As a doctor working in Indigenous health it was suggested that a mutual understanding of a sense of place would enhance my relationship with my patients. Subsequently, I often ask my patients where they are from, and volunteer that I am a “Melbourne girl”. I am not sure of the meaning placed on this statement by my northern patients. I suspect it involves both AFL and cold weather as it is these that are most commonly mentioned in the consulting room conversation. I sometimes feel that my admission that I am not a football fan renders me a Melbourne girl of dubious credibility in my patient’s eyes.
Announcement of our impending move to Cairns in early 2009 was met by many of our Melbourne friends with perplexity. They had, I believe viewed my husband and my tropical wanderings as a phase. Moving to far north Queensland with our infant son and buying a house clearly defined us as having transcended the phase stage. In our circles people knew a few retirees who had moved to the Gold Coast. Young professionals with children did not usually settle “way up there.” I lost count of the times I was told with dire tone that I had better put my son on the waiting list for a good school in Melbourne or else we would be “in trouble”.
Perhaps in rebellion against the suggestion that we were doing something a little odd, and certainly very un-Melbourne, I have attempted to embrace a cultural identity as a far north Queenslander. Much of this new identity is entwined with my other new identity, as a mother to two boys aged one and three. I am after all now breeding far north Queenslanders. I was irrationally proud of my three year old son on a recent trip to southern waters when he sought clarification, prior to putting one pinky toe in the Pacific Ocean that there were no stingers about. I had raised a boy who was Box Jelly fish safe. Although I know the prerequisite term of residence for recognition as a local up north is twenty years, I was undeterred. Perhaps for good behavior and active community participation it would be reduced to fifteen.
In Cairns, if I am lucky enough as a mother to two small children to get some exercise we don’t just go out for walks we go out to see the animals. Although being an animal lover is not part of my identity – Melbournian or otherwise, the wide range of animals we encounter within a short distance from our home is, put frankly, very cool. What looks like a magnet on the cash register at the local bistro turns out to be a genuine green tree frog. Bush turkeys sometimes come scratching under our modern Queenslander home. The other week we saw a wild pig, okay piglet , run into the bushes as we drove into a local nature reserve. We haven’t seen any crocs yet but I am assured they live in the Barron River, just down the road from our house. Perhaps ironically then it is the local wildlife that has led me to question my adopted cultural identity.
It all started with a routine termite inspection. I heard the inspector whispering covertly to my husband and sensed trouble.
“What has he found?” I asked when he left. “Is it rats?”
My one and only phobia, of rats, developed as a small child after an older cousin painted my face as a rodent and convinced me that I had metamorphed into a rat and would spend the rest of my days thus changed.
The termite inspector it seems had not found rats, however he had found two large scrub python snakes living in our roof. Apparently the recent spell of cold weather had led others in Cairns to unknowingly welcome similar reptile squatters. For the previous month the television advertisement for the local news had shown footage of a snake catcher removing a giant python simultaneously telling the camera that a snake like this one devours wallabies and could “eat a small child for sure.” I had been hearing about these child eating snakes daily and now had two living in our home. Although my first instinct was to assume the news sound bite was a beat up, a quick internet search told me that while he may also have been scaremongering, the snake catcher was in fact correct, snakes like these could potentially eat small children (and there has subsequently been an attack by a python on a two year old at Port Douglas). Horrified I called a snake man who promised to come the next day.
The snake catcher attended accompanied by his eight year old son. Man and boy ventured into our roof and what followed was a half hour wait punctuated by the sound of a violent scuffle above our heads. Frequent queries as to father and son’s wellbeing were met with reassurance but I was still relieved when man and boy descended from our roof sweating, filthy, and heavy laden with a moving hessian bag. They subsequently removed a three metre long pregnant female from the bag. Her male companion, lover and father to her unborn snake babies had escaped in the scuffle. What to do now? While grateful that they had caught the pregnant snake and we would not be overrun with tens of mini pythons there was still a daddy snake at large. I was advised that the male snake would likely loiter around our home for a week and then leave once he realized his mate had well and truly exited our residence. I was also advised that the snake would usually only enter the roof and “probably” would not enter the interior of our home.
And so, for the next week, prior to putting my baby and pre-schooler to bed I would check every nook and crevice of their room before shutting the door relieved that it would form an effective barrier against the prowling snake.
Our neighbor, after hearing my plight suggested his friend, a retired snake catcher come and have a look the next week to ensure the home and roof were snake free. He did, and fortunately it was. Querying his fee I was told it was “mates rates”, meaning he would be happy with a case of beer. I was now faced with a very north Queensland transaction that my Melbourne identity left me ill equipped to handle. What exactly was the right brand of beer to offer as payment for the reassurance that my babies were now safe? An expensive import perhaps?
“Nah mate. VB.”
As a result of the snake incident, as it has come to be known by family and friends who followed the story on Facebook, my north Queensland identity is in tatters. I am in no doubt that I am and will always be a Melbourne girl. A real north Queenslander would have been happy to leave the snakes in situ, reassured that they would eat any rat that was unfortunate enough to venture onto our property. As a Melbourne girl I will never let my sons go into a stranger’s roof to catch snakes. Finally, as a Melbourne girl I suspect that I will never truly be comfortable paying for services rendered in beer.Danielle, All rights Reserved. Written For: Bubs on the Move