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

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Herbert (Bert) Beaver - Sydney's Jesting Juggler of the 1920s

 Juggler Bert Beaver began as a vaudeville performer and became one of the most influential radio personalities of the early broadcasting age.

Herbert Edward Beaver was born in Broken Hill in outback New South Wales in 1897 to Ada and Edward. However, his father died when he was young, and his mother remarried when he was 12. Her second husband, Bert’s stepfather, was Gilbert Sinclair, a union man who later became secretary of the State Boilermakers Union. Sinclair, a prominent and vocal member of the labour movement, later became a member of parliament and a founder of a radio station.

How Bert became involved in juggling is a mystery, but his first press notices date to the early 1920s when he was appearing with Dix and Baker in regional Newcastle. He was known as the ‘talking’ or ‘jesting’ juggler who told humorous anecdotes and made smart remarks while juggling sticks, balls, and hats. His act also included balancing two billiard balls on a stick.

Bert- (left) 1926 Wireless Weekly

Bert became quite popular when the Fuller's circuit employed him between 1922-23. In Queensland he caused ‘considerable laughter’ while balancing two balls on a cue and in Adelaide he ‘delighted’ the audience. That year he also toured New Zealand with Fullers.

Meanwhile, he had met juggler George Campbell, an old-time passing juggler who started juggling in Australia in 1906. The pair joined up and formed the Campbell – Beaver - (Fred) White Company and toured regional areas of Australia. This company morphed into the Cockatoo Farm Company which became a legendary touring group in country Australia. One member of the ensemble was singer Vera (Peggy) Cornock.

Cockatoo Farm was an early form of vaudeville revue with a simple humorous story interspersed with specialty turns. The story was stereotypically country Australian with Dad played by George and his son Willie played by Bert. The plot revolved around farm shenanigans and corny Australian jokes- it was tremendously well-received.

The show included a juggling turn from George and Bert which probably involved club passing, and it can probably be assumed that the pair exchanged ideas and juggling techniques with George representing an older generation of jugglers and Bert the new.

In later years Bert claimed that he could juggle three or four lacrosse balls, hats, cigars or clubs and that he invented the trick of passing soap bubbles up and down a stick or string. He was also a keen magician and member of the Australian Society of Magicians and sometimes performed at their annual soirees in Sydney.

After almost two years with George Campbell and the Cockatoo Farm Company, Bert left and formed his own touring group. They were well-regarded but relegated to smaller regional towns. In 1923 he married Vera Cornock , and in 1924 they had their first child, Shirley.

Bert was increasingly interested in management, and fortunately in 1925, just as radio and the movies were beginning to encroach on vaudeville he was offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The chance to be on the ground floor with a radio station.

His stepfather Gilbert Sinclair was one of the founders of the new station 2KY, which was owned by the labour movement. Gilbert persuaded the other directors to employ his stepson as the manager, and by 1925, as 2Ky hit the airwaves, Bert was one of the few permanent staff members.

Bert in 1935 Wireless Weekly

He became well known in Sydney as Uncle Bert and had a versatile career that mingled calling boxing matches with children’s stories. Through the depression years, he maintained his role and mentored young talent through community concerts and talent quests. It was through one of these that he encountered young juggler Jimmy Wallace. Jimmy later said that he was lucky that Bert was a juggler because their shared profession ensured encouragement and reinforcement for his later career. Presumably, the pair swapped tricks and ideas, just as George Campbell and Bert had done many years earlier.

Managing the station left Bert with little time to juggle, but he continued to do so at the community concerts and public radio Xmas parties. He is recorded as juggling occasionally until the 1940s.

He also took a risk in the mid-1930s when he travelled to England for radio business and briefly appeared as a juggler in the London music halls. Upon his return to Australia, he said he just wanted to find out if he was still capable. On that trip, he also witnessed an early version of Baird’s television and reported to the Australian press on his experience.

