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Give me a ladder, anytime

                                                   I personally always like finding snakes.
                                                  Geof Huth

I don't mind an elephant in the room. But a snake?

I don't mind a snake outside. Not so sure how I'd deal with an elephant, though.

Chacun à son goût, if I can quote Robbie Williams' chest.

I was born in New Zealand, remember. No land-based snakes. So 30 or so years in a snakefree zone.

I lived in Sydney, mainly in the inner suburbs, for the next 30 or so years. Nearest I came to seeing a snake was a shed skin attached to a branch on a trail in the Blue Mountains.

Only since I came here.....

Dead snakes, live snakes, big snakes, small snakes, venomous, non-venomous, brown, black, green. Tree snakes, see snakes, no sea snakes. No elephants, except when the circus comes to town.

Outside, I leave the snakes to their snake oil business. Pause till they pass, or I walk quickly away in the direction opposite to the one they're going in. Snake my way around them at a distance if they're lying there sunning themselves. Maybe I wouldn't go so far as to say I liked finding snakes, but I have learnt to coexist with them.

Until they trespass.....(Notice the sibilance of that last word. It's to be uttered hissingly. & wasn't he the Secretary of State—more sibilance—for Tricky Dicky? Talk about snakes!)

But a snake inside, in the next room, perhaps wishing to sit in my lap, like a cat, or curl up at my feet. Fuck that. The thought of a snake inside is sufficient to be an avatar of paranoia. The real thing? FREAKOUT!!!!!

So forgive me that I misquote Shakespeare & that I kill'd the snake not scotch'd it. & let me close by offering up the words of W. C. Fields as antidote.

Always carry a flagon of whiskey in case of snakebite and furthermore always carry a small snake.

Crocodile Rock

You move to a new town, draw up a list of things that you want to see or do, work your way steadily through the list. & then, about halfway through, you stop.

Until you decide it's time to move on. & then you pick up the list again, maybe add or take off a couple of things because of what you've heard about them.

There are two main roads that go down to the ocean. Rule of thumb is to do the round trip, just over 100 kilometres, no matter which way we choose to get there. It means that either about 12 kilometres before we reach the sea or 12 kilometres after we leave it, we pass a side road that is signposted "Crocodile Farm." We've always passed by it before, but decided to visit it yesterday as we headed to the beach for a bit of ocean tang & a fish & chips lunch.

Spent a great 2 to 3 hours. Learnt a whole lot about crocodiles—the crocodile as co-inhabitant of the planet with the dinosaur; the crocodile as religious object in ancient Egypt & in modern-day Melanesian clans; how the crocodile is born with 67 teeth, but one of those is intended solely to break through the shell at birth, falls out soon after, & how, though there are never more than 66 teeth at any one time, the crocodile can grow up to 3000 teeth in its lifetime. Which can be 70 or so years. How, though the popular nomenclature is freshwater or saltwater crocodiles, they are all essentially freshwater; it's just that one variety has the ability to extract & extrude the salt it takes up. How the freshwater crocodile has a long thin snout for catching its prey in narrow rivers, unlike the saltwater which is much more wide & can catch & consume much larger prey. Including humans. How the crocodile's back feet have webbed claws, but the web is vestigial.

The farm is split into two parts. One, the commercial aspect, crocodiles grown for skin or meat, we didn't get to see. The tourist part, though, is an essential part of the commercial aspect. What you get to see, up close & personal, only a single wire fence away (plus, of course, the extra metre or so you give yourself for safety) are primarily breeding ponds, most of them containing a mating pair, the male twice the size of the female, & generally caught after they'd taken up residence in an area of high human habitation & needed to be removed. One was caught after it had been sighted in the waterski park of the Fitzroy River which runs through the city. During its capture, it was discovered that there were actually three crocodiles living in the area, but the permit allowed for only one to be taken. So the others remain there, along with the 50 or so that are known to inhabit the river. Another was removed from a Cairns swimming hole popular with the workers at the nextdoor sugar mill. The farmer who owned the land knew the crocodile was there because he'd seen it at night, but no matter how often he warned the swimmers they paid no attention because they hadn't seen it. He became so nervous about it that he called in the experts to have it removed, & a large crowd gathered to watch the event. The owner of the crocodile farm reckons he could tell who amongst the crowd had been swimming there because of the looks of absolute horror that appeared on some faces as the several metres long animal was tied up preparatory to being taken away.

There is also one large pond that contains a number of young males selected from those bred on site. Twenty crocodiles used to be there. There are now only 18.....

The crocodile farm practises what it calls conservation by commercialisation. It has persuaded a number of the owners of cattle spreads in the Northern Territory to stop (illegally) shooting any crocodile that came onto their land & took the occasional head of cattle, & instead find out where the nests were & harvest the eggs annually for sale to the crocodile farm to be incubated & grown for the skin & meat. The cattle people get $10 an egg; a crocodile matures at around 15 years of age & lives for another 50+ years. There are about 50 eggs to a laying. I think the figure quoted for the value of the skin & meat of a three-year old, three metre long cultivated crocodile is $1000. The crocodile in the wild gets to keep on keeping on with those females — whose laying sites aren't known — to propagate the species, & everybody else gets to make money.

The words, the information, are still here, but will probably fade. What will really stick in my mind though, haunt my dreams, is the physical thing, the size that a crocodile reaches. Almost five metres long, a metre wide at its belly, 850 kilograms in weight, those yellow eyes watching you, the teeth, the size of its mouth as it lunges up to snap at the chicken head/feet/entrails that the keeper feeds it with. The hollow clap as its jaws close. Ouch.

Recent work by Mark Young has appeared or is to appear in Word For/Word, Die Leere Mitte, Home Planet News Online, E·ratio, SurVision, experiential-experimental-literature, Hamilton Stone Review,, & BlazeVOX, amongst other places.