Thornleigh Seventh-day Adventist Church (Sydney, Australia)

Home > Online Magazine > Online Magazine: Edition 26 - December 2008 / January 2009 > Snakes In The Grass (by John Morris)

Snakes In The Grass

by John Morris

Modern and Biblical Snakes

Meet the Death Adder

It was a Saturday afternoon. Marcia and I were walking along a fire trail, which is part of the Great North Walk in the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, some 40 kilometres north of the Sydney CBD. It was a relaxing time.

The main northern railway line runs through the area as it drops down from the heights of Cowan to the Hawkesbury River Station at the little town of Brooklyn. In the mid 1880's a dam was constructed on a small creek to provide water for the steam engines on the new railway line. Water was piped from the dam to the station at Brooklyn. While not providing for steam engines these days, the dam is still in good order, and is attractive to local residents for swimming and picnics, for walkers on the Great North Walk who want to camp for the night, and for nature lovers who are fortunate to have access to open space of the National Park so close to the urban areas of Sydney.

Back to the walk. As we were walking along the last portion of the fire trail before it drops down to the dam, I detected a movement out of the corner of my eye and cautioned Marcia to stop, and to look at the trail. Crossing rather leisurely was a beautifully banded brown Death Adder. Marcia wanted to turn around immediately and head back along the track. It is good to be cautious around any snake.

The death adder, a member of the viper family, is a short muscular animal, around 1 metre long that can strike very quickly. The Australian Reptile Park suggests it can strike faster than any other Australian snake. (1). It is quite poisonous, with the Australian Venom Research Unit of the University of Melbourne grading the Death Adder as the 8th most venomous snake in the world, the Australian Inland Taipan being Number 1. (2) Incidentally the first non-Australian snake on the list does not turn up until number 12 (the Asian Cobra), and it is not until number 23 that the North American Rattlesnake makes the list.

The death adder does not normally strike unless its prey is very close to it. Most people, who have been bitten, have trodden on the snake while it has been lying camouflaged in the track. It is often called the "Deaf" Adder because it stays put when humans pass close to it. I pointed this out to Marcia and demonstrated how by walking calmly by the snake (about 1.5 metres distant), the snake would not take any notice of us. The snake continued to move across the trail and into the adjacent bush.

The Red-bellied black snake is a mover

Robert and I were walking in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney with Splendour Rock as our goal for the day. Splendour Rock is every bit as good as its name suggests. It overlooks the Cox's River some 1600 feet below and has a view that encompasses over 100 square miles in 270 degrees with Kanangra Walls in the distant background. Access to Splendour Rock is from Medlow Gap at the Southern end of Narrow Neck,  with 2 options available, up a pass from Yellow Dog Ridge or via a high traverse across the Wild Dog Mountains. Names on the map include Mount Dingo, White Dog Ridge, Kelpie Point, and Warrigal Gap giving a little glimpse into the interests of whoever gave names to the features.

Splendour Rock has another distinction. It has been set apart as a War Memorial to Bushwalkers killed in World War II.  A plaque was erected in 1948 by walkers from the Federation of Bushwalkers. Each year bushwalkers gather at Splendour Rock on Anzac Day (April 25) to commemorate the sacrifices made by members of the fraternity.

It is not a difficult walk and is well within the average walker's day-tripping potential. We walked from Carlon's Farm off the end of Narrow Neck and around the Wild Dog Mountains.

On the return trip, we rounded a corner to see a red-bellied black snake sunning itself on the track. The snake was not interested in us and as we got closer it decided to shift, and shift smartly. It dived under a rather large rock on the side of the track. Our next effort was to race along the track to the rock and with one of us on either side of the rock, lifted the downhill end about ˝ a metre.

You should have seen the snake move. It shot out of the gap and down the hillside on the east of the track. It was not a simple slow wriggle, that snake bounded down the hill as if it were a hula hoop on the loose. I, for one, was astounded at the speed and how it moved.

Snake Warning

With ˝ of our family residing in the Murwillumbah area, Mt Warning is a well known and a welcoming beacon no matter how you arrive or from which direction. It is the spot where sunbeams from the rising sun first touch the mainland of Australia. The mountain is the core of an extinct volcano, the biggest extinct shield volcano in the Southern Hemisphere. At 1157 m the top towers above everything else in the area and provides 360 degree views from the Border Ranges on the north and west, to the sea on the east, and to the southern ranges forming the caldera wall. The mountain was so named by Captain Cook in 1770, it proving useful as a warning of dangerous rocks off the coast.

The local aboriginal people call the mountain "Wollumbin" or Cloud Catcher which is entirely appropriate.

A track has been constructed that zig zags its way up the eastern side of the mountain. The last 200 metres is up at an 80 degree angle on rocks. A chain is provided to make the rock climb easier. The National Park authorities suggest that the average walker should not try to win the "Olympic Mountain Climbing Gold medal" and should allow 4 - 5 hours for the return trip.  Each time I visit the town I try to fit in a climb.  I have achieved 7 climbs so far in the last 3 years. My time up ranges from 1˝ hours, and I generally average 1 hour and 10 minutes down.

