Seeing Snakes Differently? A Ngunnawal and Socio-Ecological Perspective

Presented by ANU College of Arts & Social Sciences

Event details

As temperatures start to rise, and local snakes start moving around the region and interacting with humans and pets, it seems an opportune moment to discuss the following questions...

  • How have culture and history influenced how we feel about snakes in different ways?
  • What can we learn from Ngunnawal people's co-existence with snakes for thousands of years?
  • Do you know what makes an attractive habitat for snakes or how your neighbourhood might intersect with snake ranges?
  • Are you aware of the various ways that snakes contribute to our local environment and culture?

Since colonisation, snakes in Australia have been the subject of much negativity. A prevailing attitude, shaped by biblical representations of the serpent and by a lack of familiarity with these creatures, has been to view "the only good a dead snake." The cryptic nature of many snake species, and their seemingly 'exotic' biology and behaviour - and potential lethality in the case of those that are highly venomous, make them easy to fear and misunderstand. And it is these sentiments that are responsible for their persecution, whether that be at the hands of humans and their vehicles and pets, or from harms associated with urban development and habitat encroachment, environmental contamination and climate change.

But it hasn't always been like this. And nor does it need to be in the future. In fact, snakes mean and do different things depending on the perspective you take. In this collaborative public conversation, Ngunnawal Kamilaroi custodian, Uncle Richie Allan, and Associate Professor Gavin Smith of the ANU's Canberra Snake Tracking Project, bring together different scientific understandings of the snake. The focus will be on re-storying the serpent by highlighting what contribution these figures make culturally and environmentally. There is a lot to be learned from snakes, and the session focuses on deepening our respect for and connection with them, so we can see them less as threats and more as vital agents that bring balance to the ecosystem.


Richie Allan (@mrngunnawal) is a Ngunnawal Kamilaroi custodian who was born in Ngunnawal Country and raised on both Ngunnawal and Kamilaroi Country. Richie is the Cultural Director of the Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation (TOAC) where he manages cultural awareness, education and Ngunnawal relationships. He is a highly respected Cultural man with decades of experience. He is on Cultural Boards including, ACT Ministerial Creative Council, ACT Tourism Leadership Committee, and the ACT Chief Police Officer Indigenous Advisory Board.

Gavin Smith (@gavin_jd_smith) is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the ANU and a licensed snake handler and conservationist in the ACT and NSW, where he rescues snakes that are either trapped or causing a hazard. His interdisciplinary research and education program explores the human-wildlife conflict and multi-species relations, as well as the movement behaviour, spatial ecology and welfare of Eastern brown snakes living on the urban fringe in the Canberra region.