Legendary snake show every Sunday dating back to the 1800’s
The snake man has been performing weekly snake shows in the same grassed area on eastern side of The Anzac Parade just north of the 'Loop' at La Perouse since the 1800's, giving its name 'The Snake Pit'.
The open pit is located within Cann Park and is approximately 10m x 5m enclosed with a metre high corrugated iron fence overlooking the picturesque Congwong Bay.
I remember visiting La Perouse as a child and watching the snake show. A few weeks ago, I was in La Perouse by chance on a Sunday at 2pm with my kids, what luck! It took me back to my childhood and I was thrilled that the show was still going strong after all these years.
The Snake Pit at Cann Park
The Snake Show
The snake man stands in the middle of the snake pit with about 10 different Australian snake species tied up in their individual snake bags, plopped on the grass in a row along interior of the fence.
He introduces one snake at a time by releasing it onto the grassed area by his feet and steps aside, the snake mostly lies there oblivious to the crowd.
The snake man speaks about the snake's physical characteristics and its temperaments and the common misconception humans have about them.
He demonstrates by picking up the snake by the tail with one hand and using the other hand holding a stick with a hook, to lift the snake's head and walks it around for the crowd to get a closer look.
If the snake is harmless, he lets it wrap itself around his arm and walks it around for the crowd to touch.
The Diamond Python is the prettiest and friendliest of them all.
The funniest snake is the Death Adder, it small and fat and is lifeless on the grass and it doesn't matter how much the snake man provokes it with his stick, it is unresponsive.
The most striking is the Red Belly Black snake, it is big, long and its red belly is very prominent.
The fiercest is the Brown snake, it is constantly on the defence with its head up, body in a high stance, ready to strike. The one reason it did not strike the snake man is because he was wearing jeans, there is no open flesh for it to strike. Like in nature, it is always looking for a hiding place and a quick escape route, it slithers inside the snake bag willingly.
The Snake Man with the Brown Snake in Defence Mode
The snake man speaks of the snakes with such passion, conviction and respect that you can't be help to feel compassion for these creatures, they are the most miss-understood animals in the world. This is coming from a person who refuses eat Allens 'Snake' Lollies out of pure fear of the creature.
It is true that they are more scared of humans and will run and hide away before doing harm out of defence. But if you happen to get bitten the best first aid treatment is to apply compression on the affected area to slow the spread of venom and get help ASAP.
Before the last snake is introduced, the snake man with pass his 'Hat' around for donations as it has always been done over the last century.
The snake man will do a few shows on the Sunday afternoon, we saw him pack up around 5pm as the sun was setting.
La Perouse has always been a popular picnic spot for Sydneysiders since the late 1800s and early 1900s when the tram line was in operation until 1961.
There would be many carnival style shows to entertain the crowd every weekend and during the Great Depression, La Perouse was known as the Happy Valley. However, only the snake man endured the test of time and remains until this day.
The original snake man was Professor Frederick Fox until 1913 when Herbert See took over until 1914, who subsequently died after being bitten by a Tiger Snake.
Professor Fox who was in Calcutta in 1914 demonstrating his antidote died after being bitten by a Krait, a poisonous snake from south east Asia.
In 1920, George Cann Senior took over the show until 1965 when he died from a stroke and his two sons George Cann Junior and John continued on the tradition until 2010.
George Cann Senior at a young age was fascinated by snakes, he would spend most of his time hunting for them around La Perouse. He built a collection of snakes up to his teenage years and took them to perform at showgrounds around Australia.
In 1917 he joined the Australian Imperial Forces and fought in the 1st Battalion. On his return home after the war, suffering from trauma of his experiences in France, it was difficult for him to assimilate into mainstream life and lived in a cave along the shoreline of Bare Island.
Eventually, he fell into his favourite hobby of hunting for snakes and performing around Australia. In 1924 he met his future wife Essie Bradley who's stage name was 'Cleopatra' the snake woman, they married the following year.
They performed in the 'The Snake Pit of Death' as depicted in the poster.
The snake pit of death performed by George Cann Senior and Cleopatra Photo courtesy of cannsoflaperouse.blogspot.com.au
In 1935 during the Great Depression many families became homeless and set up camp in tents at La Perouse and surrounds, the Cann family moved into the Macquarie Watchtower and made it their home.
The Watchtower La Perouse in 1935 Photo courtesy of cannsoflaperouse.blogspot.com.au
The snake show is good fun for the whole family, drop by on a Sunday afternoon to say G'day to the snake man.