Showing posts with label Australian Jugglers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Australian Jugglers. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 12, 2024


 Welcome to Threw the Hat,  a blog about Australian Juggling History.

Here you will find some links to photos and articles/stories about Australian Jugglers and those who visited Australia.

You can search the site or browse the tags on the right hand side if you are looking for a particular juggler.

Please credit the site if you are using the information you find here

Enjoy your visit and feel free to contact me if you have questions or comments


Cinquevalli on the right. (Authors collection) 

Saturday, April 27, 2024

The Australian Creightons


The Australian Creightons found Australia too small and travelled to the United States, only to have the love of a woman break up the pair.

The Creightons, juggling acrobats were two young Victorian men who met in a gymnasium in the Victorian suburbs around 1909. Fred Creighton, was the shortest and the eldest of the two. His partner, Jim Howell, known almost always as Jim Creighton, was a tall red-haired extrovert.

Fred was born in Richmond around 1890. Jim was born in Prahan, between 1890 and 1893. The pair later said they met at a gymnasium and their first appearances were suburban ones. They are first mentioned in 1910 at the Prahan Town Hall at a charity concert and by the end of that year they performed with The City Entertainers in Ballarat.  Over the next two years they built a reputation in that city as a unique pair of juggling acrobats. Their original act involved acrobatics, hand balancing and juggling. Fred was short and Jim tall, so the contrast in their build caused much comment.

In 1912 they got a big break and toured New Zealand. Described as the ‘most expensive’ juggling act to visit that country, they performed for almost 6 months with the Belle Crome company. Their act involved acrobatics, juggling and comedy and their ability to juggle in ‘unison’ was remarkable. Reviewers praised their novelty and one stated that their act was ‘mildly sensational.’

The good reviews in New Zealand led to a long booking on the Fullers circuit. In Sydney at the National Amphitheatre in 1913 they received plaudits and applause.

They juggled six clubs, three each,  whilst switching hats and cigars between them. Jim also juggled clubs whilst perched on Fred’s shoulders. Jim was the better juggler, whilst the smaller Fred was more acrobatic. They used their height difference to comedic advantage and were generally considered a unique and exciting juggling turn.

Jim later said

 When I started out in vaudeville I did not expect to get a high salary, but I certainly expected to be recognised when I started to do big business for the firm I was with. I knew I was as good as some of the imported turns, but I found that I stayed on the same old mark, whereas the turns coming here from England or the United States were getting two to three times as much as I. I decided to try my luck in America.’

Just after Jim’s 21st birthday in 1914, he and Fred left for the United States. They both travelled under the name Creighton. Jim later said that ‘Australia was too small’ He claimed that the limited opportunities in his home country resulted in audiences becoming bored with the same act. The many agents and theatres of the United States gave the pair more chances to show their skills in front of various audiences.

At first they performed for the small Plantagenet circuit, showing three times a day including Sundays. It was a brutal introduction to American vaudeville.  But soon the act was picked up by the gigantic Orpheum circuit where they played only twice a day and were, as Jim put it, ‘on easy street’ and ‘earning more money than I ever thought possible.’

 Their reviews were good, they were regarded as ‘a breath of fresh air’ after one show, and at another they ‘displayed exceptional skill in all their efforts’.

In 1917, both were living in New York and had to sign papers about their wartime service eligibility. Fred said he was unfit for duty, with bad teeth and poor eyesight, whilst Jim said he was perfectly healthy.

But love broke up the act. Sybil Warren, a young English dancer caught Fred’s eye and the juggling duo split.

In 1919, Fred returned to Australia with Sybil to introduce her to the family, and unbeknownst to him, Jim also returned.

When Harry Lauder offered them a place with his troupe during his Australian tour that year, they reunited. Fred was probably persuaded because Sybill was offered a role too.  In 1920 they performed in the annual pantomime Mother Hubbard. They toured New Zealand as part of the pantomime tour and stayed for some time, but when it concluded they again parted.

