The Life and Work of Eric Worrell
Eric Worrell was born in Granville, New South Wales on 27th October 1924. Eric was educated at Glenmore Road Public School in Paddington then Sydney Boys High School. By the age of 10 he was keenly interested in wildlife, keeping reptiles and other animals at home (first at Paddington then around 1938, to Lilyfield. He was encouraged in his hobby by his parents and by George Cann, the “Snake Man of La Perouse”.
He left school at 13 and spent several years in work gangs in regional New South Wales and Queensland, studying drawing and photography in his spare time. During the Second World War he worked as a civilian blacksmith on the installation of shore artillery in Darwin and other work at Katherine, where he had many opportunities to study the local wildlife. After the war he and his friend, the poet Roland Robinson returned to the Northern Territory in 1946, collecting specimens for zoos and museums, and writing articles on Territory wildlife for magazines such as “Walkabout”.
In 1949, Worrell opened the Ocean Beach Aquarium at Umina Beach on the New South Wales Central Coast. It was here in 1951, that he first started supplying tiger snake venom to the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories (CSL) in Melbourne. Taipan venom followed in 1952. He later expanded his repertoire to include spiders such as the Sydney funnel-web spider and exotic snakes.
In 1958, he purchased land at Wyoming, New South Wales, establishing the Australian Reptile Park, which opened in October 1959, with a large number of exotic as well as Australian animals. In 1963 he had a giant dinosaur statue erected at its entrance as a tourist drawcard, one of Australia’s first “Big Things”.
In 1985, beset with personal, health and financial problems, he tried to sell the Reptile Park, but was bailed out with financial assistance from entertainer Bobby Limb and local businessman Ed Manners.
He died of a heart attack in 1987. In 1996, after Worrell’s death, the Park was moved to Somersby.
His wanderings throughout his life took him from the Northern Territory and tropical Queensland to the islands of Bass Strait, where he captured many snakes, among them deadly taipans and tiger snakes. Much of this perilous work was undertaken on behalf of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories, which needed the venom of dangerous species to make anti-venom. Other adventures include a crocodile hunting voyage, a shipwreck, hatching crocodile eggs in bed, an expedition into Arnhem Land in search of cave paintings and rare fauna, encounters with charging buffaloes and the making of a film about the mutton-birds of Bass Strait for television. All these experiences, and more, vividly recorded in words and photographs, make up “Song of the Snake”, a book that offers not only exciting incident but also a rich store of first-hand information on the natural life of our continent, and opens up for the reader a new and fascinating world.