5 May 2023

Riverina Rewind: The lad who treated snakebite with a shotgun at Tarcutta

| Chris Roe
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Australia records thousands of snakebites per year, but very few deaths. Photo: Chris Roe.

If you’re an Aussie, you’ve got a snake story.

Our wide brown land is home to more than 170 slithering species, including 20 of the most venomous snakes in the world.

But despite the proliferation of deadly snakes, actually being bitten is quite rare. Aussie snakes are surprisingly laid-back and would generally rather mind their own business than pick a fight.

Around 3000 snakebites occur each year in Australia and we average only two deaths and almost no amputations.

Compare that to sub-Saharan Africa where bites are counted in the hundreds of thousands and deaths average between 3500 and 32,000 every year, and you wonder why there is such hysteria from tourists over our scaly little mates.

The best approach with Aussie snakes is of course to stay out of their way, it’s only when this is not possible that things get interesting, and it’s usually the poor old serpent that comes off second best.

We’ve trawled the archives to find a few of the more surprising encounters in the Riverina.

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October 1954

Australia is the world leader in antivenom and most of us know about compression bandages and the like, but back in 1954, a young bloke from Wagga sought to apply buckshot to a bite!

Nineteen-year-old Robin Wilkinson was out looking for rabbits in the bush near his home at Tarcutta when he was bitten on the arm by a brown snake.

Without a knife “to cut away the poisoned flesh” he placed the muzzle of his shotgun across the bite and fired two charges that blasted away the affected area!

The doctor who treated him suggested that the drastic action “probably saved his life”.

We do not recommend this treatment!

October 1922

Winding back the clock to 1922 and a young bloke named Fletcher was out riding his bicycle on the Gundagai road near Wagga.

It was a windy afternoon and as he peddled along through the dust, Fletcher spotted a black snake sunning itself on the track.

As he swerved away, the serpent reared to strike and shot forward, narrowly missing his leg and instead, plunged through the spokes and “entangled itself in the front wheel of the machine”.

The bike cartwheeled forward, throwing the lad over the handlebars and “the rider, together with the machine and snake, rolled over on the roadway, the snake being decapitated by the wheel”, the Balonne Beacon reported before concluding “the machine was wrecked and Fletcher was bruised considerably”.

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December 1941

Finally, a Wagga woman took a unique approach in 1941, using music to “soothe the savage beast”.

Mrs Roediger of Mount Pleasant saw a snake slither into a hole under her shed and decided to set up a phonograph to lure it out and dispatch it with a shovel.

As the records played through the afternoon, the reptile responded by poking his head out three times but escaped alive.

There’s a persistent modern rumour that snakes are deaf, however, they can, in fact, hear at low frequencies, and it was concluded that the snake had “not been able to resist the effects of the music”.

Perhaps it is the case that Mrs Roediger’s recording of “There Will Always Be An England” struck just the right note to capture the snake’s attention!

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