14 October, 2021

Day 14 of Writing Nangak Tamboree.

I’m walking with a stick today. It’s one of those fancy hiking sticks, and I bought it years ago for walking along Hadrian’s Wall (but that’s another story). A colleague shared with me a photo of a tiger snake he saw near the Sports Field Lake last summer, and a very impressive creature it was too, so I am prepared. Most snakes I’ve ever met while walking are only too happy to slink away and I’m only too happy to watch them go. Like most Australian kids I was raised to stand perfectly still at any snake sightings, and I have managed to do that. I even do it in New Zealand whenever there’s a scurrying in the undergrowth and there are no snakes there at all.

But one time, high in the lakes of central Tasmania, fly-fishing without the protection of waders, I was chased by a tiger snake – no kidding, you think I’m exaggerating, don’t you? – its head up, rearing and racing towards me. No standing still that time. I have never run so fast in my life and it came after me, like a scene from an old cartoon, with my legs spinning around like the Road Runner.

So forgive me, reptile enthusiasts, but I’m emotionally scarred. I feel safer carrying my stick, although it’s more for poking around before stepping than any possible violence. Many snakebites result from people trying to hurt snakes or pick them up and I have no desire to do either.

Anyway, today I am bravely striding with my stick through the Gresswell Habitat Link, a bush corridor between Nangak Tamboree Wildlife Sanctuary and the Gresswell Forest to the north that is designed to allow wildlife to move from from end of Nangak Tamboree to the other, and beyond into the forest reserve. This area begins beside the alleged lakes (aka ponds) I visited the other day and runs alongside a golf course and edged by a relatively recent housing estate built on the former Mont Park hospital site.

Walkway through bush

This is grassy woodland, verging on scrubland on the higher ground, and dotted with some truly magnificent old trees – River Red Gums and Manna Gums, mostly. Narrow creeks and channels run through here, under built-up walkways, and alongside wide gravel tracks. There’s even a park bench to sit on and write which is pretty posh, and lots of new planting. I note, with my late spring snake awareness, that there’s no mowing of the grasslands here, but it all looks well-cared for. In the wetland area near the front gate, the frogs are having a lovely time.

There are plenty of people strolling or jogging around here, but the birds seem pretty used to them. I spot galahs, Eastern Rosellas, butcher birds, and hear a kookaburra laughing in a distant tree. But the entire place seems to be populated by Noisy Miners, the annoying neighbour nobody wants to move into the nest next door. I also spot wombat and wallaby or roo poo but there’s no sign of either this evening.

There are a couple of little kids in bike helmets digging a hole with a garden spade. I hope they aren’t burying a body. I suppose since it’s a nature reserve, some responsible adult should stop them, but since I am not a responsible adult, and since I did much the same thing in my neighbouring park as a kid (it was archaeology, I swear!) I walk on by.

I love these pockets of bush tucked away inside suburbs. I used to walk through one to and from primary school and now I think about it that must have been tonic for our little souls, hiking through tall trees every morning and afternoon. On rainy days like today we got to splash through puddles all the way home. Everyone called it “the bush” and when they taught us about the “Bush Poets” we expected to come across Banjo Paterson on our way home from school. Because that was the bush. Right there, past the footy oval. I suppose now people from elsewhere go to walk through it and marvel at the pink heath and the stands of red box. I should do the same one day.

But for now, I’ll keep walking through those kids’ adventure playground.

Update: A few weeks after I wrote this, I spoke to Glenn, one of the Wurundjeri Narrap Rangers, who by the way told me how hilarious it is when people tell tall stories about being chased by snakes. Snakes, he said, if disturbed, are only ever trying to find shelter. They are very territorial and have established bolt-holes in which to hide. So if you ever think a snake is attacking you, it is just trying to get past you to safety. I will try to remember this. (It doesn’t make it any less scary for me, but Glenn is a former snake handler so he has years of experience and great knowledge, and clearly much more empathy.)

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