248. SNAKES.
"As for snakes, it was their happy hunting-ground".
COOTE 208. 

Considering the involvement of Idriess and Coote in recording the saga of both C.A.G.E. expeditions, there are surprisingly few snake stories. Blakeley makes no reference to snakes in Dream Millions and those minor commentators, The Captain and Taylor total two lines between them. Taylor returned to the supply dump at Illbilla on 15/12/30 and mentioned, "the only inhabitant is a big snake, which has a hole under the pile of boxes".

Taylor's 'big snake' became Idriess's fat carpet snake on rising coils and hissing vindictively, "in the subsequent brawl the reptile fought determinedly for its right of possession" of the supplies. But it is more likely that if Taylor ever had any snake problems at Illbilla Rip Van and his family would smartly take care of them.

Coote is the one who has a great fear of snakes and finds more of the reptiles than the rest of the party combined including Micky. While matting their way through sand and spinifex somewhere between Mount Udor and Illbilla in early August 1930 the pilot/journalist wrote that, "spinifex snakes were plentiful we killed dozens", he goes on to describe a wicked little creature, one of the most venomous in Australia.

A good snake story is de rigueur to an outback narrative and Coote introduces the serpent at Hell's Airport, "
as for snakes, it was their happy hunting ground", observed the stranded pilot at Ayers Rock on 29/10/30. "They were everywhere. Mostly they were the green spinifex snake, deadly venomous", Coote recalled a scene from Sinbad the Sailor, where, "the place was littered with snakes". With such a high density of snakes it's wonder Coote survived, already highly strung he would have been cat nervous in this environment.

But Coote managed to avoid the vipers for over a week until he was forced to relocate his camp from the plane to a waterhole at the Rock and while crashing through dense undergrowth, "A snake reared and hissed. Madly I struck at it with a stick and flung it several yards away", having made his first snake kill Coote becomes Tom Mix casual and dispatches the next reptile, a harmless lizard, with a single shot.

While resting in the coolness of one of Uluru's caves an inquisitive black lizard with a ratchet like bark so annoyed the pilot with its antics that, "I drew my automatic and blew its head off".-Now that is superb shooting and Allan Breaden had best look to his laurels, and Coote, having settled his demons and got the reptile story out of the way, has no further problem with snakes and lizards.

So what is Coote's deadly spinifex snake?, Basedow mentions the "so called spinifex snake" on the 1903 Government North West expedition, in the act of consigning a young specimen of the Genus Demansia to the spirit jar, "the apparently lifeless object coiled its tail around my finger", this caused great concern among the natives who thought the snake "very venomous", the Demansia are usually known as whip snakes or spinifex snakes and there are three or four species that may fill the role of villain.

It was possibly the yellow faced Whip Snake D. psammophis that Coote found 'littering' the outback, the snake is about 600 mm. long and quite slim in varying shades of green, olive and grey and found in sandy and rocky areas, also the preferred habitat of spinifex. Several snakes may inhabit the one shelter, commonly a rock slab. I suppose many rock slabs were disturbed during the Expeditions first traverse giving rise to Coote's sightings of dozens, perhaps he saw the same snake more than once!

The snake is very active in the daylight hours, hunting other snakes and lizards but to ease Coote's mind it is not deadly venomous to humans, the bite causes localised swelling and pain, perhaps some sweating and most of that is not due to the venom, an antivenom is not considered necessary.


R.Ross. 1999-2006

Basedow Herbert Journal of the Government North West Expedition 208. Coote E.H. Hell's Airport 113,207,208,213,215,216. Gow G.F. Snakes of Australia 54-57. Idriess Ion L Lasseter's Last Ride 140.