Compressed energy: the 2012 Crocodile Prize events
True confessions: the ugly side of Australia in PNG

Tokee, muran, sinek, snake! All bloody 12 foot of it!


Papuan Black SnakeI DON'T KNOW ABOUT YOU, but growing up in Australia I have a great respect for snakes, as a kid having come across red-bellies, blacks and pythons in the bush just a few dozen metres from my back yard.

I survived.

Just give them a wide berth. Don't annoy them and they won't annoy you.

But in Mosbi, I had a different experience. There was a 12 foot Papuan Black in my back yard.

"Muran! Daddy Peter, muran!" 12 year-old Margaret shouted as I was sitting on the steps of my A3 house one afternoon.

What the hell's a muran? I was soon to find out.

A piece of long black rope appeared in the grass in front of me and wound it's way around the house and across the garden.

Young Margaret jumped up on the balcony behind me. "It's a snake!" Her English lessons doing her good service at last.

And it was. A bloody great 12 foot long Papuan Black winding its way lazily around my back garden.

I knew these were dangerous, being a type of Taipan, and I quickly jumped inside the house and closed the back door.

But young Margaret was my conscience. She said, "Daddy Peter, he might eat the neighbours!"

So I hurtled out the door, grabbed a garden fork and started shouting to the neighbours. "Muran, Muran, yu must find im, killim im he di long pinis!"

And so started the Great Snake Race at Fort Banner in 2007. We chased him down the road, all the while me shouting.

And people joined me, armed with sticks, rakes, bus knives and axes. We chased him all the way down to the guard post, where there was a drain leading up to the Olympic Village. He disappeared.

We screamed and yelled, but the drain was too long and dark, and there was no sign of snake.

So we went home exhausted, and had a beer or two to recuperate.

I think the giant snake is still up there near Tokorara somewhere, maybe terrorising the good local people.

I just hope he meets the spirit of my late great pig Mangi Mosbi, who was a dab hand at dealing with snakes.


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Peter Kranz

Tokee minge means 'snake money'. They bring good luck (green tree snakes I think).

Why do I mention this? We've just found a red belly hibernating under our house (a Queenslander style). Left him alone, as he's got his own life problems to sort out.

Peter Kranz

Phil - apparently green tree snakes are the best tucker. (Recommended by Rose), just called the 'green' ones.

Flying foxes are pretty tasty too.

Phil Fitzpatrick

Not to be too pedantic but I think a moran is a harmless carpet snake (but good tucker) and a snek is generally of the venomous kind.

Most languages make a distinction between the poisonous snake and the fangless variety - wonder why Tok Pisin and Motu = gaigai - don't?

Peter Kranz

Another PNG snaky encounter - this time a peaceful one.

We were staying an Loloata Island resort one weekend and spent a fascinating time watching red-banded sea snakes come out of the water and on to the beach to dig holes and lay their eggs. While they are sea creatures, they have to come on to land to lay eggs - like turtles.

Loloata is a great place and is kept as a wildlife reserve. You can see tree kangaroos, cuscus, giant Guria pigeons and all sorts of other wildlife going about their business quite peacefully - all only a few kilometres from Town.

Thoroughly recommended for anyone visiting Mosbi. They also keep a good collection of books about PNG - great for rainy afternoons in the wet season.

Peter Kranz

Michael - quite right. Although this was funny at the time I believe all wild life should be treated with respect and left alone.

So by all means chase the muran away from towns and villages, but let them live at peace in the bush where they fulfill an important ecological role.

On a more serious note, developing a low-cost and available antivenom against the Papuan Black is much needed. Thankfully good work has been done on this by the University of Melbourne and UPNG.

Researchers from the Australian Venom Research Unit (AVRU) at the University of Melbourne have collaborated with scientists from the University of Papua New Guinea and the University of Costa Rica, to develop new antivenom against the lethal Papuan taipan.

The preclinical studies of this antivenom have been published in the international journal PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases.

Around 750 people are bitten in PNG each year. PhD candidate David Williams from AVRU, who coordinated the project in PNG, said snakebite is a neglected public health problem compounded by antivenom shortages, poor infrastructure and inadequate health worker training in many of the world’s least developed countries, including PNG.

Michael Dom

Peter Kranz, I am so glad that you chased that snake and did not catch him.

"For he seemed to me again like a king, / Like a king in exile, uncrowned in the underworld, / Now due to be crowned again. / And so, I missed my chance with one of the lords / Of life. / And I have something to expiate: / A pettiness."

One of my all time favourite poems by DH Lawrence, whose style has now influenced my own development.

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