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Snake man calls it a day -

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TRACY BOWDEN, PRESENTER: For close on a century, the snake man has been a weekend and holiday
fixture in the Sydney suburb of La Perouse.

You could only guess at how many parents and wide-eyed children have peered into the pit and
watched almost mesmerised as the snake man shared his patch with some of the most deadliest
creatures on Earth.

It's gone on generation after generation, father to son, but at 72, the snake man is hanging up his
stick and a tradition will come to an end this Sunday.

Geoff Sims has spent some time with the snake man, also known as John Cann.

GEOFF SIMS, REPORTER: Just another date at the office. In fact, just another day in the life of
John Cann and his mates, his workmates - same thing.

Throughout his life, there've always been snakes.

JOHN CANN, THE SNAKE MAN: There's nothing unusual about it because I came up with it. Always a
lotta snakes and snake people were coming here all the time. So this was part of our life right
from the word go. Our house was always snakes.

PRESENTER (archive footage): This is no ordinary baby. It's the child of George Cann and
snake-charming's in the blood. Why, when they asked baby what Santa Claus should bring, it
suggested a nice rattler.

GEOFF SIMS: It wasn't young John, it was his sister Noreen. John was yet to be born. But with
parents like George and Essie, their lives would be entwined with snakes. There was a lot of them
about. Not just in the Cann home near La Perouse in Sydney, but the whole country it seemed was
crawling with them.

And just as George Cann felt among friends with black snakes, John is equally on their side.

JOHN CANN: Red bellies are my favourite type of reptile, there's no doubt about that. And when you
consider that they love eating browns and tiger snakes, while they're in your area, they're working
to your advantage.

GEOFF SIMS: Now here's a contradiction.

JOHN CANN: This one's pretty quiet. A good quiet brown. I'll take him and the lunatic down.

GEOFF SIMS: Which one's the lunatic?

JOHN CANN: He's up alongside your leg.

GEOFF SIMS: Look out. I can see why you call him the lunatic.

JOHN CANN: Hello, we had a win. That wasn't too bad.

They are a nasty snake. They are most certainly the most dangerous snake in Australia. When he
stands up he'll give you that figure "S" in his neck and he'll make a strike with his mouth open.

GEOFF SIMS: John's older brother George Jr. knew about it. They both did. They encouraged it.

JOHN CANN: When we was younger, George and myself would be down on our hands and knees teasing the
brown snakes with a hat in our hands so they could bite into the hat and knock you in the face, but
I don't do that now.

GEOFF SIMS: The First World War, then the Depression, gave snakes a certain flavour. Men and women
could make money catching them, selling them to zoos, selling them for their skins and doing things
with them.

PRESENTER II (archive footage): Unfortunately, Melbourne's cold weather makes his flesh creep. So
Bernie's solved the problem of keeping the snake alive by taking it to bed.

GEOFF SIMS: Some snake men and women built up immunity, accepted the bite, then demonstrated their
secret antidotes and flogged them. They were brave, or foolish.

JOHN CANN: We couldn't do what the old timers used to do. But a lot of them died. Dad had 16
personal friends that died of tiger snake bite alone, you know.

GEOFF SIMS: Young John could have been an early casualty himself, with his father looking on.

JOHN CANN: I got bloody bit. I never said nothing. It was a scratch. He said, "You've been bitten,
haven't ya?" And I said, "Yeah." And he spun me around and kicked me up the bloody bum, he did, you

GEOFF SIMS: You knew about snakes, you got bitten by a tiger and you said nothing?

JOHN CANN: It was always embarrassing to get bit by a snake.

GEOFF SIMS: Some might say, quite simply, you're mad - as a cut snake, in fact.

JOHN CANN: No, well, most snakemen are mad.

GEOFF SIMS: George Cann survived hundreds of bites. He lived to 68 - almost unheard of in his
trade. And he did better than some of his stool pigeons. Imagine doing this these days.

JOHN CANN: I really think he was the best snake man, not because he was my old man. I think he was
the best. In his era he was the best known. He was immune from snake bite. He used to do some very
reckless things. He used to put the snakes - their heads in his mouth. He stopped doing that when a
black snake bit him on the tongue.

GEOFF SIMS: You were never tempted to try that?

JOHN CANN: Wouldn't dream of it.

GEOFF SIMS: It was a stroke, not snake bite that got George Cann in 1965 and the sons found
themselves sharing the role of snake man of La Perouse.

JOHN CANN: I just said to brother George, "What do you reckon, we give it a go," and he said, "Oh,
yeah. OK."

GEOFF SIMS: And when George Jr died in 2001, John was left carrying the can for the Cann clan. But
at 72 and having been bitten near fatally a good few times, enough is enough - not just for his own

JOHN CANN: When my daughter came in here once when the wife was away and she heard a noise and she
looked around and there was a big brown snake sitting up on the (inaudible) here, ready to bite it
in the neck, well, that's when I said to myself, that's it.

GEOFF SIMS: So that's the reason you're giving up.

JOHN CANN: That's the true reason.

GEOFF SIMS: How did the brown manage to get out?

JOHN CANN: I left the cage open.

GEOFF SIMS: With snakes you can never be too careful - losing a couple of death adders, for

JOHN CANN: That's mum.

GEOFF SIMS: But where's dad?

JOHN CANN: Sometimes I've searched in their cage and I'm sure she's swallowed him.

GEOFF SIMS: But not the offspring.

JOHN CANN: I got a suspicion it's a record amount of death adders, 42.

GEOFF SIMS: All of them to find new licensed owners along with his other venomous snakes - most of
them anyway.

JOHN CANN: I might keep an adder and a couple of very nice red belly blacks which I don't think
anyone else deserves - they're too nice and you can't let 'em go.

GEOFF SIMS: And he'll keep the lizards - he breeds them, and the turtles: he's a recognised
authority on Australian freshwater tortoises or turtles, and his big carpet snake.

JOHN CANN: There's nothing that compares with this bloke in the carpet world. Come on, mate.

GEOFF SIMS: But he'll be turning his back for keeps on the La Perouse snake pit.

JOHN CANN: Thinking about it I don't want to go down there and look. It's gonna be hard. Just part
of your life.

GEOFF SIMS: There with will be another snake man or other snake men and women at La Perouse, just
not from the Cann clan. That chapter is closing.

And your kids are not interested in taking over?

JOHN CANN: No, my kids are scared of blue tongue lizards.

TRACY BOWDEN: The end of an era. Geoff Sims with that report.