Written by Russ Benning
As an Australian man I’d say my baseline comfortability with creepy crawlies and deadly creatures is quite high. If I were to give you my least favourite – it’s going to the serpentine family.
As a musician and extreme sports fan, Drew Godfrey’s baseline comfortability with being on film is quite high. When I called to arrange a time to meet, I discovered his least favourite, is having his picture taken with a big cheesy smile.
Interesting place to begin an interview/portrait session with a snake catcher, no?
Meeting Drew and his lovely wife Katie for the first time, we quickly found common ground.
Being from a similar vintage we broke bread on discussions of roller-blades vs skateboards as we eased into how the Hervey Bay Snake Catchers came to be.
As I gained my bearing, I started noticing my fauna laden environment.
The first and most eager introduction was Otis; an adorable and warm ‘person’ trapped in a bulldog’s body.
Katie told me he was one of us, and I understood fully when we returned from our photo session to Otis’ look of disbelief and rejection. Sorry buddy! Next time you’ll be in the photos!
Next spot, also to come up in conversation, was Malcolm who is a rescue possum soon to be released. Watching TV with the kids from his perch on the back of the sofa was also Tiny the spotted dove.
As we continued to converse it became clear that animals and conservation have always been a passion of Drew’s. Obtaining his handlers licence and taking a chance on making this his part time job he quickly realised it was “way better than what I was doing before”, referring to a cleaning job he had when he first moved to Stanthorpe, Queensland.
His passion was clear to me when I asked how many species of snake they had in their home and he announced “23”, pulling from his pocket a crumpled piece of paper with scrawled blue pen. Was it there as a prompt for the wildlife show they had done that morning, or does he carry it in every active pair of pants? I choose to believe the latter …
Conversely, Katie was “petrified” of snakes after she stepped on an eastern brown snake in her home, also in Stanthorpe, alerting her neighbours via a primal scream.
She decided to friend request Drew when he moved to town, her reasoning: “He could be my hero if I ever step on another snake!” Drew sees the opportunity and slides into her DM’s, opening with a “goofy” message (her words!), to initiate the conversation. Boldly accompanying her new beau on several call outs, Katie started to trust Drew’s passion and understanding of these creatures.
Fast forward four years and they’re engaged to wed, with their matching work shirts talking to a man about their move to Hervey Bay.
I thought it was so bizarre that two people who came from the Central Coast, NSW would end up living and then meeting in Stanthorpe, having never met before! There was a pause in the conversation and an awkward look between our two heroes. “Tell me!” I probed.
Drew went on to tell me the story about how they had actually met at an underage concert, back on the Central Coast, when he was just 16!
“She gave me her number and everything, but I was too much of a wuss to call,” Drew said.
“I couldn’t do this without her”, he said, referencing the successful snake and wildlife handling business. Later in the photo session we discussed the yin/yang dynamic that makes this so.
We decide not to take Tom, Darrell, or Marvin (Lowlands Copperhead, Tiger and Western Brown Snakes respectively) with us to the park for the photo shoot. Instead opting for Lesley and Beau (Spotted Python and Water Python).
I felt taking two sweetheart constrictors, instead of three out of 10 most deadly snakes in Australia was more aligned. I was correct in assuming the ‘person up the street’ names were to put people at ease!
Deciding to be a little show stealer, Beau decided to channel belt energy, weaving himself through Katie’s belt loop! The unexpected (and not before seen party trick) sending Drew on a high-speed sprint back to the house to return, definitely not running with scissors, across a road to come to the rescue. In the meantime, Lesley decided to take a look around the park, almost escaping into the wilderness. So far so good for the shoot!
Completely unaffected neighbours strolled by, updating the status of their previously sick Bearded Dragons and continuing about their business. Welcome to Queensland, Australia people.
Maybe due to snake shenanigans, maybe due to Katie’s presence or maybe due to earlier rapport building, the photo shoot seemed to slip under Drew’s awkward radar, and he was a great model.
After seeing a very different side to these slithering beauties I summoned some apparently effortless courage to ask to hold the big guy. Yeah, I’m as surprised as you are! As the air temperature dropped and the excitement of our excursion tapered, the stunning Water Python wrapped himself around my arms and found level. Drew showed me how to make my arms into a supportive structure and understand how this replicated branches of a tree. Offering to take a picture we all laughed about the plot twist that had me, the snake handler and Drew, the photographer!
Enriched by the experience, I realised I had overcome a fear and helped someone become more comfortable in an unpreferred environment and made some new friends (skinned, feathered, furred, and scaled).
Maybe I’m attracted to love stories with a twist. Maybe it’s men that won’t be photographed without their comfort hat. Maybe it’s much more than that. Whatever it is I’m so grateful for your support so far and grateful for you joining me on this journey of art and growth.
If you’d like to learn more about Russ or see more of his work head to:
http://www.russbenningphotography.com or @russbenningphotography on Instagram.