Bert was a pioneer of radio and a mentor for Sydney jugglers. He provided a bridge from the old generation, such as George Campbell, to a new generation, such as Jimmy Wallace, who had to adapt the art of juggling to the demands of new technology.

Bert and his family eventually settled on the Northern Beaches in Sydney and he passed away there in 1958. He still has descendants living in the area.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

I am just a performer to the audiences of the world.- Elimar Part 3

 This third part of the story of Elimar is sourced from newspapers and from Actor Equity files held in Sydney. I am trying to discover more about the Equity case through files in Melbourne- however I cannot access these without permission, which I am trying to obtain. Once again thanks to Robyn, Elimar's daughter, for sharing her memories. 

Part one  part two

After six years of internment, Elimar Clemens Buschmann, juggler, was released from Tatura camp in March 1946. He headed to Melbourne and in April made his reappearance on stage in a charity performance at St Kilda Town Hall. Later that month he was preparing for a return to professional performance in a Tivoli revue called Forbidden City.

Elimar in 1946 from the Forbidden City Programme

Forbidden City starred a roll call of Australian performers who had been popular during the war. Amongst them were Val Jellay, Iris and Ron Shand, Lulla Fanning, Babby Le Brun, Summer Lock Elliott and Elimar’s old friend George Nichols. George had never gained the fame of his sister Joy, who was a War time superstar, but he had been employed steadily on the Tivoli circuit during the war where his impersonations and comedy made him a household name.

However, there were rumblings amongst the cast about the German Juggler and his loyalties. It seems this was prompted in part by Elimar’s application for membership of the union, Actors Equity. Without that membership he would be unable to perform, as the arts industry in Australia was a closed shop at that time.

Forbidden City opened to rave reviews but the principals in the cast were unhappy with Elimar’s presence and threatened to walk out. They held a meeting where they agreed that Elimar should leave the show when it moved to Sydney, or they would boycott the production. They complained to Actors Equity and were assured of support if they decided to make the show ‘black.’ They were outraged that an alleged Nazi sympathiser was working when former soldiers and Australian performers were unemployed.

In early June the storm broke and the tabloid newspaper, The Truth, was reporting the scandalous fact that a German, a man who had been interned during the war as a suspected Nazi, was performing on the Australian stage. Somebody had informed on Elimar- again.

Elimar was front page news, the fact that he had been interned for the whole duration of the war was a red flag for the newspapers, who assumed this was due to his Nazi sympathies. Equity stated that

‘The background of the war against Nazism seems to have been forgotten by the Melbourne Tivoli manager Mr Jack Martin, He appears quite content to use any measure to ensure profits for his company. Mr Martin appears to have forgotten Buchenwald and numerous other Nazi torture camps. A member of Equity, Max Pearce, died in one of these hell holes and a number of our members were killed in the war against Nazism’.

David Martin the managing director of the Tivoli defended the juggler

‘He is not replacing any other performer, and I do not think there is another artist in the world, and definitely not Australia whose work may be compared to his.’

Indeed, Charles Waller who probably saw Elimar during this run said that

‘His work and manner showed tremendous improvement since his last appearance at the The Tivoli. With this act he was fit to star on any programme.’

Six years of internment had perhaps made Elimar a more mindful, and creative performer.

Nonetheless, the improvement in skill and presentation meant nothing if he was banned from joining Equity. In late June Elimar was subjected to an investigation by the union. He and those who had ‘denounced’ him were summoned to the union offices in Victoria and Elimar was asked a series of questions regarding his loyalties.

The union called general meetings in July so that the membership could vote on his application for membership. The investigation had determined that

‘It is our firm opinion and belief that at no time was Elimar a Nazi or Nazi sympathiser and he is completely exonerated after full and thorough enquiry.’

The motion to accept his application for membership was approved by 195 votes to 14.

Elimar proceeded to work in Sydney in Forbidden City, he was described as one of the ‘bright spots’ of the show and received a good reception from the Sydney audience.

