George Cann Senior

George Cann was born in Newtown, Sydney in 1897.

1938: The Fangs of Death!
This video from the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia shows the two George Canns, when the family lived in the La Perouse watchtower during the Great Depression in the 1930s.

Click here to watch the video if the link below doesn't work.

video

Early life
George Cann was raised by his grandparents in Camperdown at 78 University Street. This photo of University Street from the Church St intersection was taken in 1909. Today, University Street is called Salisbury Road and the house no longer exists.


(c) Image copyright City of Sydney Archives.

This is the same intersection at Salisbury Road and Church Road today, as seen from Google Maps.


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George's real surname was Duruz, but he was abandoned by his parents when their marriage disintegrated not long after his birth. His mother (Ellen Mary Cann) moved to Dunedin, New Zealand, and his father (James Alfred Duruz) remarried. He took his mother's surname, Cann, when he was taken in by his maternal grandparents.

As a small boy George would spend much of his time hunting for snakes and would often spend time in La Perouse for this purpose. As a teenager he began collecting and exhibiting snakes to perform at showgrounds around Australia.

Service in WW1
During a performance at a snake show in Nowra in 1917, George joined the Australian Imperial Forces and was assigned to the 1st Battalion.


He fought in France for two years, with military records suggesting he was badly affected by mustard gas poisoning on several occasions.


Back from the trauma of his experiences in France, George didn't return to his grandparent's home in Newtown. Instead, like many WW1 veterans who found it hard to return to mainstream life, he lived in a cave and in self-built shanties along the shoreline near Bare Island, La Perouse. Eventually, he returned to his favourite pastime of hunting snakes and performing shows. He performed around Australia at country fairs and showgrounds, alongside Jimmy Sharman's famous boxing troupe and other carnival acts.

Meeting 'Cleopatra'
In 1924 aged 27, George met his future wife, Essie Bradley, at Gayndah in Queensland on the showground trail. For more information on Essie, click here.

Curator of Reptiles at Taronga Zoo
In 1939 George Cann accepted the position of curator of reptiles at Taronga Zoo. From then onwards, the family stayed in La Perouse and stopped travelling around Australia to follow the show circuit.



In his role as curator of reptiles, George Cann Senior increased the number of species on show at Taronga Zoo, and also helped the establishment of antivenom supplies and research conducted by the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories.



George Cann Senior was one of a rare group of snake men in that he didn't die from a snake bite - truly incredible considering he was bitten by poisonous snakes more than 400 times. He passed away in August 1965 from a stroke at the age of 68. A few weeks after his death, his sons George and John took over the show.