Fred said he had plans to travel to the UK with Sybil and it seems they may have done this. Jim however remained in Australia to have a long and prosperous career.

to be continued

The Juggling McIvor Sisters

 Around 1935 two young women dressed in long skirts and short sleeved blouses and accompanied by a cameraman, began juggling clubs in Brisbane’s Botanic Gardens. The result was a beautiful souvenir of Australian juggling.

The young women were the McIvor sisters, one was Bessie, the other was probably Susette. They had been juggling since they were children and had performed in pantomimes, vaudeville halls and for charity events. Dad, Hugh,  was also a juggler and had initiated his children into the skill. 

Hugh McIvor was born in Queensland around 1890 and lived with his parents in Charters Towers. In adult life Hugh became a miner, but he was soon known around town as a juggler.  In 1912 he appeared in a vaudeville show and was awarded a special gold medal for his juggling feats 

In 1914 he was juggling with a partner called Glover. The pair were described as clever manipulators. They juggled axes, knives, clubs, swords, pennants and electric lights for a children’s war matinee at the Theatre Royal in Charters Towers North Queensland. Hugh and his wife Susan Murphy had been married for several years by that time and had many children including three daughters, Bessie, born 1911, Susette born 1913 and Patricia born 1914. 

Hugh seems to have juggled mainly in Brisbane, in suburban and regional halls until his older daughters grew to an age where they could join his act. In 1921 the family of jugglers got a big break when they performed as the Three Juggling McIvors for Kerr’s Gaiety Theatre in Oxford Street Sydney. The trio were in Sydney for at least two weeks. The two girls, Bessie and Susette were only 10 and 8 years old during this exciting expedition.

However, the opportunity did not turn into lasting fame and the family returned to juggling in country towns and suburban halls. They  juggled clubs and passed plates.

In 1927 the girls got their own gig. Bessie 16, and Susette 13, juggled as The McIvor Sisters for the annual Brisbane pantomime, Humpty Dumpty.  They juggled hats and clubs and the Brisbane newspapers enjoyed their performance.

Two splendid specimens of Queensland girlhood created surprise with their wonderful juggling feats and Indian club manipulation. A feature of their turn is a double club juggling act in which each girl successfully handles four clubs at the same time changing hats and whirling the nickel batons. 

In June 1928 they performed at the Majestic Theatre,  sharing the stage with films starring Rudolph Valentino. Through 1928 to 29 they continued entertaining at the Majestic and juggled between movies at various theatres in the Brisbane region.

At the same time both girls were studying at teachers college. 

In 1932 Susette married John Brady from England. Her married status meant that she could not legally teach. The Queensland Department of Education did not employ married women as teachers at that time. 

In 1933 she had their first child

In 1935 film of Susette and Bessie juggling in the Botanic Gardens was incorporated into a newsreel. The two young women look joyful as they pass clubs, juggle plates and balls and then, pass a hat and cigar between them as they simultaneously juggle three balls. It may have been their last public performance as a duo. 

Bessie soon began teaching in Cairns. She loved to juggle and often performed in fetes and fairs for schools in Northern Queensland. In 1937 She performed at the foremost social occasion of the district, the Country Women’s Association Concert, at Mossman Town Hall. She was described as being as ‘entertaining as she was charming’.

Bessie continued juggling for school fetes and fundraisers. She was an adept individual juggler and it was clear that she loved the craft.


She taught primarily in Cairns and Brisbane and in 1941 she married Alton Brown Trevethan and left the teaching profession.

After her marriage, there are no public mentions of her juggling exploits although it seems clear that she continued to juggle for family and friends.

Descendants of the family still cherish photos of their ancestors’ juggling careers and they still live in Queensland. Amongst their treasures is a colour video of an elderly Bessie juggling four balls on stage. 

Bessie died in 2005 aged 92, Susette predeceased her in 1975. 

Sunday, March 10, 2024

Tom and Nellie Lesso- Jugglers

 Tom and Nellie Lesso were successful performers in Australia, the US and England during the World War 1 era.

