John Cann Snakeman
John Cann, and Snakemen and Women of La Perouse – LINK TO CANN FAMILY WEBSITE
George Cann is John Cann’s father and the son in the clip is John’s older brother, George. This clip from a black-and-white newsreel shows George at his home in Sydney. George picks up a number of snakes as the narrator explains that he has been bitten 400 times in 20 years. Towards the end of the clip, George receives a bite from one of the snakes and is shown calmly using a cutthroat razor to open the wound, applying a tourniquet and administering some antidote. The end of the clip shows his 10-year-old son sitting calmly with what is probably a carpet python draped over his legs.
George Cann (1897–1965) entertained crowds when he worked at a snake pit called ‘The Loop’ in La Perouse from 1920 until the 1960s. He was a legendary collector of snakes from areas around Sydney and, it is said, could catch up to 40 snakes in a day. In his yard, he created large pits that were used to house his snake collection. He was the curator of reptiles at the Taronga Park Zoo for 20 years, and died of a stroke in 1965.
George was part of an Australian fairground tradition of ‘snake men’, who would let snakes crawl on them and occasionally allow themselves to be bitten, as part of their acts. The snake men would usually administer their own treatment for bites, and some made extra money through the sale of antidotes, potions and oils. The earliest known snake man was ‘Professor’ Fox, who died of snakebite in 1914. Other notable snake men were Rocky Vane and Tom ‘Morrisey’ Wanless. (READ MORE AT SOUNDSCREEN LINK)
John Cann was awarded an OAM in 1992 in recognition of service to the community, conservation and the environment, particularly through natural history. In the 1956 Olympics he represented Australian in the Decathlon.
From Eric Worrel “As a Sunday afternoon jaunt my father would perhaps drive me to La Perouse where I first saw George Cann, the snake-man, and dropped threepences in the collection plate after his demonstrations. After awhile George Cann became used to seeing the little, curly-headed boy in short pants and a blazer standing about for hour after hour. Sometimes he would let me carry a bag of snakes home with him, and the day George Cann himself actually gave me a whip snake was one boasted about for many months.”
Rosemary Dobson Prize 2008
Commended: ‘Snake-Man (La Perouse)’ – Paul Cliff (ACT)