Showing posts with label Australian Juggling history.. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Australian Juggling history.. Show all posts

Sunday, October 23, 2022

An Encaged Bird- Elimar the Juggler Part One

 This three part article on Elimar was inspired by David Cain's short mention here. I want to thank Elimar's daughter, Robyn, for taking the time to chat with me about her father. A lot of the information comes from official documents in the Australian Government Archives and newspaper accounts.

Part Two   Part three

 Elimar, the juggler who walked on a slack wire, was a promising young performer who took his act around the world in the late 1930s. However, his career was derailed during World War 2 when he was interned in Australia for six years.

Elimar Clemens Buschmann was born in Cologne Germany on November 18, 1917, to August Buschmann and Martha Meuller. He was the third and youngest son of the couple.

When he was 14, just before the Nazis came to power, Elimar left school, apparently against the wishes of his parents. He later told an Australian newspaper that he ran away to join the circus.

‘My parents found me already launched on a tight rope walking career and took me back home. They made me promise never to walk a wire again. However, when they found how interested I was, they released me from my promise and facilitated the study I have given to wire walking.’

It seems that Elimar was a wire walker before being a juggler. He found his first employment locally in Cologne, Dusseldorf and in other towns close to home, but his first international tour was to Switzerland. 

After this he began touring Europe, he claimed to have performed in France, the United States, and shared beer with the King of Denmark.  In Australia he told the press an exciting story about an adventure in Budapest where he was abducted and forced to impersonate a local prince.

‘Once I got used to the idea it was good fun- until a frantic girl, probably one of the prince’s discards, burst into the palace with a gun’

Elimar claimed to have been injured by one of the three shots she fired, but fortunately he survived the ordeal.  The journalist reporting this story doubted its veracity, but enjoyed its telling, proving that Elimar, even at a young age, was a skilled raconteur. 

Elimar from an early programme.

What is true is that in 1938 he was performing at the Palladium in London. In January the next year he was back in Germany and obtaining an exemption from military service from the government. Elimar was sending money to his parents regularly, and he believed this was the reason the government gave him an exemption.  

He returned to England in 1939. There was lots of war talk at the time but Elimar, at 22 years old and obsessed with his career, thought little of it.  When performing in London in April, he was spotted by Australian Frank Neil, who ran the Tivoli circuit. Neil booked Elimar for an Australian tour at around 50 pounds a week. The fair haired, 6 foot tall, lightly built young German juggler was on his way to Australia and was enthusiastic and excited about the adventure.

He left England in August 1939 on the Moloya. It was an eventful journey. On September 3, whilst Elimar was at sea, England declared war on Germany and Australia declared war the same day. The next port of call for the Moloya was Bombay, India, a British Colony, where Elimar and the other German passengers were interned for three weeks. The internment policy at that time was quite relaxed, so the internees were released to continue their journey to Australia after signing a document stating that they would take no action to harm the British Empire.  But more drama ensued when Elimar got into an argument with a fellow passenger about lights. Due to war time restrictions, all sea traffic had to travel in darkness, so there were strict rules about smoking on board and lights in the cabins. Elimar claimed that he had chastised a refugee for smoking in the open, while others claimed that Elimar had ignored the order to dim the lights in his cabin. The facts were disputed, but the German juggler and enemy alien was reprimanded, and a record was kept of the incident.  

He finally arrived in Australia in October 1939. For the first three weeks he stayed in Melbourne and relaxed, then he appeared on the Tivoli stage in November. He performed in a revue called, Carry On. The act was very well received by the Tivoli audience.

 He started on the floor, proving to be a skilled juggler with his feet on the ground, then moved to a slack wire and astonished the crowd with his abilities. Amongst his feats were juggling 8 hoops whilst balancing on one leg, and the highlight, standing on the loose rope, swinging a hoop on one leg, balancing a ball on a stick suspended from his mouth, and juggling eight hoops at the same time. The newspapers called him a ‘juggling genius’ and the ‘world’s greatest juggler on a wire’. His feats were described as ‘truly miraculous’ and he was touted as being ‘the only man in the world who has achieved what hitherto was termed impossible.’

He spent five weeks at the Tivoli in Melbourne and six weeks performing in Sydney. Tragedy struck the Tivoli circuit in January the next year, when Frank Neil, the man who had hired Elimar, died, and new management took over the theatre chain. Yet the performances continued. In February 1940 he juggled in Queensland at the Regent Theatre, entertaining between movies, in March he appeared in South Australia, but it seems his Tivoli contract expired shortly afterwards.  

