Australian Screen

Australia’s audiovisual heritage online

Australia Today – Lucky Strike at Larkinville, WA and other segments (1938)

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clip Fangs of death education content clip 1, 2, 3

This clip chosen to be G

Clip description

Fangs of Death enters the dangerous world of venomous snakes. It shows a professional snake handler with brown and tiger snakes; how to milk snakes for serum; and how to treat a snake bite wound with antivenin and a razor. It also shows a small child happily handling a carpet snake. It warns the audience of the dangers of deadly snakes in high summer throughout New South Wales, and what to do if bitten.

Curator’s notes

This dramatic clip provides a warning to the audience by creating a sense of danger about Australia’s venomous snakes. The presence of a snake handler deftly picking up and handling dozens of writhing brown and tiger snakes, and gracefully dodging their attacks, adds a layer of spectacle to the newsreel.

The snake handler, George Cann, demonstrates the method used to treat a snake bite – using a razor to ‘scarify’ the wound, cutting off circulation to stop the venom spreading, and then pouring on the antidote of antivenin. Today, improved methods of treatment, and the increased availability and effectiveness of antivenin, have reduced the number of fatalities, which are mostly from brown snakes.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This clip from a black-and-white newsreel shows professional 'snake man’ George Cann at his home in Sydney, New South Wales. Cann 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, Cann 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 Cann’s 10-year-old son sitting calmly with what is probably a carpet python draped over his legs.

Educational value points

  • Snake handler George Cann (1897–1965) entertained crowds when he worked at a snake pit called 'The Loop’ in La Perouse, NSW, 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, Cann 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.
  • Cann 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.
  • Cann is shown deliberately provoking snakes so that the audience can see how the snakes react, and also how adept he is at handling these potentially dangerous reptiles. 'Crocodile Hunter’ Steve Irwin (1962–2006) continued the tradition of placing himself in dangerous situations when filming wildlife. In contrast to this dramatic style, other contemporary television presenters, such as David Attenborough, employ a more observational approach to filming animals, and do not deliberately handle or frighten the creatures they are commenting on.
  • The narrator not only describes the events on screen but also seems to be personally involved in the action in real time, with interjections such as, 'Watch out! He’s bitten!’. This style of commentary provides a sense of immediacy and engagement with the action, as well as offering context.
  • The recommended treatment for snakebite has changed since the clip was made in 1938. Current first aid practice requires the application of a broad pressure bandage where the bite has occurred. A splint is used and the area of the bite is kept immobile to prevent the venom being rapidly distributed through the bloodstream. It is not recommended that the site of the snakebite be washed. One in 20 snakebite victims is administered antivenom to neutralise the venom.
  • Every year there are about 3,000 recorded snakebites in Australia, resulting in an average of two deaths a year. About half of these deaths are from the brown snake, which can be found across all Australian states and territories except Tasmania. Australia has a wide variety of snakes, and although most of them are venomous to some extent, only a few are dangerous to humans.
  • The clip is taken from a newsreel made in 1938, when newsreels were a major source of information for Australians. Before the introduction of television in Australia in 1956, newsreels were the only audiovisual medium available to report major events such as sport, entertainment, disasters and discoveries. They were usually shown in cinemas before feature films, but some small cinemas ran newsreels exclusively.
  • The newsreel was produced and directed by Rupert Kathner, who made short films, newsreels and feature films throughout the 1930s, 40s and early 50s often in collaboration with his filmmaking partner Alma Brooks (c1910–88). The most famous of the feature films was The Glenrowan Affair (1951). Kathner died in 1954, aged 50, and his life and adventures are the subject of the 2006 movie Hunt Angels.

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