'New Wave', which included works that were recognised and validated as distinctly Australian, emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
For historical avant-garde artists, circus was a treasure trove and a creative goldmine for ideas. Circus and the Avant-Gardes is by Mirjam Hildbrand and former Library Fellow Anna-Sophie Jürgens.
For more than a century, the circus has been a feature of the Australian entertainment industry, particularly in rural and regional Australia. The Library’s collections document how this sector has changed from its early beginnings of travelling sideshows, through to the rise of the contemporary circus.
Early touring circuses featured ‘Wild West’ feats of horsemanship, music hall traditions of clowning, and displays of wild and exotic animals. From the 1960s, the focus shifted to performances of human physicality and storytelling, with modern circuses engaged with formal in circus arts training, and partnering internationally to progress the art form.
Key circus collections:
- Circus, vaudeville, theatrical performers, sports athletes, other curiosities in Australia and New Zealand, 1912-1937 [newspaper and magazine clippings, collectables and ephemera]
- Judy Cannon Circus Oral History collection of sound recordings
- Mark St Leon oral history interviews (circus related)
- Research Notes of Mark St Leon
- Vivian James Carter Collection of posters, images and memorabilia
Collection highlights for circus
Ashton's Circus was established by James Henry Ashton (ca. 1819-1889) in Launceston, Tasmania, in February 1851. The show toured to all Australian colonies and New Zealand, and today remains the longest surviving circus in Australia. The Library’s holdings include the records of Ashton’s Circus, as well as photographs, posters and programs.
An Indigenous Australian circus family who performed as "Colleano’s All Star Circus" in Australia and internationally in the early twentieth century. The Library holds the papers of the Colleano family as well as interviews. Related material includes an interview, programs, posters and a portrait of family member Con Colleano, a tightrope walker who became one of the most celebrated circus performers of his time.
Magic & mime
Find collection materials which document the performance of local and touring magicians and illusionists in Australia.
- Jean Hugard 1871-1959
Born John Gerard Rodney Boyce in Toowoomba in 1872, he became the most prolific modern writer on the art of magic, and so highly esteemed within his craft that he was presented with the Magic Circle Silver Wand. The Library holds his papers in the manuscripts collection and our PROMPT collection holds material recording other magicians paying tribute to him, and reflecting his international significance. Access it here.
- Norman Murray Carrington Walters 1901-1988
Murray Carrington Walters better known as ‘Murray the Escapologist’ toured the world with an illusion show and used escapes as a means of publicity. Murray retired to Blackpool, England where he opened a magic shop. Our collections include his papers, as well as theatre programs, Pictures, Posters and a broadside.
Contemporary mime theatrical group founded in 1979, formerly known as the Sydney Corporeal-Mime Theatre. Entr'acte has performed in most parts of Australia as well as overseas, offering classes and workshops both in Sydney and on tour. Our holdings include the Records of Entr’acte Theatre, 1980-1993, a collection of photographs, and theatre programs.
Puppetry has been performed in Australia since the mid-19th century. Early performances were made by visiting artists from overseas. Local companies began to appear in the mid 1950s.
- Peter Scriven 1930-1988
Australian puppeteer and founding artistic director of the Marionette Theatre of Australia. The Library holds a recording of Peter Scriven interviewed by Hazel de Berg in which he speaks about becoming a puppeteer and forming his puppet company.
The Library holds a collection of programs for the Handspan Theatre, a Melbourne-based puppetry and visual theatre company that operated between 1977 and 2002.
Formed under the auspices of the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust by Peter Scriven in 1965, the Marionette Theatre of Australia produced large-scale puppet shows with typically Australian characters and stories such as the highly successful Tintookies, for more than 20 years. Material in the collections include posters, programs for theatre productions including the Tintookies, and a pictures collection of the Tintookies at the Elizabethan Theatre in 1966.
The Skylark Theatre Company was established in 1984 by Marie-Martine Ferrari and Shelley McDonald in Canberra. It gained national and international recognition for its innovative presentation of puppetry and visual-based theatre. The Library holds the records of the company and a collection of programs.