"The Pilbara Cobra"

Shoot 1
Film 2
(30 minutes)

May 18th-May 30th 2000

Location of OBA film 2:2
The Pilbara, Western Australia

(mouse-over for view of central Western Australia)



An old bushman reported sighting an unusual snake in front of his car at night. The snake stopped in the headlights, approached the vehicle and raised itself, hooding in the fashion of a cobra. Little unusual in that, except the incident occurred near a mine in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, and the nearest cobra (genus Naja) is to be found on the island of Alor in the Indonesian Lesser Sunda Islands (Nusa Tenggara Province) approximately 3000 kms to the northwest across the Timor Sea.

The old bushman gets out of his car and takes a closer look
at the snake hooding in his headlamps.
What is it?
A cobra?

When the old bushman reported his tale the story of the Pilbara Cobra was born.

So what had he seen in his headlights?
Is there an undescribed species of cobra living in remote Western Australia, or was the snake a known species of Australian elapid that he had confused with its Asian counterpart?

The expedition set out into the Pilbara to track down as many Western Australian snake species as possible in the hopes of determining whether one of them could be identified as the Pilbara Cobra.

King brownsnake, Pseudechis australis
Note the hooding behaviour - Is this the Pilbara Cobra ?



Map of the Pilbara, Western Australia, showing filming locations
(click on map for enlarged view)

Facts about the Pilbara
(sources Wikipedia and others)

At 2,645,615 Western Australia is the Commonwealth of Australia's largest state, equivalent in size to 80% of that of India. Yet its population of under 2.4 million is less than 0.2% that of India. Over 1.7 million Western Australians live around the state capital of Perth in the southwest, leaving fewer that 700,000 people to populate the rest of this huge region. Many areas within Western Australia are extremely thinly inhabited and the Pilbara is one such (as is the Kimberley further north, the setting for OBA 2.3 "After the Flood").

The Pilbara is one of the nine regions of Western Australia, a region with an area of 502,000 that extends from the Indian Ocean, deep into the interior of the Red Continent. It is inhabited by fewer than 50,000 people, which means one person for every 10 The over-riding and immediate impression of entering the Pilbara is the colour of the landscape which could be called Pilbara Red. There are also vast areas of tussuck grasses referred to as spinifex (Triodia spp.), surrounding red sandstone outcrops covered in Aboriginal petroglyphs.

This is an area with huge petrol and gas reserves, and both iron ore and gold deposits, so mining is a major occupation, whether small-scale or industrial. The primary towns include Port Hedland on the coast and Marble Bar in the interior.

The Pilbara is also the natural home of Aboriginal peoples but the original community of 30-40,000 has reduced considerablysince European colonisation, to around 6,000 (15% of the region's population). Today the original Australian's live in their own communities such as the one at Warralong near Marble Bar.

The Pilbara is also home to a diverse and fascinating herpetofauna.


The Film Crew and Expedition Participants

From the UK:
David Wright (Director)
Robert Pendlebury (Associate Producer)
Mark O'Shea (Presenter)
Des Seal (Camera)
Matt Seal (Camera assistant)
Terry Meadowcroft (Sound recordist)

In Australia:
Brian Bush (herpetologist)
DT (Aboriginal tracker)
Peter (Aboriginal tracker)
Jim Allen (bush man)
Rosy & Biddy (Warralong Aboriginal Community)
Chris & Ingrid Walkley (Principals of Strelley Community School)
Rob & Dusty Worley (Strelley caretaker and cook)
Warralong Aboriginal Community
Magnus Peterson (herpetologist)

Special thanks to RobPendlebury and David Wright for the use of their images.
David's images are available commercially via his Flickr account

Mark O'Shea and Brian Bush,
with Rosy and Biddy from the Warralong community*
who featured in "The Pilbara Cobra"
click to enlarge


* Shortly after filming was completed Rosy was tragically killed in a car accident, so in keeping with Aborginal tradition, where the deceased person's name may not be spoken, written or read, nor their image seen by members of their community, it was necessary for YAP Films to cut a special version of the film with Rosy omitted, solely for the Warralong community.

The Expedition

Film 2, of Shoot 1, of OBA Season 2 investigates the stories of the 'Pilbara Cobra', a large snake that rears up and spreads a hood like that of an Asian cobra, but cobras (genus Naja) are absent from the continent of Australia, so we set out to discover which of the Pilbara's species of snakes, many of them highly venomous elapids related to cobras, could be the source of the story.

We started and ended the film with a dramatised sequence using a real bushman called Jim as the man who first sighted and reported the 'Pilbara Cobra'.

The locations in Western Australia visited during filming of "The Pilbara Cobra" were:

1. Western Australia
a) Perth
b) Port Hedland
c) Port Hedland to Marble Bar
d) Marble Bar
e) Klondyke Mine
f ) Warralong
g) Strelley River
h) Coongan River
i) Petroglyph rocks

Filming schedule & itinerary:
Thursday 18th May - Arrive Perth, WA
Friday 19th May- Perth, WA
Saturday 20th May - Port Hedland, WA
Sunday 21st May - Marble Bar, WA
Monday 22nd May - Marble Bar, WA
Tuesday 23rd May - Marble Bar, WA
Wednesday 24th May - Warralong, WA
Thursday 25th May - Warralong, WA
Friday 26th May - Coongan River, WA
Saturday 27th May - Warralong, WA
Sunday 28th May - Warralong, WA
Monday 29th May - Warralong, WA
Tuesday 30th May - Return to Perth, WA


Expedition Results includes a full life-list for the "The Pilbara Cobra" in Western Australia.

Quick links to other Australian films in the 2nd Season of "O'Shea's Big Adventure"
"On The Edge"
"After The Flood"
"Sea Serpents"
"Feast of the Snakes"