Tom Lesso was a skilled acrobat and juggler born in Victoria in 1885. His real name was Thomas Burkett Dixon and he had several siblings.

Tom appears as Tom Lesso in newspaper reports in the early 1900s. His first juggling act was as part of a duo with Rexo (Charles Griffith) . In 1909 he married the  fair haired 5 foot 5  tall, Nerida Ridout (born 1884 in Sydney)  in Melbourne. The pair formed a duo act that astonished Australasia and led to a successful run in the United States. 

Nerida took the stage name Nellie, and as The Lessos, the pair appeared on stages in Australia and New Zealand. Nellie was a sharpshooter. On stage, Tom would call for props and Nellie would shoot at a button which activated a spring which propelled the props towards him- he would then juggle them to the delight of the audience. 

Tom also incorporated balancing in the act. He balanced a cannon ball via a stick on his chin and transferred it to a stick perched on his forehead. Inspired by Cinquevalli, he also balanced a wooden table on his forehead, and with a twitch threw it in the air and caught it, on his forehead, on the reverse side. This was perhaps his most popular trick. 

In 1909 the pair travelled to the United States. They began on the Percy Williams circuit then transferred to Keith's circuit. Whilst playing there they were recruited for a tour of England.

Tom Lesso

In 1914 they returned to Australia. Tom, as a relatively young man, must have felt some pressure to enlist. They incorporated a patriotic finale into their act, perhaps to make up for this. Nellie fired her gun at various targets and the whole stage was enveloped with the flags of the allies. At this time Tom told the papers that he had suffered a period of blindness whilst in the US. He blamed a trick where he caught tennis balls thrown by the audience on his forehead. 

In 1916 Tom enlisted with the AIF for service in World War 1. Tom stated that his profession was ‘professional juggler’ and that he was separated from his wife, Nellie. He cited his father William as next of kin.

Whilst waiting to be shipped out, Tom was reprimanded for staying out late and for disobedience. Eventually he arrived in England and subsequently, in October 1916 he arrived at the British staging camp in Etaples, France. On October 29 that year, Australian Jack Braithwaite serving in a New Zealand regiment was executed for helping a fellow soldier defy a British commander. Tom may have witnessed the execution. 

His official mission in France was to reinforce the 23rd Battalion, which was on the front lines. Tom lasted a month in France, there is no record of him being at the front, although it is possible. In November he was shipped back to England via Calais. Finally after treatment in England he was invalided out with ‘disordered action of the heart’, the military euphemism for shell shock. In March 1918 he was sent back to Australia. 

By September he was back on stage performing at the Bijou in Melbourne, and giving colorful descriptions of his antics on the front lines. He claimed he had taken all his props to France and entertained troops whilst waiting to be deployed

He had a new assistant, Miss Duckworth, and they did the old act. They were scheduled to perform in New Zealand and sailed there. But in November Tom contracted Spanish Influenza. He died that month in New Zealand,

Nellie Lesso

Nellie Lesso, Tom’s estranged wife, attempted to revive the act in the 1920s, although it seemed she was quite wealthy. In 1921 she made a police complaint about a missing diamond pendant, with lovers' knots and a single diamond drop attached. In 1923 The Lessos, featuring Nellie, performed at the Shaftesbury Theatre in Western Australia. Later that year she went to the United States, and Theodore the juggler was on the same ship. Perhaps the two had formed a new Lesso partnership.

Attempts by the army to contact her in 1923 regarding Tom’s war medals received no response and in 1924 Nellie was in Paris with her mother.

There is some indication that Nellie travelled quite often over the following years and did not seek to further her stage career. 

Nellie’s primary address was in eastern Sydney and it was there that she passed away in 1954.

( I found Tom’s real name in The Age newspaper death notice. His war record is available through the National archives.) 

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

'You've got to have juggling in you' - The Kelso Brothers


The Kelsos were two jugglers from Melbourne who found Australia too small for their lofty ambitions.