Elimar was a German alien in an Australia at war. Almost immediately after war was declared, the Australian authorities had rounded up and interned known fascists and members of the local Nazi party. Other enemy aliens, including visitors such as Elimar, were subjected to stringent rules. He was obliged to inform the authorities when he left the police district or travelled more than 5 miles from his lodging, was required to visit the local police station regularly and sign yet another document stating that he would not do anything detrimental to the British Empire. However, in general, the Australian government was quite casual about enemy aliens. There was no urgency to intern them as facilities and money were an issue, and the authorities felt that their round up of German fascists, who they had been watching for some time, was sufficient to keep the country secure.

In April 1940, Elimar disobeyed the rules. He was lodging at the Alexandra Hotel in Melbourne and reporting to the local police station as required. One Monday after fulfilling his duty he was drinking at the hotel, when his friend, George Nichols, Australian comedian, and fellow Tivoli performer, invited him to go to Dimboola to shoot quail. Elimar thought this was a great idea and spent almost a week in the country with George and a group of Germans, to whom, on George’s advice, he posed as Danish.   They had an enjoyable trip and went to the annual military ball. However, when Elimar returned to his hotel in Melbourne that Friday, a detective was waiting for him. He was arrested and interned at Tatura internment camp for not informing the authorities of his movements.

He was swiftly released and after paying a 10 pound fine, was free to perform again.

Elimar from a newspaper 1940

In May 1940 he was touring Queensland with George Sorlie, a local vaudevillian and aspiring impresario. Also on the tour were several local performers including Buddy Morley, who was infatuated with Dawn Butler, a teenager, who assisted Elimar during his act. They toured the north of Queensland under a canvas tent and the group was warmly welcomed and applauded every night.

In Brisbane in July, Elimar gave an interview to a local paper, where he claimed to be Danish, and told the story of being abducted in Budapest.

That month, Elimar was happily performing with little care for events in the outside world. But the situation with the Allies had changed, the phoney war was over, and it was becoming increasingly real to Australians. Germany had invaded Denmark, and France had signed an armistice with the Nazis. The Allies situation looked bleak and somebody in the performing arts community did not think Elimar was fully supporting their effort.

‘Actors’ in the vaudeville community reported him to the authorities. Apparently Elimar had said ‘you will all be speaking German soon’, had openly made comments supporting Germany, and was having arguments about the war with fellow performers.  Elimar subsequently denied these allegations and suggested that professional jealousy may have caused some ill will. His salary was enormous compared to the wages of local performers.  However, the authorities decided that there was enough evidence of Nazi sympathies, and he was detained again.

In July, he was arrested in Brisbane and interned in Gaythorne internment camp, where he remained until October.  From there he was transported to Tatura internment camp in Victoria. He was to spend the next six years in Tatura as a prisoner of the Australian government.





I am unable to sing- Elimar the juggler Part 2


This is part two of a three part article on Elimar the juggler. This mainly concerns his imprisonment in an Australian internment camp. There is very little information particularly about Elimar in the camp, but the transcript of his appeal is available through the Australian National Archives. Most of the information here comes from that document. Some files about Elimar are still sealed. 


Tatura is a beautiful town in country Victoria, it was a perfect site for an internment camp because of its isolation. It was a bare bones camp, there were corrugated iron huts with bunk beds but no insulation, sitting close together on a large flat plain, barbed wire surrounded the housing and armed soldiers guarded the perimeter. The internees were treated as prisoners of war, there were set food times and menus, daily parades and roll calls. For a travelling performer in particular, the lack of freedom of movement would have been excruciating.

Camp 1 was the male camp. In October 1940 it was populated by a group of German men who were mostly members of the Australian Nazi party and had been rounded up almost immediately after the outbreak of war. In the camp they had their own regulations and enforcement, Nazi ideology was celebrated, and they openly supported Germany during the war.

This was the atmosphere that awaited 23-year-old Elimar Clemens Buschmann as he entered the camp that was to be his home for the next 6 years.

Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack Woodcut of Tatura internment camp 1941,National Gallery of Victoria.

When arrested Elimar possessed his juggling and slack wire walking outfits and a leather bag full of personal property. The personal property was undoubtedly his juggling props. He also had 30 shillings in cash, but as he later sadly admitted, he had not saved any of his handsome salary, so the 30 shillings was not enough to sustain him during his long imprisonment.

Fortunately, there were some things to do in Tatura. The prisoners had arranged lectures and performances, and one prisoner had a personal projector for films. Elimar spent time practising juggling, although it was difficult. The terrain was windy, and the roofs of the huts and communal areas were low. When speaking about being unable to juggle, Elimar said ‘Unfortunately I feel like an encaged bird, so that I am unable to sing’

He could and did receive letters from his family in Germany, and he was surrounded by his countrymen. However, it is unlikely that he agreed with the dominant fascist ideology of the camp.

