Disquiet Down Under

Shocking news from Australia: a drunk driver dashes out of his car, kidnaps a snake minding its own business, and brandishes it menacingly at the policemen who stopped him. Having been collared against its will, the snake shows its displeasure by hissing and sticking out its tongue. The startled police officers make evasive manoeuvres, allowing the man to abscond until he is later arrested.

I have no particular interest in defending the rights of snakes. What concerns me is the sheer lunacy of snatching one of these creatures from the undergrowth in order to set it on a policeman. Snakes will not bite people simply because you ask them to. They’re very finicky about that sort of thing and generally prefer to keep a low profile. It’s true that we hairy apes have often found them to be a pain in the arse, sometimes figuratively and more often literally. But there is a world of difference between accidentally sitting on a serpent and trying to cop-opt it as a comrade-in-arms. Snakes are loners who do not fight in collective causes, whether from ideological conviction or as mercenaries.

Now I’m not going to fall for the tired old chestnut that the importation of convicts has made the human stock in Australia criminally inclined. The historical archives show that all the really serious offenders (and quite a few less serious ones) were hanged without compunction in the British Isles. Those sent to Australia were guilty of little more than stealing a turnip or insulting a gentleman. Their inheritable traits were those of the cheeky chappy rather than the incorrigible villain.

No, the problem is cultural. The rot set in when that blighter Ned Kelly arrived on the scene. The man was a scoundrel of the first water, and his elevation to folk-hero status dealt a crushing blow to the prospects of an orderly society. Things might have turned out differently if Mr Kelly had been counselled by a gorilla before proceeding in his ignoble schemes. Had one of my ancestors been in Victoria in 1878, he would have certainly invited the outlaw for a quiet chat over a game of croquet.

“Kelly,” he would have said, “shooting policemen simply isn’t done. If you want to lodge a complaint against the constabulary you must go through the proper channels. I’ll have a word with the State Governor myself if you think you’ve been dealt with unjustly. In the meantime, abandon all thoughts of putting an iron balaclava over your head. You’ll look like an ass and won’t be able to see where you’re going.”

Mr Kelly might have ignored these recommendations, of course, but I’ve often found that headstrong humans are more inclined to heed a plain-spoken gorilla than one of their own kind. Sometimes, the only way of getting disinterested advice is to look outside your own species.

There’s not much a gorilla could do in Australia now, though. As I see it, the only hope is for Australian expatriates to return home and instil a bit of rectitude in their countrymen. Germaine Greer, the feminist intellectual, is the kind of towering figure who might bitch-slap a few scruples into the snake-handlers and possum-eaters of her native land. But it might be asking too much of a woman of her refinement to put up with getting her bum pinched and being called a ‘Sheila’. Perhaps Rolf Harris would be a more plausible candidate for the job. The sight of that bearded sage blowing his didgeridoo and panting like a dog would surely remind Australians that there are finer things in their culture than getting pissed and braying like a bogan.

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