Tess Guthrie, with her two-year-old daughter Zara; and Tex Tillis, with the snake he removed from their home. Photo: Supplied
Call it adrenaline, call it maternal instinct, but Tess Guthrie couldn't say where she found the strength to pry an almost 2m-long python from the arm of her young daughter in the middle of the night.
In the early hours of Saturday morning, Ms Guthrie, from Lismore in northern New South Wales, was woken by the hissing of her cat, which had been behaving unusually in the days before the python's appearance. In the darkness she could make out a strange figure in the bed next to her, where her daughter Zara, 2, was sleeping.
Reaching for the light on her mobile phone, she found a snake coiled around Zara's arm.
"Automatically, I jumped. I don't know if my movement startled the snake, but that's when it started to constrict around her arm, and then it just started to strike at her," she said.
"It got her three times and on the third time I grabbed the snake on the head and pulled her and the snake apart from each other.
"In my head I was just going through this unbelievable terror. My thought was that it was going to actually kill her at first, because it was wrapped so tight."
Ms Guthrie flung the snake across the room and made a dash from her detached granny flat to her father's house.
"Her little arm was bleeding really bad from the bites, and all I could feel was blood. Zara was screaming by that stage, and I was in hysterics because it was such a shocking thing to wake up to. It was just terrifying," she said.
She and Zara were taken by ambulance to Lismore Base Hospital, where Ms Guthrie works as a receptionist, and stayed the night.
She was still in disbelief and reluctant to return to the granny flat this morning, but she and Zara were otherwise safe and well.
Tex's Snake Removals' Tex Tillis, who removed the reptile, said the coastal python or carpet snake was not looking for a meal, just a "group hug".
"Pythons, underneath their bottom lip, have a row of sensors which evolution has equipped them with to see the world in infrared. In the dark, baby and mother sleeping in the bed would look like a lump of heat," Mr Tillis said.
Once the python felt under attack, Mr Tillis said, it started to constrict.
"That snake, if it was bigger, could have crushed the baby. It could have tried to eat the baby, yes," he said.
"And when mum went to save [the child] it could have wrapped her hands like the best police manacles around ... and then thrown a loop around her neck and killed her. It's all in self-defence."
This python was a junior, between five and 10 years old, and around 1.85m long, Mr Tillis said.
Mr Tillis said other parents unfortunate enough to find themselves in a similar situation would be best served immediately turning on the light.
"And then what you really have to do is grab the snake ... just below his head so it immobilises his jaw," he said.
Ms Guthrie insisted that the reptile be released back into the wild.