Many Coffs Coast locals will already know of Steve McEwan and his reptilian friends; you will likely have seen him at the Coffs or Bellingen Show with a snake, lizard or even a croc in tow! Steve has had a passion for reptiles since he was a small child, and he has managed to make a career out of being a reptile keeper at the Gosford Reptile Park, and then doing shows in our region after moving to the Coffs Coast.
His lifelong dream of opening his own Reptile World is being realised, as he is about to open his doors at the Big Banana Fun Park! We got Steve to tell us all about it.
Hi Steve. What brought you to the Coffs Coast?
I grew up in the city, but always wanted to move to somewhere surrounded by nature. My family and I moved up here 23 years ago, and it has been a great place for the kids to grow up. Some of the best times were had when I took the kids out into the bush looking for reptiles; there are just so many living things out there, if you know where to look! Coffs has some really great and diverse ecosystems. The rainforest virtually meets the ocean, and reptiles thrive in the different habitats, meaning we have many different species compared to other areas!
Your first encounter with a reptile was at a very young age; can you tell us about it?
My parents never knew what reptiles would be lurking in my room. I caught my first lizard at age five. I had a Green Tree Frog that used to live on top of my digital clock, enjoying the tiny bit of warmth, and I had my first pet snake by 10 years. My mother was nervous every time she cleaned my room, never knowing what she would find. It so happens I have passed this trait onto my kids, Macca and Sarah, who grew up with many different creatures as pets!
When did you realise your love of reptiles wasn’t just a hobby and could actually become a career?
The idea of working with reptiles became my passion, so when I turned 15 I got a job working at The Gosford Reptile Park with Eric Worrell. I was their youngest reptile keeper, which allowed me to work with some amazing reptiles from Australia and around the world. My most memorable encounter there involved a Scrub Python, who was trying to shed its skin in a swimming pool!
Are there many others in Australia that specifically work with reptiles?
Yes, there are many like-minded people out there! I have realised over the years that people often get frightened of reptiles, but the general public is more educated these days and can appreciate reptiles more, finding them exciting and interesting. The popularity of reptiles has been steadily increasing over the years, particularly with champions such as David Attenborough and Steve Irwin bringing reptiles into our lounge rooms through documentaries.
Can you share with us one of the most interesting experiences you’ve had involving reptiles?
As a result of my passion for reptiles, it is my wife who ends up having the interesting experiences. We had a Diamond Python in Sydney called Bubba, and one day he disappeared. A few days later, my wife called me to the bathroom, pointing to a tiny black speck at the bottom of the toilet bowl. I touched it with the toilet brush, and out shot our 2 metre Diamond Python. Deb looked at me and said, “I was just about to sit down!”
What is a common misunderstanding you find people have about certain types of reptiles?
The most common misunderstanding is that snakes chase you. In all likelihood, you are just standing where they want to go, either to get away from you or head to their home. If snakes chased you, I should have been caught a thousand times! Another belief is that venom from a snake bite is carried around your body in the blood stream. It actually goes through the lymph nodes, which is why a compression bandage is used in first aid, rather than a tourniquet.
We have a wonderful array of reptiles here on the Coffs Coast. What are some safety tips you can give our readers if they do happen to cross paths with some out in nature?
Be alert when you are out in the bush, as you are in their territory. Stand still if you come across a snake, until it has moved on, or back away if it is safe to do so. It is always handy to have a snake bite kit with you if you are out and about. If you have a snake in your home, you can call WIRES or check out Reptile World Rescue Facebook page for phone numbers you can call for assistance.
You have some really exciting news to share; you’re opening your own reptile park at the Big Banana. What has the process of getting this off the ground been like?
This has been my lifelong dream, and I am so excited to announce to Coffs locals that the Big Banana will be home to a great new educational experience that the whole family will love! It has been quite an exhaustive project, as I want it to be perfect for both the reptiles and the public. But, I think everyone will really enjoy it when they visit and hopefully leave with a new appreciation for our slithery and scaly friends.
What sort of experience do you think the locals and tourists will get out of the reptile park?
This is an innovative and exciting exhibit, where visitors are able to get up close and personal with some of Australia’s unique and remarkable reptiles. This is something new for Coffs and an added attraction at the Big Banana Fun Park for both locals and tourists to experience. Besides the awesome exhibits, visitors will also be able to get some great photos with Buddy the Black-headed Python, Pat the Bearded Dragon and, if you’re lucky enough, Little Nipper the baby Salt Water Croc!
What plans do you have for the park in the future?
As a new venture, I have made it fairly compact; however, if Reptile World is a hit with the public, there is the potential to expand. We want everyone to visit and enjoy the experience. A lot of people around town are familiar with what I do, and I will still be making appearances at Coffs Harbour and Bellingen shows and other local events.