Mullungdung Black Snake

The Mullungdung Forest is a heavily timbered area at Darriman, midway between Yarram and Sale, which is an important conservation area. It was once heavily logged and so it is criss-crossed by a network of gravel roads and once had narrow gauge rail lines to carry timber to the Goodwood mill. The forest is contained to the western side of the highway and runs back up into the eastern foothills of the Strzelecki Ranges. It is home to many species of animals but one which science has had trouble identifying is what the old-timers called the Mullungdung Black Snake.blacktigersnake

Most people in southern Australia will be familiar with the Red-bellied Black Snake which can grow quite large, however the Mullungdung Black is reported to be of python-like proportions. It frequents the margins of small freshwater swamps and intermittent streams which flow through the forest, but then that’s also where the frogs live and so many species of snakes can be found there. I can’t find any scientific name for the Mullungdung Black but some years ago found reference to an expedition from the Victorian Museum to try to locate one of these snakes. There is a story from back in the logging days of a logger sleeping in his swag with his head inside the burnt out hollow at the base of a tree. During the night the snake dropped down into his chest and stayed there, enjoying his body warmth. The huge black snake was described as smelling like muddy water. (I am looking for a reference to this story - I think a book on Darriman by Doris Boddy).

In days gone by the only good snakes were dead ones so no doubt this species will have been killed on sight but I have never heard reference to anyone being bitten by them so they must have been fairly docile compared to the red-bellied black, tiger snakes and brown snakes which also frequent the forest. My father encountered a Mullungdung black at White Woman’s Waterhole at the Won Wron end of the forest while on an outing in about 1995. A marijuana crop has been found by police in the area a few years before and when he first saw this thick black “pipe” coming out of the water, he thought it was a 75mm polythene pipe which had been used to irrigate the crop. He nudged it with his toe and was surprised when it slithered into the reeds at the edge of the water and disappeared. He estimates it was around 3m (10 feet) long. There was also a photograph of my grandfather standing on a stump holding the tail of a snake whose head was still on the ground. Given his arm was raised and he was standing on a stump about 75cm high, that would make the snake close to 3m long. I cannot be sure whether the photo was taken at Darriman where he grew up or whether it was another large snake killed at Devon North where he farmed from the early 1920s. My parents were burnt out in the 2009 Black Saturday fires but managed to save their photo albums so I will see if the photo still exists.

It has been suggested that the Mullungdung Black may really be a Black Tiger Snake (Notechis ater niger) which is  found in Tasmania and the Bass Strait islands and has a preference for marshy conditions. Given that South Gippsland is the closest bit of mainland to the Bass Strait islands, it is possible that this is the snake or a close relative. The Black Tiger Snake often has no visible stripes. A relative who lives in the Woodside North area tells me that the Mullungdung Black Snakes were prolific when she and her husband first moved onto their farm in the 1950s. They were commonly found in the paddocks with peat soil and she said they were often killed during ploughing.  

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