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The snake men and women of La Perouse
This page charts the history of the Cann family of snake men and women, herpetologists and showground performers from La Perouse, Sydney, Australia.
Documentary: The Snakeman of La Perouse
Thank you to Michael Power for sharing his documentary, which features John Cann.
The history of the La Perouse snake show
In the late 1800s La Perouse became a popular picnic and day-tripping spot for tourists and Sydneysiders. Entertainers and carnival-style shows sprung up to entertain the crowds. The most enduring of these entertainers were the snakemen, or 'snake charmers' as they were originally known.
George Cann began performing a weekly snake show at La Perouse around 1919, a tradition which continued until April 2010, following the retirement of his youngest son, John Cann. The show is now managed and run by the Hawkesbury Herpetological Society.
Where is La Perouse?
La Perouse is a south-eastern suburb of Sydney, located at the opening of Botany Bay.
Cann Park, where snake shows have been performed since the late 1800s, is located to the east side of the La Perouse loop.
Across the road from Cann Park in the centre of the La Perouse Loop sits the Macquarie Watchtower. Built in the 1820s during the governance of Lachlan Macquarie, the tower was positioned at the opening of Botany Bay to watch for smugglers and escaped convicts. This photo shows the tower as it looks today.
During the Great Depression, La Perouse became known as Happy Valley. Thousands of unemployed and homeless families moved from the city and surrounding suburbs to camp in tents and makeshift shacks on the beaches and the surrounding scrublands. In 1935 the Cann family moved into the Macquarie Watchtower and made it their home. This photo shows the Watchtower as it looked during the Great Depression.
Most of the information on this page comes from the Cann family personal archives and John Cann's book, Snakes Alive!, first published by Kangaroo Press in 1986 and available on Amazon.com.
Thank you to Michael Daley MP, NSW Member for Maroubra and Minister for Police, for recognising John Cann and the contribution of the Cann family to Australian herpetology, in the NSW legislative assembly in May 2010.
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