The Kelso brothers, Joe Wheeler and Harry Denman were not siblings, but considered themselves brothers in vaudeville.  Both were born in Victoria around 1889 and the suburb of Hawthorn later claimed them. As youths they juggled at school, and as adults they settled into jobs in Melbourne, Joe at a bookstall and Harry as a typesetter for The Argus newspaper. But the juggling urge was too strong. They juggled at work, and after work they juggled for charity. Unfortunately, the juggling at work was unacceptable to their employers and they were fired. They decided to turn their obsession into a profession.

They started juggling on the streets of Melbourne around 1909. Then they graduated to Jones Moving Theatre Company, which travelled the regional areas of Australia giving vaudeville performances under a tent.  Amongst the cast at the company was Flossie Jeffries, a champion lady club swinger, and it may be from her that the Kelso brothers or boys (as they sometimes called themselves) learnt how to manipulate clubs.

Jones was not a good employer and he often forgot to pay his employees. There were fights amongst the performers, Flossie got into a physical confrontation with contortionist Lottie, and the rough nights under canvas were neither well paid nor well managed. The Kelso brothers honed their craft and left Jones. Later they sued him for 13 pounds in lost wages and won the case.

By 1910, the Kelsos were working at the National Amphitheatre and appeared as jugglers and hoop spinners. In 1911 they were in New Zealand and juggling clubs, spinning plates, and rolling hoops. A reviewer said that ‘the precision with which they threw plates, clubs and balls from one to another and went through other feats of balancing provides a more than usually excellent turn.’

The two men were close in age but quite different in personality. Joe was later described as the hard headed businessman, whilst Harry was saturnine, talkative, and restless. When they later added comedy to the act, Harry played the clown and Joe the straight man.

In 1912 they were widely acknowledged as Australia’s best club jugglers. In South Australia that year the ‘clever pair of comedy jugglers’ manipulated a billiard cue from foot to chin, threw plates from side to side with the comedian running around desperately trying to prevent them smashing on the floor, and performed Indian club work that was ‘brilliant.’

However, Australia was not big enough for the Kelso brothers. They believed that the small population of the country meant that ‘an act out here is hardly finished before it must be changed’. The two young men decided to travel to America for six months and try their luck.

They claimed that they worked their passage to San Francisco, but it seems they were regular passengers. In October 1912 they arrived on the west coast of the United States, with little money and few connections. They started small, with a charity performance, and then approached a local theatre. They were offered 75 cents a night and began a career that took them to the heights of vaudeville.

Soon they were playing the major cities and combining comedy, juggling, and dancing in a riotous turn. In 1915 they opened the bill at the American Roof, the roof of the American theatre in New York City. Variety Magazine said they did ‘very well’. The comedian was ‘not bad at all’ but the young man who danced took it ‘too seriously’. They rolled hoops, danced, and juggled in this act. According to ‘Clever’ Conkey, they had a novel turn ‘ and while doing a dancing specialty touch up Indian clubs and put them into action without breaking their routine.’

That year Joe married Jane Carroll in New York. Jane was from Chicago and was also a performer. By 1917 the couple had two children Elizabeth and Lorraine.

It was war time and Joe and Harry had to register for war service. By now, both men, although still slender and fit, had streaks of grey in their dark hair. The signs of age may have been due to the hectic pace of constant performance. Harry later said that on ‘bad days’ they had to produce as many as five performances a day and keep up an exhausting schedule.

This schedule did not exhaust Harry’s restless nature. In 1917 he was imprisoned for 10 days because of an altercation with the White Rats. The White Rats were an American labour organisation which imposed ‘strikes’ on various theatres. In this case they entered the Loew Fulton Brooklyn Theatre on a Wednesday night looking to cause trouble, a brawl ensued, and Harry was arrested. The rats campaigned for better wages for white men, women and people of colour were not allowed to join, and they opposed the corporate monopoly of the theatre chains. However, their cause was unpopular with many performers because of their exclusionary policies. The theatre managers usually chose to ignore their shenanigans and Harry apparently found that imprisonment did not impede his ability to perform.