Despite being cleared by equity and enjoying success, he was still subject to some animosity from his fellow performers. Val Jellay an Australian Tivoli performer who was one of his on-stage assistants in Forbidden City and knew him around this time said.

‘Elimar was so demanding of himself. Whenever possible he would rig his slack wire working for hours and if he missed a trick, he would slap his own face with force and real venom yelling and swearing in German. The result was a sensational act. …. because of his nationality he was shunned and made to feel an enemy. Even fellow artists would turn from him. Elimar was a gentleman, that was all I knew. ‘

His other assistant was Dawn Butler, real name Sadie Dawn Butler. Dawn and Elimar had met in Brisbane before the war when she was still a teenager. During the war Sadie had been constantly employed as a member of the famous Tivoli ballet, she also worked as a choreographer for the Tivoli shows.

Elimar and Dawn Butler (aka Sadie Dawn Butler) From a newspaper 1940

Dawn’s war time experiences included some ill-fated romances. In 1942, she went through a marriage ceremony with comedian Buddy Morley, who had accompanied Elimar on the Queensland tour with George Sorlie in 1940. Early in the war Morley had joined the Australian Infantry Force (AIF) and toured the Middle East, upon his return in 1942, he and Dawn got married and lived as husband and wife for 9 months. However, Buddy had not divorced his previous wife. He was a bigamist. He was charged with bigamy and gaoled. Dawn was left to fend for herself at the Tivoli.

Her adventures were not over. As a Tivoli ballet girl, she had many admirers, one however, was braver than the others. One night after returning home exhausted from another show, Dawn discovered a pair of men’s shoes under her bed, attached to them were the legs of Russell Maher, an admirer who hoped ‘to sneak a kiss’. Dawn ran outside screaming and called the police. Maher was imprisoned for two months.

 Dawn was now performing on stage with Elimar, the gentleman, every evening, and a romance developed. In July, the romance became a marriage. The pair married in July after Elimar was cleared by Equity and proceeded to develop a double act that they took around the world.

1947 saw Elimar and Sadie in New Zealand on tour with a Tivoli revue called, It’s Foolish but it’s fun. Elimar juggled hoops and balls on the floor and on the slack wire but the most popular part of his turn was the audience interaction.

‘No one was more popular with the audience than Elimar the juggler, not so much with his brilliant juggling either on the floor or on a slack wire as with the way he brought the stalls, circle, and gallery into his act. He kicked or threw a ball to them and when they returned it gave a remarkable display of retrieving.’

Elimar would catch the ball on a mouth stick, balancing and swaying and making both the audience member and himself look good. The company also performed at a Food for Britain charity event on this tour. There was no press mention of Elmar’s war time record.

In New Zealand, Elimar was advertised as ‘The International Juggling Genius’ which suggests that it was around this time that he was filmed by Tex Glanville, a fellow juggler.

In 1950, Elimar was contracted to star in Ice Follie, a revue performed on ice. Elimar had never skated and according to family legend hired an ice-skating rink for a few nights so he could learn the skill. When the show opened in Perth, he juggled on ice skates for part of the act and for the other half wore soft slippers which resulted in very wet feet.

Elimar and Sadie Dawn spent most of the early 1950s touring the world. In 1951 they appeared at the London Palladium. According to Billboard in July that year

‘Best of the bunch was Elimar. Starting off at stage level juggling 8 hoops, balancing a ball on his head and waving a band around his leg he mounted onto a wire tightrope and did the same things there to great applause.’

In 1951 he was back on skates in Chicago the Billboard reviewer said

‘He was the first skating juggler used here. His juggling of a tennis racket between two juggling sticks was the big bit…. his closer with a maze of strobe rings going in different directions was highly effective visually.’

