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.”

  1. Gregory Potts says:

    This man is a legend above and beyond the world of reptiles.
    Born with ricketts and deemed never to walk but somehow managed to represent Australia in the Olympics.
    I always thought i’d be taking my kids to watch the show, at least i know now that one will, although it will be the last show.
    Thank you Uncle John

  2. Darren says:

    Good on you.I saw you as a young person and never forgot the thrill of watching something different.something you would not see everyday.Thanks.Enjoy .

  3. roy kimpton says:

    I ariveD in Australia from England with my Parents a siblings in 1951,aged fourteen. We lived in the Bunnerong Migrant Hostel on Bunnerong Road, Matraville. For a couple of years and they were the most happy years of my life. Walking to Maroubra Beach and swimming there all day. Walking out to La Perouse with my younger Brother Malcolm, going to the Bug House Pictures at Matto. I remember the Snake Man realy well, the show was mesmerizing. Coming from the Old Dart I was in a completely Magnificent New World and quickly learned to say ‘ Gudday” and’ How ya Goin’ Today markes 59 years since I went out to ” LARPA” and still remember the wonder of the area and swimming at Little Congy Beach. My Wife, our little Dog Ruby, and I, are going out there again today the 18th April. I have been a Naturalised Australian for many years and truely LOVE this Country, and once loved her people, but Aus has changed and we’ve lost the Old Comerarderie, and the Aussie way of a Fair Go ! we once had. God Bless our Aborinal People and their culture that has enriched on Old Ex Pom like me. ADVANCE AUSTRALIA FAIR !

  4. Paul says:

    All the best Champ your a legend, I have seen your show many times wish you all the best enjoy all your traveling and have a great time.

  5. Mary Kennedy says:

    Hey boyo! Guess you’ve been a “national treasure” for a long time so go enjoy the rest of your life!! Sad to see the end of an era but nothing lasts forever eh?? Didn’t get a chance to speak to you on Sunday as you were far too busy so lots of good wishes for your “retirement” and make the most of it!!

  6. kerrie weigand says:

    hay uncle john you have done an amazing job with the reptile show over the years i hope you enjoy your time now im sure you will be missed at the snake pit xoxo

  7. liz penno says:

    Hi Johnny Cann
    I remember you from Penningtons shop at malabar 1957.You used to walk across with the Yarra boys ..I remember you threw a football from the top of the
    park and it landed in the water you shocked us all .We didnt know how brilliant you were .
    hope we run into you on your travels have a good rest of your years

  8. Chris says:

    Oh my gosh I can’t believe this. I suppose all good things must come to an end. I found this article as I was searching for the La Perouse reptile show – planning to visit it in a week or two. I went in 2007 with my children and as we walked up I told them how I used to watch the show when I was their age and I was amazed to learn the man doing the show that my kids watched was exactly the same who treated me to the show thirty years earlier. (The other thing I learned today is you have a Wikipedia page after you – the Snake Man of La Perouse 🙂

  9. wayne says:

    thanks johnny,
    seen your shows many times, when i lived in the bunnerong hostel from 1968 to 1969 happy times. hope to get back there one day, i now live in manchester england, enjoy the rest of your retirement thanks again .

  10. Deborah of Perth says:

    Oh Shame, happy retirement & thankyou. I have many fond memmories of living in Sydney & visiting the snake pit & was hoping to take my children there for a visit this year.

  11. Marion Brown says:

    We lived in Bunnerong Hostel from 1968 to 1969 and one of the first things we did as a family was to come and see your show. Thank you for the memory. Happy retirement, you deserve it.

  12. liz Penno says:

    Hi Johnny
    I know by now you will be on your trip.I watched your father at the snake pit when I was 12 yrs old then George your brother
    when older .I have great memories from Nean and Pop Penintons shop at Malabar and the boys from Malabar and Yarra our card games when we were kids .You have done great work keeping our wildlife safer.Sorry that its all over at La Perouse

  13. herby williams says:

    moved into bunnerong hostel in 1950 from uk. used to go caddying at nsw golf course with lummy and larpa matto school had boxing matches against la perouse good fun didnt know john definatly knew of him played footy for yarra bay sailng club with his brother george great times.

  14. Todd graham says:

    Hi johny I grew up at Lapa & went to matto high. I met u thru my grand father percy Louie he was a mate Of yours. As a kid I would go to the loop on a Sunday & watch ur show & help you unpack your car & set up . your a legend mate I learnt a lot from you & your brothers snake show .i wish I could bring my kids to see your show but all good things must come to a end all the best johny in your travels . you are part of Lapa’s history mate all the best Todd.

  15. anne Scott says:

    I grew up at reservois street little bay, Mr george cann Snr was a friend of my father’s Bobby Scott, we came from scotland as migrants and lived not far from where Mr Cann did his Sunday snake show, it was the best. brother
    iain caught a huge brown snake in our outside dunnie and took it to Mr cann who told him off for doing such a silly thing. We were all saddened by his passing as he was our hero. Young george and johhny have done a great work and Johnyy now deserves a break. I live in tiaro Queensland and missed him when he came to our small town to talk about the Mary river turtle nice to see you still have a love of reptiles Johnny.Regards Anne Scott

  16. Raylene says:

    Good afternoon

    I was asked to organise some entertainment for a kindy’s Christmas party this year in November and the snake man came to mind.

    I am sadden to read that he no longer provides this service.

    Can you suggest someone else, we are located in Glebe.

    Looking forward to hearing from you at your earliest respone.


  17. Vicky Les says:

    Still have a love of snakes today, maybe due to your snake shows we saw regularly as kids !

  18. myra goldsworthy says:

    Hi george long time know see I meet u with Michael I would have been in early 20 just saying hello myra


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