By the end of the war, the increasing popularity of moving pictures was encroaching on the success of traditional vaudeville. Theatre owners began to show revues which mixed dancing, comedy and singing in short skits. Harry and Joe were versatile and talented performers who could change their routines to suit the changing times.

In December 1918, the Kelsos were performing on the Columbia Burlesque circuit in New York in a revue programme with Jean Bendini. They performed in comedy skits, did some juggling, and collaborated with a large cast. Variety said that ‘what they did with plates, Indian Clubs and hoops was the ace of jugglerism.’

Shortly afterwards the pair decided to return to Australia for a tour. However, they were disappointed in their expectations when they were quarantined upon arrival. The Spanish flu was rife amongst passengers and crew on long haul shipping, and many ships were quarantined due to illness and death from the disease. Harry and Joe were caught on one of these ships and their proposed weeks long stay in the home country was reduced to an hour-long meeting with relatives.

They quickly returned to revues in the United States. In 1921 they performed at the Columbia Theatre in a revue called ‘Peek a Boo’ which included Florence Kelso (Jane) and Florence Darley. They had broadened their skills and Joe performed magic tricks whilst Harry balanced on a large rolling ball. Both appeared in comedy skits and continued to display their superior juggling skills.

In 1925 they formed their own company which included a live lion act. They incorporated this into a show called the Crazy Quilt Revue. Unfortunately, at the end of one show, a lion attacked its handler, and his hand was severely mangled before the Kelsos could rescue him. The man died of blood poisoning and the lion was sent to a zoo. They persisted with the act however and employed another lion tamer to control the three remaining beasts.

In 1927, Harry married one of the cast members, Florence Darley, and she, Joe’s wife Jane, the lions, and a supporting cast joined the brothers in 1928 on a long tour of Australia.

The pair returned to their native land as superstars. They were paid a huge wage, and were welcomed home with interviews, and warm reviews. Their families greeted them with hugs and laughs at the pier, and they were honoured with a civic reception in their native town of Hawthorn. The Kelsos had acquired American accents by this time and Joe had silver hair which made him look ‘dignified enough to be a motion picture judge.’ Harry was ‘square chinned’ with ‘eyes like agate’.

The Crazy Quilt Revue was a huge success. It featured Harry and Joe, Flo Carroll (Jane Kelso), Howard Nicholls, a hoop juggler, Florence Darley, (the other Mrs Kelso) Merna Stewart, Maurice Kelly, an Irish/American comedian, and Captain Smithley’s lions. The act comprised four turns which incorporated dancing, juggling, magic, lion taming and comedy. It lasted about an hour and took up the whole second part of the programme.

The Kelsos presented a juggling burlesque as part of the show. Despite Joe’s silver hair, he was ‘agile enough to be one of the smartest jugglers still’. Harry still played the clown and ‘his philosophy of life delivered in unexpected asides nearly convulsed his listeners’.

The two men interfered humorously in Howard Nicholl’s juggling act and upstaged him with their antics. They were particularly nonsensical when Nicholls whirled almost a dozen hoops around his arms, neck, and legs. Florence Carroll also juggled whilst being harassed by the Kelsos whilst Maurice Kelly provided a further comedic element. Mr Smithley and the lions presented just the right degree of danger and excitement to leave the audience satisfied.

Joe Kelso

The revue was fast paced, funny and unlike anything that had been seen in Australia. The two stars were feted everywhere and gave opinions on everything from American culture to prohibition. Every show was greeted with rapturous applause and audience members were seen straining forward in their seats in expectation of the next wonder. Overall, the tour, which lasted 5 months, was an enormous success.

It was their last triumph as a partnership. Harry travelled to London and Joe back to the United States. The era of live performance was fading, the depression was severely restricting the availability of work, and Harry seemed eager to retire.

Harry returned to Australia in the 1930s and bought a hotel in the small town of Warrandyte in Victoria. He died in 1936 after a short illness.

Joe, meanwhile, continued to perform as a solo act. He became an American citizen and settled permanently with his wife and daughters in Illinois. In the 1940s Joe was still juggling and performing magic on stages, at fairs, and in burlesques.  In August 1944 he was killed in a car accident. He had just completed a 30-week contract in burlesque and had bookings for the rest of the year.