You climb in rain forest from the car park to within some 400 metres from the top. The last 200 metres you will find a lot of grasses and small shrubs. You will also find plenty of local fauna. There are a number of scrub turkeys on the mountain. One at the top often finds a sympathetic climber with a biscuit or piece of bread to spare. Bird life is varied. Other animals are mostly nocturnal and with the noise of the climbers keep well away from the track.

On one occasion I was working my way down the track and spotted a very large carpet snake (a diamond python) curled up on the side of the track. It was no more than a short pace off the track. I stopped, observed and photographed, then moved on. On reaching the car park I got chatting with a group of climbers that had preceded me on the walk down, and mentioned that I had seen the snake. My listeners wanted to return up the track and see for themselves, but were advised by the next group of returning climbers that the snake had moved along.



Snake in the Grass

People and snakes are an interesting combination. You either hate them, or are fascinated by them. The number of the latter is by far in the minority. The fascination of some eventually becomes fatal, sad to say.  Remember that Australia scores first prize for the most venomous snakes in the world. It's a good policy to avoid them and take precautions if you are in an area where they are likely to be living.

The source of our dislike of the snake is the combined curse on mankind and the snake. The creation story tells how the snake was used by Satan to deceive Eve (Genesis 3). It was then assigned a role in the dust, and was cursed above every beast of the field. The Lord God indicated that there would be an ongoing state of "enmity" between Eve's descendants and the devil who used the snake as an attention getting device in the scheme. The devil would come out of this controversy as the loser. Enmity can also be seen to apply between mankind and snakes (though not the main thrust of the prophecy) and our hate relationship has not changed over the intervening years.

The dislike of the animal has transferred into the English language. The idiom "snake in the grass" is used to describe someone who (in a mess of a metaphor) will stab you in the back while telling you to your face how good you are. The usage is not new. "Wiki Answers" notes an early usage of the idiom, "For thousands of years, people have feared and hated snakes. In 37BC, the great Roman poet, Virgil used this expression (snake in the grass)" (4). The Phrase Finder supports this view with the comment on the term "grass up" meaning informer, stool pigeon or squealer. "It could just have arisen from 'snake in the grass', which derives from the writings of Virgil (in Latin, as 'latet anguis in herba') and has been known in English, meaning traitor, since the late 17th century." (5)

Snake oil is another idiom in current use meaning useless advice or information. The term is generally thought to have begun with 19th Century American healing quacks thrusting remedial medicines on an unsuspecting and gullible public. The so called patent medicines were often sold with claimed origins of secret American Indian tribal remedies and frequently loaded heavily with alcohol. Snake oil was wholly designed to make money for its promoter.

In the Revelation record of the end of the battle in heaven between God and Satan, Jesus describes Satan as "that old serpent" Revelation (12:9) and nominates him (Satan) as the great deceiver, impacting the whole world. Although defeated at Calvary, in the subsequent mopping up process the devil is hyperactive. "He is angry because of his defeat…He goes forward with intensified and renewed malignity in his efforts to persecute the church of the living God" (3)

The devil will try anything to trap you. It might be the soft sell, with a lucid and cogent argument. He may put an attractive temptation in the centre of a seemingly escape proof trap. He is the consummate snake oil salesman with deception as his middle name. Jesus made it clear that there would be false christs and prophets, the devil's agents, who would use "great signs and wonders insomuch that if it were possible, they would deceive the very elect." (Matthew 24:24) Paul warned Timothy of conditions at the end of time with evil men and seducers increasing in number and influence "deceiving and being deceived". (2 Timothy 3:13)

Peter used a different metaphor in describing Satan and his works on the earth. "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour." 1 Peter 5:8. John in Revelation 12:12 cries in words of anguish "Woe to the inhabitants of the earth…for the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, knowing that he hath but a short time." Both writers help us to understand that the Devil is serious and will use any means that he can to stop you from joining God's team.

There is an answer - put yourself on "snake alert" and don't drop your guard. James commends a 2 pronged defence in his letter to the church (James 4:7);

1.  Submit yourselves to God
2.  Resist the devil

And the result is "he will flee from you" - God has guaranteed it!



Common Death Adder - Australian  Reptile Park Animals.  (Accessed 4.05.2008)

Facts and Figures. World's Most Venomous Snakes. Australian Venom Research Unit. University of Melbourne. (Accessed 4.05.2008)

Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary. Volume 7 p811. Editor F D Nichol Review and Herald Publishing Association Washington DC USA 1957

Wiki Answers'snake_in_the_grass'   (Accessed 26.09.2008)

The Phrase Finder   (Accessed 26.09.2008)

This article and the pictures it contains are Copyright © 2008 by John L Morris.  Used by permission.

Home > Online Magazine > Online Magazine: Edition 26 - December 2008 / January 2009 > Snakes In The Grass (by John Morris)