Elimar from a Harlem Globetrotters Programme 1955

By 1954 he was performing in the Harlem Globetrotters floor show. It was a time of segregation, and the Globetrotters were subject to its discriminatory practices. They were refused accommodation in hotels, played to segregated audiences and were often abused by racist comments from their audiences. Before 1950, when the American National Basketball Association (NBA) was desegregated, they were one of the few opportunities for professional and paid appearances for talented African American basketballers. By the time Elimar joined them they were increasingly becoming more entertainment focused.

 Elimar stayed with the Globetrotters for many years, he appeared in Israel in 1955 and in 1956 he and Sadie travelled to Brazil, probably also with the Globetrotters.

By 1958 Elimar had returned to Australia and was performing in Sydney. In 1959 he appeared in the revue Many Happy Returns, which starred Australia’s most popular performer Gladys Moncrief. Also in this show was a young singer, Louise Matheson.

Louise born 1934 in Queensland was a talented performer who had appeared in several Australian legitimate theatre shows. In 1955/56 she performed in the long running and tremendously popular show Kismet. It ran for a year, and the next year she was in the Pyjama Game, another popular production.

In 1959 she was part of the singing chorus in Many Happy Returns, and it was here that she and Elimar probably met. They would spend the next 15 years together.


Louis Matheson, in White Dress from the newspapers

In the early 60s Elimar and Louise toured with the Harlem Globetrotters. Their daughter remembers,

They were billed as "Elimar and Louise"…… Mum and Dad's act comprised three sections. First Dad would juggle using balls, tennis rackets, and clubs and do a routine with a bunch wooden cube. Mum would toss him stuff. Then Mum would sing, her style a fusion of Shirley Bassey, Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland with some French songs thrown in for good measure, while the rig was set up behind the curtain. Then Dad would perform on his wire, juggling and using numerous small hoops on his arms and one leg. Again, Mum would toss the rings, he would get them all spinning then do a bit where he would throw a ball to the audience, and they would throw it back for him to catch on a stick held in his mouth.

Elimar in 1954

In 1965, Elimar stopped touring and returned to Australia to work on the ‘fringes of carnie life’. In 1977 he had a home in Sydney.

Elimar passed away in Sydney in 1999, after a life of tribulation and juggling. He was an incredible performer, a talented juggler, and a man who crossed cultural boundaries to entertain people around the world.















Sunday, May 15, 2022

Some photos of Jugglers in Australia

My book What Goes Up. Australian Juggling to World War 1 is now available from Amazon for pre-order.

In honour of this momentous occasion I'm posting some photos of jugglers who appear in the book. Regrettably, only the photos that I own could be published in the book, the rest of the photos here come from the newspapers. 

A cigarette card in my possession.

Derenda and Breen from the newspapers- 

The Harbecks- He gambled -  she juggled. ( newspaper photo)

Joe Jalvan top right balancing (newspaper photo)

Kara- Sydney gave him appendicitis - from the newspapers. 

Lennon Hyman and Lennon- Australians- from my collection

Lucy Gillet- a postcard in my collection

Morris Cronin- the best club juggler in the world? From the newspaper

Rhodesia- The female Cinquevalli.(newspaper photo)- in the middle

Selbo (from the newspaper)

Victor Martyn early in his career (my collection)

Stan Kavanagh- later in his career (from my collection)

The Carmos ( from the newspapers) Friends of the Martyns.

W C Fields as he appeared in Sydney 1903 ( from my collection)

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Australian Juggling History- The Book, Arnold Jarvis- the Boy Cinquevalli, and Mills Mess

 A few bits and pieces

Recently I bought this beauty- I've always wanted one....why? 

This beautiful watercolour was painted by Arnold Jarvis, also know as Arnoldi, a juggler. Arnold was born in South Australia and had a short juggling career that included appearances at the Tivoli theatre. He was billed as the 'boy Cinquevalli'. Everybody was Cinquevalli in Australia in the 1900s.Later he became a landscape painter. He was apparently trained by Ashton- Juggling, and Hans Heysen- painting. For some performances he would combine juggling with lightning sketches...