In 1941 the Australian government allowed internees to lodge an appeal against their internment and Elimar travelled to Melbourne to plead his case. He did not have any legal representation and had to rely on his own wits to try and persuade the Tribunal that he could be released into the community.

When deciding to free an internee, the government considered several different issues. Amongst these were the age of the internee, (being military age was a disadvantage), the subject’s commitment to their home country, the possibility of disruption in the community, and whether they could be blackmailed by their home government. The questions the Tribunal put to Elimar during the appeal reflected their concern with these matters.

Elimar was young, and of military age, in addition, both his brothers were doing war work for Germany. One was on active duty. When asked if he would work for Germany if he was a resident there, he replied

‘Of course, I would have to obey the laws of the country’

When it was suggested that the German government could threaten his parents if he did not do their bidding in Australia, Elimar insisted ‘I would not believe that they would make my parents suffer for anything I would do wrong here.’ He also said that he would honour the commitment he made not to do anything to injure the British empire

Elimar insisted that ‘I am really international in a way, as I am just a performer to the audiences of the world.’ Although he did admit that he had sympathies with his parents who were in Germany, when asked if he wanted Germany to win the war.

Oddly Elimar seemed to have no inkling that a fellow performer had informed on him. He insisted that he was on good terms with everybody in the profession, that he had no arguments about the war, and that he was confident that he could obtain work with either his former employer George Sorlie or the Tivoli or even Wirth’s Circus if released.

Throughout the hearing he showed an eagerness to return to work and most of his answers concerned his desire to return to performance. He was obviously frustrated with his position, and anxious to pursue his career as a juggler. Overall, his answers suggested a young man who cared more about professional juggling than politics.

The Tribunal regarded Elimar favourably. They described him as an’ honest and decent chap’, an attractive youth who impressed them with his character and demeanour. However, there were several points against him. He was of military age, he had undoubted sympathies and connections with Germany, and he could be blackmailed because his parents still lived there. However, the factor that most weighed against him was the risk that he could cause disruption in the performing arts community.

It was suggested that this could be ameliorated if he had a contract upon release, but this was countered with the fact that his fellow actors had denounced him. It seemed there was fear that, given his high-profile profession, his release would cause unfavourable publicity, and dissension within the community.  There was also the possibility, not mentioned but implied, that Elimar could be in some personal danger if he left the protection of the camp.

Elimar was returned to Tatura.

Tatura was developing its own community. By July 1941 camp 1 had a hairdresser, a tailor, a garden, a carpentry shop, a school, a newspaper, illicit liquor, and the inmates were performing concerts and shows. There were several skilled musicians, a few actors and some writers at Tatura and entertainment was a feature of the camp’s life. According to Elmar’s family, he played a major role on the entertainment committee.

Regular shows which lampooned the internee’s situation were part of life at Tatura and Elimar participated in at least two of these. In 1943 Die Klage Sal, with a ‘new variety program organised by the corrugated iron company under the direction of E Buschmann’, was prominently advertised in a handmade program. The reference to corrugated iron was an obvious nod to the omnipresent huts surrounding the audience.   Similarly, at Easter 1944, E Buschmann was a featured player in the performance of Die Strape nach Dover, another show at the camp theatre.


Part of a programme from Tatura Internment Camp- E Buschmann on left hand side

There were also conflicts in the camp. Internees were organised according to nationality so fascists and anti-fascists, Jewish refugees and anti Semites could be in proximity. This caused dissension and occasional violence amongst the inmates.   Some of the inhabitants who had no income relied on handouts from the German government, which was contingent on expressions of loyalty, whilst day to day living depended on the whims of men who were devoted followers of Hitler.

When several internees, amongst them Elimar declared their intention to remain in Australia, the Nazis in the camp were ferocious in their condemnation. Elimar had told the Tribunal that he intended to make Australia his permanent home and this determination did not change despite his perilous circumstances.

 The atmosphere of claustrophobia caused by constant monitoring of mail, movements and activities for six years must have taken a psychological toll on everybody who experienced it. For Elimar, who came to the camp as an aspiring 23-year-old juggler of elite ability with a promising future, the lack of practice, experience, networking, activity, and stimulation must have been an ordeal.

The war ended in 1945 with the defeat of Germany and the victory of the Allied forces, amongst them Australia. The inmates at Tatura were released slowly. They were shown movies of the liberation of Belsen to illustrate the reality of the Nazi regime and thoroughly vetted and cross examined before being released to the community. Many who were irredeemable fascists were deported.

Elimar was released in May 1946, he was 29 years old and eager to continue his career, but he was to face more obstacles.