Helene all grown up- still has the tanned skin of the carpet snake

Carpet Snake Memories

Snakes are a fact of life in the Australian countryside but that doesn’t mean that you have to like them! The ‘little Helene’ in these anecdotes was the child of Freidrich Wilhelm and Minna Albrecht. These are her memories, as recounted to her niece Ruth. They provide a glimpse of family life on the mission at that time.

Snakes and Outhouses

Helene’s earliest recollection of the presence of snakes at her home at Hermannsburg was from before she began school. She remembers Marianne taking her into the pantry and showing her a discarded snakeskin. Marianne carefully explained to little Helene in Arrarnta that the owner of this skin was indeed a very poisonous snake and so she would need to be very careful and alert if she ventured into the pantry. Needless to say, Helene stayed out of the pantry and her mother, Minna Albrecht, soon noted that sweets and lollies now lasted much longer! 

At Hermannsburg when Helene was growing up the toilet was the ‘little house’ and it was located down in the backyard. Once it was dark, if anyone needed to go to the toilet it was necessary to take a candle or a lantern to light the way. On one particular night, just before 4-year old Helene went down the back steps to go to the toilet she saw a big snake! She yelled ‘Apma, Apma’ at the top of her voice and Marianne came as quickly as her large size would allow. Marianne quickly surveyed the scene before her and reassured Helene that all was well as it was only a carpet snake. Even though Marianne offered to take Helene to the toilet, Helene had completely lost the urge and recalls she ‘just couldn’t do a thing’. So, Marianne gently carried the little girl back to the safety of her bedroom.

A snake on the loose in the dining room

Another evening, some years later, Helene and Ted were playing chess with their dad at the dining room table when they were interrupted by Mr. Raatz. It was quite a wild night with thunder and lightning. Mr. Raatz, who taught the Aboriginal children at Hermannsburg, was at the Albrecht house, listening to a play on the radio. As Mr. Raatz was sitting listening with his foot resting on the generator of the pedal wireless he felt something funny on his leg. He lit a match to identify the cause of the funny feeling and …wow! A snake! Once the alarm was raised a little lantern was lit to try and find the snake but to no avail.

That night Helene vividly remembers that she didn’t sleep very well as she imagined that the snake could climb into her bed.

Putting snakes to work

In the 1930s prior to the outbreak of World War II, there was a plague of mice in the bulk store. Helene’s dad remembered reading that the carpet snake provided a great solution to the problem of mice. Pastor Albrecht discussed his idea with Marianne who recalled that a carpet snake lived in a little cave near Pata Alkata.

At Pata Alkata there was a lovely waterhole, so this area was suitable for a picnic, swim or play. Soon Pastor Albrecht was busy planning his trip to Pata Alkata for a picnic and also to try and catch this snake. It was decided that the best way to catch the snake was to smoke it out. Unfortunately, no-one realised that there was a small opening at the rear of the cave - so the snake escaped. To add to the excitement a puff of wind fanned the fire so that it burst into flames and spread. There was soon a lot of activity trying to put out the fire and capture the snake. 

Eventually, someone successfully caught the snake and put it into a sugar bag. One of the women carried the snake in the sugar bag on her head as they walked back to Hermannsburg where Pastor Albrecht gleefully released the snake into the bulk store.

Minna Albrecht also kept her patch box in the bulk store. One day soon after the excursion to Pata Alkata, Minna reached into the patch box and horror of horrors grabbed the snake. Her scream carried very well. After this incident, the snake was moved away from Minna’s area. The snake thrived on mice for quite a while. Sadly, however once the mice were all finished the snake died of starvation. After its death, F.W. Albrecht arranged for the skin to be tanned at the tannery at Hermannsburg. The skin is still a talking piece amongst the Albrecht family memorabilia.