Kevin Budden grew up in the Sydney suburb of Randwick. He was fascinated by snakes, which he kept in a pit in his parents’ backyard. He had been bitten many times while catching and handling them, (five times in a single year) but this did not deter him in the slightest. By the time he was twenty he was ready for a bigger challenge than that presented by tiger snakes, brown snakes and giant pythons.
One of the deadliest snakes in Australia was the coastal taipan, found in the far north. It became Budden’s dream to capture one and to deliver it live to Melbourne’s Commonwealth Serum Laboratories for the development of the first taipan antivenom. It would be an adventure for him, and if successful, a great service to medical science.
Young Budden is pictured below, setting out from Sydney on his search.
Following advice about a likely location, he was poking about in a rubbish heap when he heard a squeal. To his excitement it was a rat, being attacked by what he felt sure was his quarry; a taipan. He pinned the six foot snake with his boot then grasped it by the neck. However, it was far too dangerous to try to bag it without assistance.
Instead, Budden walked to the road and flagged down a truck driver, the deadly snake wrapped around his body. If I’d been in the driver’s place I think I would have kept going, but this truckie gave the hitchhiker a lift to the home of another snake expert, who confirmed it was a taipan.
While they were transferring the snake into a holding bag Kevin Budden was bitten on the left hand. He remained very calm as a tourniquet was applied. All he cared about was that the snake was kept alive and sent to the laboratory in Melbourne.
He was rushed to hospital and treated with tiger snake antivenom. As his condition worsened he was placed in an iron lung. A saving grace was that he was not at all frightened. Throughout the ordeal he remained calm and completely confident that he would recover. Perhaps he felt he had some immunity due to all his previous snakebites. However, he would surely have been well aware that there had only been one reported case of anyone surviving a taipan bite. The young man died the following day.
Fulfilling his wishes, the taipan was sent south, initially to the Melbourne Museum.
The museum’s chief preparator Mr Prescott said he wanted to anesthetize it and make a rubber model. I wonder if that happened? 😨 From the museum it went to the serum laboratory, where it was milked by zoologist David Fleay. Antivenom was produced in 1955, and saved the life of a Cairns child the very same year. Budden’s death at such a young age was a tragedy, but what a legacy.
In sensational newspaper reports of the day the taipan was referred to as ‘a killer’. Well technically it was of course, but the poor creature was only trying to get away.
There was an odd twist regarding who was the legal owner of the snake after Budden’s death. It was deemed to be the property of his estate. It was valued at approximately two thousand pounds, depending on how long it survived. Unfortunately this turned out to be only a brief period.
After being milked the taipan was housed at the Melbourne zoo. It died on September 13, probably because its enclosure was not warm enough after tropical Cairns.
Kevin Budden was buried in the Cairns cemetery as his grieving parents knew how much he loved the far north. The couple were not wealthy and only the generosity of David Fleay enabled them to visit the grave. The zoologist gave them the fifty pound fee he received for milking the taipan.