Arnold's descendants are still around and I had the privilege of talking to them about Arnold when I was researching this....

My new book about Australian Juggling History. I received the final proofs this week and hope it will be published in the next month or so...The publisher is Ginninderra Press, who have published my other books. They are great people.

Finally, while I wait for the book to be published, and between work shifts, I am trying to master the wonderful art of Mills Mess with juggling clubs.

Bruises, drops and screams of frustration are already part of my life in this quest. So if you see a juggler with blue clubs and blue arms and legs (from bruises)  screaming loudly please be understanding of my difficult position..

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Cinquevalli- in NZ archives and more....

It's been a while since I posted here.

But I'm still researching some theatre history when I get the time.

 I received a present for my birthday last month...

A beautiful watercolour of Cinquevalli- I wonder if anybody has information about when or where this painting was produced?

It seems to be based on a photo in the New Zealand archives. 

I am very curious about its provenance and welcome any comments/suggestions.

He was gorgeous wasn't he? 

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Australia's early circus jugglers.

Circus and Juggling seems to be a natural association, and so it proved in early 19th Century Australia. Whilst the main attraction of early circus was equestrian feats, juggling was included as another, less important, feature. The Australian circus began in Tasmania in 1847, and by the 1850s several different circuses had evolved. The gold rush which started in 1851 led to further demands for entertainment and a consequent increase in circus activity.

One of the early exponents of circus in Australia was James Ashton and juggling played an important role in his show from the very beginning. In fact, as early as 1849, in Melbourne, he had a benefit which featured Monsieur Risley, a juggler. By 1852, Ashton was in New South Wales and promising juggling, balancing and acrobatic feats for the entertainment of people in Singleton, a country town.

Ashton seems to have also performed Risley juggling, that is juggling people with the feet. This type of juggling was named after Richard Risley Carlisle who introduced it in the USA in the early 1840s. However, this was not the same Risley who performed with Ashton in Melbourne in 1849. Ashton also seems to have juggled other items with his feet, this is known as ‘foot juggling’. There is some evidence that Ashton popularised foot juggling in Australia, as one of his apprentices, Robert Taylor, was well known for this skill.

Taylor, born in Windsor New South Wales, was foot juggling in Sydney by 1855, firstly with Ashton and later with Burton’s Circus. An early picture of juggling published in the newspapers, showed Mr R Taylor upside down laying on his back, with a large ball balanced on his foot. Taylor is dressed in a one-piece frilled body suit which resembled the costume of a clown. His lower legs are encased in decorated stockings and his feet covered by flat pointed shoes with bows. In 1857, Taylor performed at the goldfields at Bendigo with Burton’s circus. In this performance he put a large ball ‘through a variety of evolutions moving it with the same facility with his feet as if they were his hands.’ He also stilt walked and balanced on a large ball whilst juggling.

Ashton was not the only circus proprietor at this time, in Sydney his circus had a rival, Malcolm’s Royal Australian Amphitheatre. At Malcolm’s they had a house juggler called Signor Cardoza, called the juggling king, who performed a ‘grand juggling act on a courser’, a horse.

Another competitor who arrived around 1852 was Henry Burton.  On Boxing Day that year he introduced his Grand Fete at the Sir Joseph Banks Hotel at Botany Bay Sydney. It featured his great equestrian artistes, including Major John Downey, who juggled whilst his horse galloped at full speed, and an equilibrist who, on the back of a white horse, spun plates and manipulated other items.
It seems therefore that object manipulation was a major part of the circus tradition, although only a tangential part of the show. Juggling complemented feats of equestrian acrobatics, probably played a role with the clowns and tumblers and was in the skill set of most circus performers.

The discovery of gold in Australia changed everything for entertainers in the country. It brought wealth, thousands of people, and a multicultural mix to the small insular society. This resulted in a higher demand for shows, and many circuses responded by becoming itinerant and visiting the gold fields, chasing the money of those who were chasing their dream.

