Blackall celebrates pivotal role in story of Australia’s circus industry with life-size elephant | Ralph-Lauren

Must Read

It is a dream of children worldwide — running away to join the circus.

But for a 12-year-old girl in outback Queensland, that snap decision would end up altering the course of history and put her on the way to arguably becoming the brains behind Australia’s circus industry.

It was on the banks of the Barcoo River near Blackall that the Perry Bros Circus started in 1889.

After a decade of life as a publican, William Perry was eager to get back to his family’s roots as variety show entertainers.

He swapped the Northampton Hotel for a bullock team and decided to take the show on the road.

An old black and white photograph of four elephants and three male trainers standing outside a circus tent.
The Perry Bros Circus, with their performing elephants, became the first circus to circumnavigate Australia.(Supplied: Robert Perry)

Not long after, 12-year-old Mary Ellen Atkins, who was working in a store in Blackall, went to a Perry Bros performance that would change her life.

“Within 24 hours she decided to run away and join the circus,” said Wendy Just, vice-president of the Blackall Historical Society.

“Six years later she had married the boss’s son. The rest is history.

An old black and white photograph of elephants performing in a circus tent.
The original Perry Bros Circus usually travelled with five elephants.(Supplied: Robert Perry)

First to circumnavigate Australia

Perry Bros would become the first circus to circumnavigate Australia and effectively kickstart the nation’s circus industry.

“There was a really interesting article in the paper going way back to 1932 where they said all Australian circuses originated from Blackall,” Ms Just said.

“Because from the Perry [Bros] Circus we got the Soul Circus, Alberto’s Circus, Eroni’s Circus and a lot of smaller circus groups, apparently.”

A black and white portrait photograph of a woman.
Mary Ellen Atkins became known as the ‘Grand Old Lady of the Circus’.(Supplied: Robert Perry)

Andrew Martin, the Mayor of the Blackall-Tambo Regional Council, said it would not have happened if it was not for Atkins joining the troupe.

“[Perry Bros] basically didn’t get much wind under its sails until Mary Ellen Atkins ran away from Blackall — ran away to join the circus,” Cr Martin said.

“She married one of the Perrys and not only did she spawn a whole heap of children, she spawned a whole heap of circuses, and she was the brains.”

A colourfully painted life-size elephant statue stands underneath a rotunda in a park.
Jumbo the elephant now stands in Blackall as a permanent reminder of the role the town plays in the story of Australia’s circus industry.(ABC Western Queensland: Ellie Grounds)

Jumbo a permanent reminder of circus roots

Now, more than 130 years later, Blackall has honoured its circus industry roots in the way all regional Australian towns are wont to do — by erecting a big statue.

Jumbo the life-size, fibreglass elephant was donated by Robert Perry, the grandson of Mary Ellen Atkins.

Mr Perry, who performed as a unicyclist in a version of the Perry Bros Circus which toured until 1993, said he was determined his family’s legacy be celebrated in the town where it all began.

A black and white photo of a unicyclist juggling under a circus big top tent.
Robert Perry performing in 1978.(Supplied: Robert Perry)

“I said, ‘You know? I’ll get an elephant,’ which I did,” Mr Perry said.

“I bought it in Geelong and had it transported here.

“I think it’s going to be a great attraction for the town.

A man in an Australian flag shirt stands in front of a colourful elephant statue and points at an information board.
Robert Perry says the display honouring Perry Bros Circus and its Blackall connection will “be a great legacy” for his family.(ABC Western Queensland: Ellie Grounds)

Ms Just said she was hesitant when she first heard the idea, but after conducting some research had no doubt Blackall needed a way to celebrate its connection to the big top.

“I don’t think there’s anywhere else in Australia that’s remembering the history of Australian circus as we are,” she said.

“This is truly something a little bit different, a bit out of left field.”

A woman in a gold sparkly jacket and a top hat touches and admires a colourful lifesize elephant statue.
Wendy Just remembers being “dazzled” by the Perry Bros Circus when it came to town when she was a child.(ABC Western Queensland: Ellie Grounds)

Hopes for a circus renaissance in outback

Ms Just remembers being “dazzled” by the Perry Bros Circus when it came to Blackall when she was around 10 years old.

“When I looked at the photos that Mr Perry has in his book, I recognised the same people as I can remember seeing back [then].

“The fellow I recognised, I do believe now, when I look at the photos was actually Robert’s father who was on the high wire.”

Two men stand in front of a sign with an old circus poster on it.
Robert Perry (left) toured a version of the Perry Brothers Circus around Australia until 1993.(ABC Western Queensland: Ellie Grounds)

She and the council hope the elephant will kickstart a second wave of circus performers coming to and from the outback.

“We intend to build on this history, this rich history that we’ve got here,” Cr Martin said.

“We’ll do circus workshops and we might get Hugh Jackman out here in a year or two and he can come to where it all started, then he can go back to LA for [The Greatest Showman].”

A boy in a red shirt and hat does arts and crafts on an elephant-shaped cut-out.
It is hoped to bring circus workshops to town to inspire the next generation of performers.(ABC Western Queensland: Ellie Grounds)

Source link

Leave A Reply

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Latest News

Queensland Covid-19 updates: Infectious disease expert says next 24-hours is critical

Queensland had previously managed to contain repeated Covid threats but an infectious disease expert warned the...

More Articles Like This