Time to say goodbye to some not so cuddly friends

Tim Elliott
January 23, 2010, Sydney Morning Herald – LINK TO Cann family website

All in the family ... John Cann with a python in his backyard.All in the family … John Cann with a python in his backyard.
Photo: Kate Geraghty

  FOR A 72-year-old professional snake charmer, John Cann has done pretty well. “I only got bitten seven times,” he says. “But I certainly remember them all.”

There was the Clarence River snake that bit him on the right index finger and “made me bring up blood clots”.

Then there was the red-bellied black snake that struck the webbing of his thumb and put him in hospital for eight days. And of course, there were the tiger snakes, one of which sent him temporarily blind.

“White blind, though, not black blind,” he says.

“Like flying through clouds in a light airplane until everything went white.”

But Mr Cann will be bitten no more. Having drawn audiences to his Sunday afternoon snake show for more than 40 years, the legendary Snake Man of La Perouse is giving the game away.

“It’s become a bit much,” he said. “My older brother, George, who ran the show with me, died. Then there’s the public risk insurance, and the cost of feeding and housing the animals. I want to travel with my wife, and you can’t do that when you have a weekly show.”

Mr Cann’s involvement was following in family footsteps. His mother, Essie Bradley, was the first snake woman of Tasmania; his father, George Cann snr, was running a snake show in Hatte’s Arcade in Newtown by age 13. After fighting in France during World War I, George snr returned in 1919 to take over the loop in La Perouse, a snake pit that had hosted performances since 1897.

The pit’s previous operators had been a colourful, if luckless, lot: its founder, Professor Frederick Fox, died after being bitten by a krait in Calcutta; the next operator, Garnett See, was killed in 1913 by a brown snake at his first La Perouse show; Tom Wanless, a subsequent owner, died in 1921, struck by a green mamba during a demonstration in South Africa.

In 1938, Cann snr became the curator of reptiles at Taronga Park Zoo, but continued to run the loop on weekends, with help from his young sons, George jnr and John. When their father died of a stroke in 1965, the sons took over. Their father had been bitten often – on his nose, knee, Achilles tendon – so often in fact that he was said to have developed immunity. But John has not been so resilient.

“I have developed a few allergies from my bites, which I guess is another reason to give it away,” he said.

Mr Cann’s last gig will be in the next couple of months – he won’t say exactly when. (”Don’t want no razzamatazz.”) He will hand the show over to the Hawkesbury Herpetological Society, together with his 25 venomous snakes, which he keeps at his Phillip Bay home, together with goannas, pythons, lizards and a small saltwater crocodile.

He plans to pursue his fascination with fresh water turtles.

“I want to go camping, get out and about,” Mr Cann said. “There’s still lots to see out there.”

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