Although Harry and Joe diversified their act over the years, they were jugglers at heart. Harry said that as a young typesetter, ‘when I wasn’t doing it (juggling) with my own knucklebones, I was doing it with the type.’

While Joe put it more simply.

‘You’ve got to have juggling in you, the first time I went to a circus and saw juggling I said to myself ‘I think I’d like to try that’ I tried in the backyard and found it came quite easily to me.’

 Harry and Joe Kelso were two of the best jugglers ever produced in the backyard of Australia.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

'The Clubs feel a ton weight' - The Great Gazza- Juggler and Equilibrist.


Although many famous and talented international jugglers visited Australia, there were others who were probably equally talented but less renowned. These jugglers were mainstays of the Australian and New Zealand entertainment industry for decades. One such juggler was William ‘Gazza’ Walden, who performed with his family as ‘The Gazzas’

William Alfred Walden, later to be known as ‘The Great Gazza’ a juggler and equilibrist, was born in Wellington New Zealand in 1874. His father, James, was a clerk and a detective, and quite a colourful character. In the early 1900s, James was famous for his chronically upset stomach and subsequent printed testimonies for Dr Williams Pink Pills. According to numerous advertisements appearing between 1904-1907, James was one of the oldest identities in Wellington, a veteran of the Māori Wars, a crack shot, a keen oarsman, and a straight and honest man. He was also the father of a large family, including William who was his second son.

It is perhaps not surprising that with this eccentric man as a father, that by 1902, William, still living at home with James and mother Margaret, described himself as a ‘theatrical.’ But it was not until 1905, that his juggling feats began to appear in the local press.

William started the year juggling for a charity function in Foxton, where he ‘indulged in juggling quite successfully.’ By the end of the year, he was performing for Percy Dix as ‘Gazza’ the juggler. He used the name for decades in various forms.

At this stage he was mainly juggling and balancing. He juggled for 15 minutes, and part of his act was a cannon ball trick inspired by Cinquevalli.

‘He takes an ordinary billiard cue upon the tip of which is balanced a heavy cannon ball, balances the cue on his chin, with a quick movement of the hand, knocks the cue away and catches the heavy ball between his shoulders.’

A reviewer called it, ‘hair raising’ and stated that ‘one feels a sigh of relief when he completes his performance.’

Around this time William married Ada Oakes in Christchurch New Zealand. She was an Australian who was also involved in the theatrical profession. Ada and William soon became a double act as the ‘juggling Gazzas’.

In 1906 William was performing in various vaudeville halls around New Zealand. Ada had given birth to their first child Margaret and was recuperating at home, whilst her husband toured as ‘Rudolph Gazza’, Asia’s military juggler’ for a group called America’s Entertainers.

The pair toured the circuit performing for circuses, small variety groups and regional shows for several years in Australia and New Zealand. In 1910 they re-emerged from relative obscurity as the ‘Two Gazzas Military jugglers extraordinaire’. The highlight of that year was a booking at the Alhambra Theatre where William did the cannon ball trick and performed ‘balancing prodigies with a three-legged table supported on the butts of three billiard cues. Ada meanwhile provided the ‘whimsical embellishments’ of a ‘clowning partner’ whilst he juggled.

Three years later they were performing as a trio, little Margaret was now the world’s youngest contortionist and Ada was walking on a wire. Their younger children, William and Harry were too small for the act.  Advertisements spruiked them as veterans of Wirth’s and Fitzgerald’s circuses, the premier circuses of the day, and touted their act as direct from the Fuller’s vaudeville circuit. This pedigree implied that they were a high class turn.

The Gazza Troupe with Baker's circus 1923

At this time, William played the banjo and did juggling tricks, Ada balanced on a ladder resting on a high wire and walked on it gracefully, and Maggie contorted her small frame into strange shapes. They spent the year providing entertainment between films at the new movie theatres and making the occasional appearance in variety programmes. It was a tough schedule with three children and five mouths to feed and they were always hustling for the next gig.

