Here’s the first upbeat MEL GIBSON item in I-can’t-remember-when:

A grateful group of holiday hikers sang the Aussie bad boy’s praises after he valiantly beat back a vicious, six-foot rattlesnake when it snapped into attack mode, baring poisonous fangs!

Said My Slithery SpyWitness: “Mel was on a cleansing retreat at the famed Miraval Resort & Spa in Tucson, Ariz., and was on a five-mile hike into the desert mountains with eight other guests when he suddenly heard an ominous rattle he knew well as a longtime resident of the Malibu mountains!

A split second later, a huge rattlesnake slithered onto the trail and went into attack mode.

Instantly, Mel shielded three women next to him with his body, yelling, ‘Stay back!’ As the ladies screamed, the snake struck!” A quick-thinking male hiker snatched up a dead tree branch and handed it to Mel, who roared like Mad Max – and attacked!

“Mel charged the rattlesnake, yelling at the top of his lungs, and beat it back off the trail,” said the source. “Then he stood guard, keeping the snake at bay while everyone moved quickly past the danger point. When all were safely distant, the group gave Mel a rousing cheer, thanking him profusely for being their hero!”