With this desire for more entertainment came a requirement for more performers. One way the circus met the demand was by adopting or acquiring unwanted Aboriginal children.   One of these was a young indigenous boy, nicknamed ‘little nugget’. In 1852 the young boy was juggling with Burton’s circus near the gold fields at the Commercial Hotel Bathurst. He performed as one of the jugglers of Antwerp, ‘spinning plates and throwing balls’.

The young man was ‘adopted’ or kidnapped, as many young Aboriginal children were, and trained in circus as an added, exotic attraction Later he was renamed ‘Billy Jones’ after John Jones, a former Burton employee who left to form his own circus and took Billy with him. Billy Jones was the first  documented Aboriginal person to perform in a circus, he was an acrobat, juggler, equestrian and superb performer.

By the 1860s circus had become a featured entertainment in Australia and juggling was part of the show. These early jugglers were some of the first to introduce juggling to large Australian audiences and from them comes a large part of the Australian juggling tradition.

- A lot of the background information for this article, particularly about 'Billy Jones',  comes from Dr Mark St Leon's superb book, Circus The Australian Story

If you are interested in present day juggling try Sydney Juggling

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Early club juggling on the Australian Stage

Some information about early club juggling on the Australian Stage. References available upon request. 

 Indian club swinging was well established in Australia by the turn of the 20th Century. However, although club juggling was common in England and the US in the 1880s and 1890s, it had not reached the antipodes. It was not until 1902, according to Charles Waller, that the first club jugglers performed on the Australian stage.

Although it is probable that clubs were juggled in the country before 1902, the first theatrical performance occurred that year at the Tivoli Theatre in Sydney. The performers were two Americans, Derenda and Breen, who were comedic jugglers and carried Van Wyck clubs.

 The two men had met at a club swinging tournament in New York and from this meeting they developed a music hall act. They were the first club jugglers to incorporate comedy and patter into their performance despite their peers saying that club juggling was ‘too pretty’ for comedy.  

In Australia they began the act by one of them leaping out of a life size poster. Every night it was a different juggler who leapt from the backdrop, keeping the audience guessing as to which one was alive and which a representation.

They incorporated a great deal of humour into the act and showed an amazing dexterity on stage. Their show involved juggling three Wyck clubs back to back, and the climax of their performance was the pair mounting pedestals and throwing eight clubs at each other.

Derenda and Breen, Australian Town, and Country Journal 18 January 1902 p.22

. Derenda was well known for his temper tantrums when the clubs misbehaved.

‘When Derenda made a miss, his rage became a thing awful to behold. Sometimes he would snap a mighty chain to pieces; sometimes with his teeth, tear lumps from the top of a wooden pedestal.

The arrival of the juggling club on the Australian stage led to a contest between club users in the country. Indian club swingers scoffed at the club jugglers, and the cultural space occupied by the club was contested between the athletes and the entertainers.

Whilst Derenda and Breen were entertaining the crowds with their version of club juggling, well known axe and Indian club swinger, Jack Harrison, challenged them to a match. Jack called the pair ‘fancy club swingers’. A term that implied a derogatory attitude towards the art of juggling.

The antagonism between the Indian club swinging community and club juggling continued during the early 1900s. One article published in a Queensland paper compared the health effects of club swinging and juggling as follows.

‘I am aware that the artistes ‘on the boards’ execute some marvellous and intricate evolutions but their work savours more of jugglery than legitimate club swinging. As a rule, they use extremely light clubs, in fact were you to offer them ones weighing 3 or 4lbs they would be unable to do their wonderful finger swings catches and changes. This stage trick- club work looks very pretty and is indeed clever, but it does not bring any appreciable development, as the clubs being mostly held with the finger tips confine the muscular work to the fingers, wrist and forearm.

