Neville Burns - A Lifetime with Reptiles
As a small boy, Neville had a total fascination with anything that crawled, crept or flew. When Neville was five years old his father showed him an adult Blue-tongue lizard and it was from this point that reptiles became his consuming passion. Neville kept a substantial collection of Blue tongue lizards and caught his first venomous snake, a juvenile Eastern brown when he was eight. Although it was only small, as the second most venomous land snake in the world, this was NOT a smart move and Neville’s message to members of the public, especially children, is to avoid snakes in the wild.
Weekends became times to visit local bush areas and collect a wide variety of lizards and snakes, many of which were hidden away from his parents as although they accepted the lizards, they were not in approval of his keeping snakes. At an early age, Neville became aware that the average person disliked and feared snakes and he began giving talks at school to fellow students and teachers, illustrating these talks with live reptiles from his collection .Inspired by Eric Worrell’s book “Song of the Snake” Neville at 16 , with $10 in his pocket, hitch-hiked to Gargett in North Queensland in search of pythons. He returned with an impressive array of large pythons and thus began a love affair with North Queensland that was to see him visit this part of the country some fourteen different times in the next several years.
Arriving in Cairns for the first time, Neville captured his first snake in that area and sold it to a Cairns wildlife park to raise some much needed funds. His knowledge of reptiles being obvious to the park owner landed Neville with the job of looking after the parks reptile collection in return for a base of operations. Part of Neville’s duties was to give talks on reptiles to the park visitors and this was something for which he had a very strong commitment. As his skills increased , Neville began giving talks when in Sydney at various festivals and to Reserve Army personnel and other interested groups. He was also , on his trips to North Queensland, hired to collect specimens for other wildlife parks such as Hartley’s Creek Fauna Reserve.
Neville also worked as an animal handler for Fauna Productions, producers of the “Skippy the Bush Kangaroo” television series. Whilst serving a term as Vice-President and Education Officer of the Australian Herpetological Society he was one of a core group of members who were instrumental in the Society becoming involved in reptile exhibitions at National parks in Sydney in conjunction with the N.P.W.S. It was at one of these displays that he was approached by one of the senior N.P.W.S. personnel with a request to lecture in schools and a promise of permits to collect additional reptiles from the wild to allow him to provide this service. In 1980 he gained authorization from the N.S.W. Education Department and launched his lecturing service under the business name of Reptile Lectures. In 1981he also began reptile displays in shopping malls and other venues. From 1982-1986 Neville expanded the business further and formed a company, Terra Australis Productions which launched displays in other states i.e. Victoria, South Australia and Queensland.
In June 1986 a new display “Crocodiles of the North” which featured the hand feeding of live crocs in shopping malls was launched and some month’s later schools were incorporated with Terra Australis Productions and this area of the business greatly expanded. On the 29th November 1988 Neville became the first person to be permitted to display live crocodiles in N.S.W. Government Schools and launched a new school lecture also titled “Crocodiles of the North’. Terra Australis also provided large live Salt water Crocodiles for special promotions in several states. Neville retired as a Director of the company in December 1989.
During 1990 Neville was show presenter at the Australian Reptile Park, Gosford and also mounted on behalf of the park a new shopping mall production “Learning to Live with Reptiles”. Some time after this Neville was offered the position of reptile curator at a new park the Australian Wildlife Park” at Wonderland Sydney. One of his first Duties here was to transport a huge Saltwater croc “Maniac” from Edward River Crocodile Farm to Wonderland Sydney, This entire operation was filmed by one of Australia’s most respected current affairs programs and caused great interest when it went to air. After four years at the park Neville took a sabbatical to travel with his displays again. Upon his return to the park Neville was approached by one of Wonderland’s Directors to design some new reptile display concepts and together with his mate Nick Stevens, at that time manager of the Northern Territory Crocodile Farm, went far beyond anything that Wonderland had conceived. So excited were the Directors at this concept that it was decided to build a new stand alone attraction with Nev and Nick as managers.
Unfortunately, negotiations with Wonderland broke down and Nick and Neville turned to America as a possible home for their project. In negotiation with Pritchard’s Marketing in California, while waiting to gauge interest in their major project, the boys accepted an offer from Bob Pritchard, Director of Pritchard’s Marketing ,to undertake a coast-to-coast tour of America’s top shopping malls with live snake and crocodile shows. Sadly, the company could not raise the initial funds and Neville stayed on at Wonderland until its closure 8 years later. At this time “Maniac “ the parks big Saltie was purchased by the Black Hills Reptile Gardens in the U.S.A. and after assisting the reptile curator from that establishment to capture the big guy and prepare him for the trip to his new home, Neville resigned his position as he felt dejected whenever he saw the empty crocodile pond.
Since this time Neville is once again self-employed running his own business “Blue Mountains Reptile Awareness”. He provides educational shows at many venues and also lectures to medical students from Canberra, Sydney and Wollongong Universities. He has appeared on many television shows including “The Midday Show” with Ray Martin. “Who Dares Wins”, “Totally Wild”. Good Morning Australia” with Gordon Elliot, :Simon Townsend’s Wonderworld”, and in many newspaper and magazine articles. Neville also provides courses in venomous reptile husbandry and O.H & S courses in snake awareness and safety for companies and groups whose employees duties bring them into contact with snakes. Recently voted one of Australia’s most respected herpetologists on Australia’s premiere herpetological website “Aussie Reptile Keeper” (an honour that although very flattering is undeserved in Neville’s opinion) he is known as friendly and approachable with a keen sense of humour He has produced a D.V.D. “The Truth about Australian Snakes” which has proved popular with his peers and the general public. When asked why he pursues this career he says “It is not what I do, it’s what I am.’
Some other highlights in Neville's career;
Lectured to senior nursing staff at Griffith Base Hospital, NSW, Australia
Suplied and handled live crocodiles for movies and television series e.g. The Last Resort and Young Einstein
Supplied 16 foot cast of saltwater crocodile for croc attack sequence in "Crocodile Dundee" the movie
Mounted large display of snakes and crocodiles for the World Scout Jamboree and Mondial at Cateract NSW
Produced educational snake video for NSW schools and public libraries
Appeared in and did voice-over for Webster's Publishing DVD "Snakes of Australia"
Guided scientists from Australia and USA on field trip to find Australia's only officially listed endangered snake The Broad Headed Snake (hoplocephalus bungaroides) for university studies by Professor Rick Shine
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