The post-Xmas flop-around-and-stare-at-the-masses-of-cleaning afternoon just got rudely broken.
A brown snake decided to go for a wander down the street. First we knew about it was when the neighbour across the road came charging out of his house with shovel held high. He bashed it a few times, then, as we piled out of our house with kids in tow, the woman from the house directly across from us chopped it across the back of the neck with the shovel blade. Then, as if that wasn't enough, the woman next door grabbed the shovel and started hacking at it wherever it was twitching. This, despite people near her saying, 'Stop, stop.'
She only stopped when a badly-aimed blow pushed the snake towards the gutter, leaving a smear of blood behind.
I don't think it's too exaggerated to say it was like something out of Lord of the Flies. Sure, the snake flailed around when it was first hit, but there was something unpleasantly avid about the way the three of them just kept hitting it.
I got on the phone to the Council - you're supposed to report the presence of snakes, particularly venomous ones, and I was pretty sure it was a brown. It being the holidays, it took a while to get onto someone, but finally I was talking to a real person. They were pretty upset about the killing, and not just because brown snakes are native animals and therefore supposed to be left alone. In this case, though, it wasn't just a situation where someone who was being threatened by the snake struck out in self-defence. It was a series of deliberate acts.
Then I stood on the nature strip and watched it writhe and twitch until its nervous system finally shut down. There was one last heave and it flopped over to expose its belly, and that was it.
When the Council guy arrived, I went over to have a close look at the snake. It wasn't just dead. It was mangled. We could see where the shovel blade had chopped into it all the way down its length. One of the cuts had split the skin away from its body. The only consolation was that the cut behind the head had probably killed it well before the woman next door started in, and that the movements afterwards were not from pain but just nerves firing randomly.
Lilygirl, who'd come over with me, was a little distressed, and no wonder.
We gave the Council guy a rubbish bag for it, and he asked us to dispose of it.
I think what I can't get over is that it was just so needlessly cruel. There are procedures in place to deal with snakes. You don't bother them, for a start. If they're in your house or backyard, you call the Council and you stay the hell away, and you definitely don't take to them with a shovel. This snake was wandering down the road on the warm bitumen, nowhere near anyone. The Council could have come out, picked it up and released it away from houses. There was just no need for that guy to come racing out with his shovel held high.
Was it some kind of atavistic fear - you know, snake = danger - that made them all attack it like that? I don't know. I've never been afraid of snakes; I can't say I'd be easy with the idea of a brown snake in my backyard, but this one was in no way threatening.
Maybe it was that stupid thing we humans get where we figure we Know How to Handle This, and everyone's got a different solution and they all try to implement it at once - usually with less-than-desirable consequences. This time, though, it was an animal that got caught up in that.
I don't know ... but it's cast a bit of a pall over the day. I'm fairly sure Lilygirl is going to be troubled by it for a while. I'm betting that bedtime tonight will be interrupted several times by her coming out to tell us that she can't sleep because she's worried about what they did to the snake.
In a way, it's good that she saw the act for what it was - a piece of cruel stupidity. That she had to see it at all, though, is the bit that makes me angry.