This description of club jugglers as ‘artistes’ who performed ‘jugglery’ dismissed the skill involved in juggling. The author clearly considered juggling inferior to swinging. By 1910, this disdain of club juggling had spread, and Indian Club Swinging competitions were posting rules stating, ‘no juggling allowed’. This indicated that club juggling had spread in the general community and was infecting the athletic halls of Australia.  Another indication of the spread of club juggling occurred in 1906, when an Australian club juggling act was incorporated into the annual  pantomime.

Australian born trio, Lennon Hyman, and Lennon, were experienced acrobats before encountering the juggling club.  They began their career with touring companies presenting a comedy contortionist act called ‘The Three Waiters.’ After a tour of New Zealand, they took the act to England, and returned to Australia with some Van Wyck juggling clubs. Their encounter with juggling clubs changed their status in the theatrical community and ensured a successful career.

Lennon Hyman and Lennon (Authors Collection)

They were comedians,  and their costumes were similar in style to those of Derenda and Breen. Modestly dressed on stage, the three men passed clubs between them at a dizzying rate.

'The first turn was a display of juggling with Indian clubs which they handled with remarkable proficiency, exchanging flying clubs with one another, and sometimes surrendering three clubs in mid-air with an air of perfect nonchalance…. the varied manipulations were really astounding, the concluding turn in which the nine clubs were kept twirling in the air created the greatest enthusiasm.'

In 1906 they performed in the annual William Anderson pantomime, Sinbad the Sailor, suggesting that club juggling had become a popular feature of the Australian stage.

If you are interested in current day juggling in Sydney, try Sydney Juggling for information.

Monday, January 25, 2016

A long ramble about Australian Juggling history

 I got caught up in writing this very rambling, incoherent account of Australian Juggling history 1860-1920. I've still got a lot of gaps to fill so this is preliminary research. Please consider it a draft and work in progress...

If you are interested in Australian Juggling History try reading my book What Goes Up.

Juggling in Australia began as a part of circus performance, and circus arrived in Australia around 1842.  According to newspaper reports, many of the early equestrian performers had juggling as part of their act. For example, Mark St Leon in Circus the Australian Story, describes Indigenous circus man, Billy Jones, as a juggler. But Jones was also an equestrian, tightrope walker and acrobat. Juggling in Australia, was, presumably a part of other circus acts, but rarely a stand alone performance.

Juggling in the past was considered an odd, sometimes evil, occupation. Most 19th century stories of juggling in Australian newspapers were about Indian jugglers. Juggling was often identified as an occupation associated with the mystery and 'otherness', of the east. It was cast in the language of what post modernist author, Edward Said described as 'Orientalism', a political vision of reality whose structure promoted the difference between the familiar (Europe, West, "us") and the strange (the Orient, the East, "them"). (Edward Said, Orientalism)

The most famous exploiter of Orientalism in the early theatre was American magician Chung Ling Soo (William Robinson) Above is his very Anglo American assistant Dot dressed as Suee  Seen.

Early jugglers, employed by circus entrepreneurs, used this pervasive ideology and narrative to promote Indian jugglers in their circuses. A little later in the 1860s, with the opening of Japan to the west, early popular theatre owners capitalised on a similar view of juggling.

An example of the circus exploitation of  orientalism, is the case of brothers Mahomet Cassim and Mahomet Abdallah. Advertised by Burton's circus as being from the court of a Rajah, their props and acrobatic performances capitalised on the exotic nature of their origins. Their subsequent execution for murder of their compatriot on the basis on little evidence, is an example of how pervasive the 'orientalist' idea of the 'evil' east, was in the 1860s.

Juggling in the late 19th and early 20th Century

Charles Waller is perhaps the only person in Australia to make a contemporaneous attempt to document juggling in Australian popular theatres in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Waller 
( and I know some jugglers will not like this) was a magician. In 1941 he attempted to list every magician who had visited Australia and describe their performance. This quickly grew to a project which included jugglers, protean artists and ventriloquists.  Waller came to Melbourne in 1895 and his accounts of performances from that date rely on personal recollections. After his death, his work was passed to Charles Wicks who in turn passed it on to Gerald Taylor who turned it into a book called Magical Nights at the Theatre. All three were magicians and members of the Australian Society of Magicians, and it is thanks to them that there are some eyewitness accounts of early jugglers in Australia.

