One of my father’s lifetime dreams was to go to Australia because of its unique landscapes and wildlife. As good luck would have it, the year of one of his milestone birthdays, I was asked by a client to go down under for a meeting. So I asked my dad if he would like to meet me there afterwards. He readily agreed with my mother’s blessing and it became one of the best gifts of his life from her, my sister and me.
Of course, no trip overseas, especially to an adventurous country like Australia, is absent of mishaps. Our first occurred in Hunter Valley wine country near Sydney. My client, father and I went there for some wine tastings to kick off my dad’s arrival. One was booked undesirably early at 10 am due to limited time slots at the famous Tyrrell’s Wines.
We were undoing the effects of coffee with Semillon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Shiraz, when suddenly, the winery owner came running through the tasting room with a shovel.
“What’s going on?” I asked, spilling Shiraz on my light-colored shirt.
“A red-bellied black snake is on the loose!” he cried. “It’s very dangerous and currently in my office.”
I had just read about the infamous red-bellied black snake (the Aussies say this word with such a great accent) the previous day when researching the world’s most poisonous snakes. Six of 10 live in Australia.
My dad started chuckling about the “snike,” saying the word over and over in his bad Australian accent. He laughed out loud as the owner ran past us into the office to take out his enemy, claiming it was part of the winery’s entertainment.
My instinct was to follow the owner into his office to photograph the snake-meets-shovel shenanigan, but I decided the risk of getting caught in the crossfire or bitten by the snake wasn’t worth the documentation. Besides, that Shiraz was good.
As we sipped our wine samples, we heard clanging and banging in the office next door. Snake one point, man one point, snake two, man two and so on until suddenly the noise stopped. The owner sheepishly returned to the tasting room disheveled with his shovel.
“The snake got away,” he said. We looked at him with concern.
“Which direction did it go?” my dad asked. “We have our cellar tour now and don’t want a snake to join.”
“Oh, no worries, mate,” the owner said. “Snakes are afraid of people. They run away when they hear footsteps.”
It seemed like the opposite to me considering this snake had gone right into the hub of the action in the owner’s office. Nonetheless, we hesitantly took our last glass and followed the owner to the cellar, watching our steps carefully. Now we were glad to be drinking wine in the morning.As we entered the cool, dark, black-bellied cellar, I was thinking that if I were a red-bellied black snake, this is exactly where I would hang out. I could camouflage and get free sips of wine. Wide-eyed, we made our way through the cellar, checking the floor constantly.
As good luck would have it, the snake, while likely lurking in that cellar somewhere, chose the wine over us. But my dad never let us hear the end of that snake, just to try to speak like an Aussie. Thankfully, his pronunciation of “snike” was the only “byte” we endured.