Neville Burns keeps reaching into his deep bags, and keeps bringing out ever more lethal snakes.
Dark akubra hat, white handlebar moustache, shirtsleeves rolled to the elbow and a necklace of long animal fangs, Neville has been handling snakes since catching his first at age eight. Now 64 – “65 next month,” he tells me – he has travelled the country for decades as a snake handler, and this weekend brought his menagerie featuring some of the world’s deadliest snakes to the Bulli Show, where he was arguably the star attraction.
“I’ve had 12 major venomous bites,” he says nonchalantly, puffing on a cigarette just minutes after thrilling a swelling crowd with his collection – red bellies, tiger snakes, and a pair of eastern brown snakes, some of which he has kept for over 20 years. He has been declared clinically dead three time, and somewhat ironically, is severely allergic to snake anti-venom.
“Most bites can be avoided if you’re smart. Usually it’s a person doing the wrong thing, trying to catch or kill the snake, when they get bitten.”
Neville’s show recounts daring and frightening tales of fellow snake handlers, big burly men or fit athletes, being killed within hours of even small snake bites from some of the reptiles he travels the country with. His show is part thrill ride, part school lesson – an experienced story-teller, with his patter down just right, Neville also aims to give audiences a bit of knowledge to go home with.
“I love snakes, and don’t want people to misjudge them and kill them, but to be safe,” he said.
Neville’s snake show was one of the big drawcards for the Bulli show, with a dour weather forecast likely keeping many at home. Those who tempted rain and wind, though, settled in for a weekend’s worth of entertainment on Saturday and Sunday including market stalls, amusement rides, fireworks and the Great Ute Competition.
The Bulli show returns on May 30 and 31, 2015.