|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
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.