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15 May 2007
11/2007
Commemorative Issue

Circus: Under the Big Top

Australia
Circus in Australia is generally thought to have begun in the 1830s, as individual artists arrived in the colonies and presented their acts at public gatherings. Robert Radford opened Australia's first circus establishment, the Royal Amphitheatre, in Launceston in 1847. And it was here, in 1848, that James Ashton, the founder of Ashton's Circus, began his career.

These first circuses consisted of equestrian acts, gymnasts, acrobats and dancers. Over the years the shape of circus performances has remained much the same - a series of acts demonstrating skill and daring, linked by clowning and comedy acts. Although the structure has changed little over the years, the content of circus performances is always changing to reflect the times.

As early as the 1860s Japanese and Chinese artists performed in Australia, sometimes in their own shows, sometimes incorporated into larger circuses. From the 1870s to the 1900s American artists, wild-west acts and animal menageries were central to many Australian shows. After World War II many European circus artists came to Australia as refugees or immigrants, and brought with them new circus acts.

By the 1950s circus was one of the most popular forms of entertainment in Australia, and circuses such as Ashton's, Bullen's, Sole Brothers' and Perry's were household names. No child would miss the show, and the whole town would turn out to watch the circus parading down the main street. Circus stars were akin to film stars, feted and adored by the public for their skill, their colourful lifestyle and their larger than life personalities.

Television had a major impact on Australian circuses during the 1960s, and a number of famous shows were forced to "pull down" for the last time, as audiences stayed home, enjoying the novelty of the talking screen in their living rooms. But since the 1970s circus has experienced a renaissance in Australia, spearheaded by companies such as Circus Oz and Circus Monoxide. These "new circuses" produced shows based on traditional circus acts, but using performers without circus backgrounds. These artists brought with them new theatrical ideas and created acts commenting on the the politics and social mores of the day. The 1980s saw the emergence of the community circus movement, with groups such as Flying Fruit Fly Circus and Women's Circus involving children and community members as circus performers.

The Burning Bicycle  

The Burning Bicycle

The Inside-out Man  

The Inside-out Man

The Dental Trapeze  

The Dental Trapeze

The Banana Lady  

The Banana Lady

The Human Cannonball  

The Human Cannonball

Technical Information

Issue Date: 2007-05-15
FDI Withdrawal Date: 2007-06-12
Denominations: Five x 50c (se-tenant)
Designer: Jim Tsinganos, Sydney
Printer: SEP Sprint
Paper: Tullis Russell
Paper (self-adhesive): B100
Printing Process: Lithography
Size: 26mm x 37.5mm
Performations: 14.6 x 13.86
Special Feature: Design in gutter
National Postmark: Launceston, Tas 7250
copyright notice: This material has been reproduced with permission of the Australian Postal Corporation. The original work is held in the National Philatelic Collection.
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