Ram Chandra pictured at the naming of Ram Chandra Place during 1991.
Ram Chandra pictured at the naming of Ram Chandra Place during 1991.

Snake handling a dangerous business for Ram Chandra

RAM Chandra Place off Nebo Rd near the City Gates and Ram Chandra Park at Slade Point are named in honour of Mackay's famous "Taipan Man".

Ram was born Edward 'Ted' Royce Ramsamy on May 24, 1921, in Lawrence, a small town 30km north of Grafton.

This farming community in northern NSW was where Ted's grandparents, like many early Indian migrants, had settled.

Ted's journey to becoming Ram Chandra, the recipient of the British Empire medal in 1975 and the Medal of the Order of Australia in 1995, began with his meeting with Nazir Shah while at Sydney's Luna Park in 1942.

The young men became partners in a side show called The Carnival of Eastern Wonders.

Nazir noted that Ted had never worn a turban in his life and as a "natural born Aussie" could only speak English and "didn't know the Indian rope trip from an apple."

Ram Chandra Flyer
Ram Chandra Flyer

It was at this time that Ted was introduced by Nazir to snakes and discovered that he was able to anticipate the snake's intentions and movement by the observation of the snake's muscle contractions.

A vital skill for survival in the Pit of Death.

Ted and Nazir took their show "on the road" in December 1943 and travelled to Queensland, ending up in Mackay for the local show in June 1944.

This is where Ted met Nolear Barba, whose family had been evacuated from Thursday Island because of WWII.

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They married on November 29, 1944, and in total had 11 children, three of whom were adopted.

The partnership between Ted and Nazir ended in 1945, and Ted adopted the "show name" Ram Chandra in 1946 and continued solo with his popular snake handling demonstrations and lectures in The Pit of Death, which held venomous and non-venomous snakes.

Ram was always on the lookout for new snakes for his show and was intrigued to hear about a big brown Queensland locals called the Traveller Brown or Horse Snake, so named because of the unusual way it carried its head when moving.

It was also deadly for horses.

Ram was able to buy a 2m Big Fella in Ingham and quickly learned it was faster and more aggressive than other browns.

Ram identified it as the taipan from its distinctive head.

The name taipan came from the northern Indigenous people around Cape York for their totem, the Rainbow Snake.

Ram Chandra pictured on the front cover of the 1977 book 'Search for The Taipan – The story of Ram Chandra'.
Ram Chandra pictured on the front cover of the 1977 book 'Search for The Taipan – The story of Ram Chandra'.

This deadly snake was known to the scientific establishment and was believed to have a restricted habitat in Northern Queensland, despite a specimen being caught by the naturalist Amalie Dietrich in the 1860s, west of Rockhampton.

Hence the taipan wasn't on the radar for the increasing brown snake bite deaths in Queensland.

Ram decided to investigate the range of the taipan and asked locals to bring in specimens to be included in a survey to correct the misinformation about the taipan.

Ram, being an "amateur", had a difficult task before him but eventually prevailed and saved many lives ensuring that hospitals along the eastern coast had the taipan antivenene that Ram, himself, had helped to develop.

It was also Ram who is accredited for identifying the taipan as a separate species from the brown snake.

Ram Chandra's grave at the Mount Bassett cemetery.
Ram Chandra's grave at the Mount Bassett cemetery.

 

In the late 1940s, a tiger snake bit Ram in Sydney during a show and his life was saved because of an antivenene for the tiger snake, which had been available since 1929.

As Ram would have been aware, the tiger snake antivenene was only effective for certain poisonous snakes, mainly black, but not for the browns which included the deadly taipan.

Ram had developed a method for milking live snakes in his show to demonstrate to his audiences that the Pit of Death lived up to its name.

Ram used a piece of thin rubber stretched across a glass jar.

In 1951, Ram successfully milked a taipan and in 1955, attempted to make his own antivenene without success.

In support, Ram's GP Dr Ian Chenoweth, the local government medical officer, arranged for the Mackay Sugar Research Station to process the taipan's venom and the crystals were sent to the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories.

It was gratefully received as their only live taipan specimen, that had cost the life of Keith Budden who had captured it, had recently died.

The taipan antivenene developed in 1955 saved Ram's life.

In April 1956, while addressing more than 50 superintendents and officers of the QATB at a triennial conference in Mackay, a taipan bit Ram in the Pit of Death.

Ram, now dedicated to the cause of education, had gathered the frontline people on how to treat snake bites.

To the horror of the onlookers, Ram continued to demonstrate the procedure on himself before being rushed to Mackay Base Hospital, where Ram knew the antivenene was available.

His reputation spread far and wide.

Former Mackay MP Tim Mulherin, Nolear Ramsamy and Wendy Edmond at the dedication of the Ram Chandra Library at the Base Hospital in 2002
Former Mackay MP Tim Mulherin, Nolear Ramsamy and Wendy Edmond at the dedication of the Ram Chandra Library at the Base Hospital in 2002

Newspaper and magazine articles were written about him with people in a variety of positions and professions holding him in high regard.

Apart from being paid for the venom supplied to CSL, government assistance was not forthcoming and Ram was unable to take out life insurance due to the great risk involved in handling and milking the venomous reptiles.

Support given by the Mackay people allowed Ram to continue to travel and educate the public including schoolchildren.

Funds were raised, a local car dealer supplied him with a vehicle and a workmate took leave from his job to accompany and help him.

In May 1965, Ram became paralysed from the waist down because of the accumulated effects of multiple snake bites and he was offered an invalid pension, which he refused.

Physiotherapy and a determination to walk again enabled Ram to gain his feet with the support of a walking stick and he was mobile enough again to accept a call to supply venom for scientific research for the death adder.

Ram Chandra Park at Lambert's Beach
Ram Chandra Park at Lambert's Beach

 

Ram had to travel to Goondiwindi.

Ram received the British Empire Medal in 1975 and the Order of Australia in 1995 for his lifetime achievements.

The much respected and popular local lived in his family home at Slade Point until his death on July 31, 1998.

In 1999, a third and final publication by Kingswood Press written by Nan Rogers titled Ram: The Man The Legend was released.

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