng your information, but it is a great topic. Many of Ab myths are suspicious as recent inventions – ‘tell those white fellas whatever they want to hear’ then and ‘tell them whatever can help in the court’ now.

  4. louisa V says:

    Hi there, simply become aware of your blog via Google, and found that it is truly informative. Cheers!|

  5. Max Rosenthal says:

    What is the ancient message then? Don’t feed the snakes?

  6. Kate Perry says:

    Running out of ideas? Or just having a rest?

  7. Semforloon says:

    I know this if off topic but what is the topic? Sex in sand?
    Any tips or advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks

  8. Darrina says:

    As long as I am safe somewhere else, like Ireland… You share interesting things here.

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