In 1949, ten years before the establishment of the Australian Reptile Park, Eric Worrell opened the tiny Ocean Beach Aquarium at Umina on the New South Wales Central Coast. It was here that Eric first started supplying venom to the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories (CSL) in Melbourne after the previous 'snake-man' had retired and subsequently died from an asthma attack caused by a severe allergy from handling snakes. Most of the anti-venom supplies had been exhausted due to an eruption of Mount Lamington in Papua New Guinea, where hundreds of fleeing natives required treatment for snake bite. Eric Worrell suggested that he would supply the CSL with the venoms on a freelance basis.
In 1950 at Cairns, north Queensland, a young snake collector, Kevin Budden, was bitten by a taipan he had caught. Before he died in Cairns Base Hospital, he requested that the snake be sent to the CSL for venom tests. After testing it was considered that for its size, the taipan must be the world's deadliest snake. A spate of deaths from taipan bites in the early 1950's caused a public outcry and Eric became the main supplier of this snake venom culminating in the release of taipan anti-venom in 1955.
Until 1955, the only anti-venom available for general distribution was specific tiger snake anti-venom, which gave varying degrees of cross-protection against the bites of most other dangerous Australian snakes. It can also be used to counteract the effects of sea snake venom. Thereafter followed specific anti-venom for the brown snake, death adder and finally, a polyvalent anti venom, a combined anti venom for the bites of any unidentified snake from Australia. Recently the venom of the rare inland taipan or fierce snake was proven to be twice as deadly as its northeastern relative. Fortunately, taipan anti-venom is effective against its venom.
Most anti venoms were developed by a team of scientists led by Doctor Struan Sutherland, Head of Immunology at the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories. He also updated first aid for snake or spider bite that made conventional tourniquets and incision unnecessary. He replaced the old method with a restricting crepe bandage over the bite and wrapped firmly the entire length of the limb. The limb is then immobilised with a splint. This technique effectively restricts the spread of the venom through the body until medical treatment is available. The bandage must be left in place until anti-venom becomes available. He also developed a chemical kit that, in conjunction with the knowledge of the locality, enables a particular snake species to be identified. So, it is advisable not to wash the bite site as venom samples can be taken from the skin surface.
In 1970 Eric Worrell received an MBE personally from the Queen in recognition of his lifesaving role in the development of anti-venoms. In the same year the Australian Reptile Park began providing Sydney funnel-web spider venom to the CSL to assist with the development of an anti-venom. This spider had caused numerous fatalities in the most heavily populated area of Australia in previous years. The breakthrough came in 1980 when Dr Sutherland released the new funnel-web anti-venom to hospitals. There have been no further deaths there have been no further deaths from funnel-web spider bites since the advent of this medication.