His presence outside the Swiss Deli is a daily fixture. Meet John Papadakis, the self-proclaimed greatest living crocodile taxidermist who adorns his accomplishments in his attire.
Being one of West End’s more colourful eccentrics, John has never shied away from letting locals and passers-by take his photo with his croc-tooth bejewelled amulet close to heart, fangs atop his brimmed hat and his many encrusted fingers. At the Boundary Street market his local infamy is framed in painted portraits hanging inside a neat, little cafe. For all the history he wears on his sleeve, strokes to his story brush back to his 1953 arrival from Greece as a young man and to a life spent in Papua New Guinea before his now daily commute from New Farm to West End’s Swiss Deli cafe, where he feels most welcomed.
“Have you seen my big picture next to or behind the train? (at Boundary Street Markets),” John points out. “I am inside the little kiosk, two pictures. So many people come up to me and ask to take my photos but nobody asks to paint me,” says John. Needless to say, he has been made offers for several thousand dollars for the works.
After his arrival in Australia, John worked in Adelaide for hotelier Louisa O’Brien before the Australian government made an open-invite for labourers to work in Papua New Guinea. This is where John’s life took a more colourful turn.
“I went to Papua New Guinea in 1963, just seeking work for the Australian Government in Port Moresby. Then I spread out, hunting and killing crocodiles and did that for a long time. Sometimes I’d leave it for another job then come back to croc shooting. And now I’m the greatest croc taxidermist in the whole world,” professes John. “They might beat me in other animals, birds, whatever which I do very well too, but I am self-taught. Nobody taught me how to do taxidermy. In the crocodile world there’s no one single person in the planet who can beat me. I can put a crocodile on top of the table and it’s like talking to you, beautiful!”
John also kept his working life busy by building roads for Greek Cypriots in Papua New Guinea, also trying his hand in gold mining and catering for government functions. “Oh, what didn’t I do?” he exclaims. “I did some entomology for a New Zealand company, too.”
While his roots are from Delphi, a small island in Greece, John’s family was split by a long exodus to New York’s Ellis Island with a strong balance of his relatives taking up the hot dog business over in Houston, Texas. After-all, as John recalls, the Greeks introduced the famous James Coney Island hot dog fast food way back in the 1920s and the Papadakis name has carried it on.
John lived in Papua New Guinea for 23 years, and while over there, had made of it a family life of his own.
“I have a family there, one girl and she’s nine and looks exactly like me, and she is currently the top of her class in school,” he says, through a proud smile. “Her, with her mother, are coming down with her two little girls to see if I can make them Australian citizens. So they all have visas and passports made up and I expect them to come down soon.”
Words by Kirk W Wallace
Images by Tahlia Moloney