During the first World War they travelled across the Tasman several times with the children. William was too old to fight, and the children too young.  In 1915 they toured regional areas of Australia with Ridgeway’s circus and Vaudeville Company. William juggled, Ada walked the wire and the children performed as acrobats and contortionists. They also performed at the new Sydney Stadium.

It was a punishing schedule travelling through the north of Australia to the south and back across the Tasman to New Zealand. The conditions were tough, the pay low and the work hard, somehow, they managed to survive as a family.

At the end of the war, they had a mini renaissance and found continuous work in both Australia and New Zealand for several years.

In 1920 they performed at the popular Tighes Theatre in Newcastle. In 1921 they returned to New Zealand with Ridgeway’s Circus. They had been associated with the Ridgeways for some time, but the association came to a bitter end when William sued the circus for back pay. The conditions in the circus were not very good, Ada complained about the food saying that it was ‘unsatisfactory’. By this time, they had another child, Stella. William decided to leave and gave the Ridgeways notice, but the circus kept their 5-pound wage. The Gazzas won the subsequent court case and received their pay.

They remained in New Zealand and in 1923 were performing in their own show as, The Gazza Troupe

Margaret performed as a mind reader and was described as a ‘talented young lady’ who earned wide applause. William did sketches and conjuring, Ada walked the wire, and their pet fox terrier did tricks. They included juggling, balancing and acrobatics and the two younger boys also contributed to the show, whilst the whole troupe provided music. They were ‘neat, refined and well balanced’ and possessed ‘exceptional talent.’

They travelled by car to their next destination, but their solo efforts were not very successful. Eventually they joined up with McEwan, the magician, but he thought their show was too weak for the cities. They parted company acrimoniously and William had to sue for lost wages again. Again, he won.

They returned to the regional tours in Australia in the mid-1920s but by the end of the decade William was performing alone. The depression was stifling demand for entertainment, and it seems that Ada and the children had settled elsewhere. By the early 1930s William was performing alone and in 1932 showed as ‘Gazza, the almost blind juggler, the only one in the world’.

William continued to juggle and do odd jobs in circus and theatres. He performed in Queensland near Ipswich where Ada lived with the family and travelled to Sydney quite often to perform in benefits and smaller shows.

In February 1939, the 62-year-old, using the name William Clifford, decided to attempt a world record in juggling. He proposed to juggle three clubs while walking between Gosford on the central coast of New South Wales to Newcastle which was 83 km or 52 miles away.  He estimated that it would take 14 hours and said he would only stop for cups of tea. For the first time he was quoted in a newspaper saying, ‘by the time I reach Newcastle the clubs will feel like a ton weight’

And his picture was published too.

The Great Gazza attempting a world record walking whilst juggling (1939 newspaper)

He completed the feat and attempted a similar trek a month later from Gosford to Sydney. This  walk gained a smaller amount of publicity.

In 1940, 64-year-old William was working with Thorpe Mc Conville’s Wild West Show. A travelling show that visited all the regional areas of Australia. The featured attraction was trick horse riding, but William was performing as ‘Gazza the Great’ juggling and balancing.

After one show he retired to bed and was smoking, somehow his mattress caught fire and he was unable to escape. A passer-by saw the smoke and rushed in to save him, but it was too late, he was found on the floor, dead from smoke asphyxiation.

Gazza was survived by Ada and his children. Harry, his second son, served in World War 2 as a musician and entertainer and survived to settle in Tasmania, Margaret, the child contortionist married in Sydney in 1934 and settled in Sydney. Ada lived in Ipswich until her death in the  1960s.

They are little remembered in the pantheon of juggling stars in Australia, but the Gazzas were a juggling family, and William remained a juggler until his death. Their family was one of many who eked out a living as performers, suffering vicissitudes and troubles and triumphs in the Australasian entertainment industry during early 20th Century. Their struggles were typical of fringe performers who had nothing but family to support their dreams and aspirations in a fast-changing world.