According to Waller some of the first jugglers to perform on an Australian stage were Japanese. He says that  The Tycoon troupe, a group of Japanese jugglers and acrobats performed in Melbourne in November 11 1867. Not only were they possibly the first juggling act to perform on an Australian stage, they were also one of the first group of Japanese entertainers to perform outside Japan.

The juggler in this troupe was named Herconuske, he performed sword balancing and brick manipulations. However, the main attraction of the troupe was top spinning . The whole performance was framed with a broken English explanation of Japanese customs, including a discussion of the quality of tea. This framing focused once again on an orientalist idea of the mystic east.

Other Japanese troupes followed through the late 1860s and early 1870s.

The late 1880s saw the arrival of Clark's all star American speciality group and its associated juggling performers. These included Japanese jugglers, and Sylvo, a balancer and juggler.  He used goblets, umbrellas and other common objects, balanced them and rearranged them in startling rapidity. Sylvo's performance clearly showed the influence of the great French performer Trewey, and introduced a European influence into the art of juggling in Australia.

Of course the most influential juggler in early 20th century Australia  was Cinquevalli. It was he who firmly established juggling as a popular theatrical art in this country. Cinquevalli made four trips to Australia and at one stage considered settling here.

His first performance was in 1899, he dressed in traditional circus attire, silken tights, and juggled common objects.

Cinquevalli juggled salt and pepper, tea cups, tea pots and sugar. His juggling always had a clever  denouement. He would juggle the tea items and end up pouring a cup of tea, or he would juggle a knife, fork and potato and halve the potato as it fell. Of course his billiard ball trick was a long time favourite with Australian audiences.

Cinquevalli introduced an everyday flavour to the art of juggling. He once said that he hoped that an audience member, after witnessing his performance, would go home and try to juggle the kitchen utensils. Cinquevalli was a juggling evangelist, and one of the first people to introduce common object juggling to the Australian populace. ( he is also my hero)

After Cinquevalli came a wave of 'drawing room' jugglers and the early 20th century can be seen as the high point of vaudeville juggling in Australia. W C Fields arrived with his silent tramp act. Selma Bratz and Lucy Gillet also toured in the early 20th century.

In the wake of Cinquevalli's successful and profitable appearance, juggling became a popular feature for the managers of the large variety halls such as the Tivoli and National Amphitheatre in Sydney. Australian jugglers were given more opportunities to show their skill on the stage and become regulars on the bigger circuits.  It was at this time that the Kavanagh boys( rackets and hoops)  made their first appearances at the Tivoli (1911) and the Lentons (hat jugglers) also made their first appearance.

Another form of juggling rose simultaneously, club juggling. This originated from the Indian club swinging movement of the late Victorian era. Australians were apparently very keen on this form of exercise. Famous Australian bush poet, Henry Lawson, was an exponent, and the world champion of the sport was also Australian. The national obsession with sport and competition undoubtedly influenced the popularity of club swinging and perhaps the sporting aspect also influenced some of the early club jugglers in Australia.

One of the first Australian club juggling acts was Lennon, Hyman and Lennon who appeared in the Sinbad the Sailor pantomime in 1906.  After a long career as jugglers, the Lennons became theatre entrepreneurs in Adelaide. Ted Lennon established one of Adelaide's first cinemas, and his showings of silent movies were interspersed with vaudeville acts, which presumably would have included some club juggling.

In the 1920s one of the most famous club juggling acts was the Littlejohns, who juggled patented 'diamond studded' clubs and were well known in the famous variety halls. They also toured independently in regional areas and their itinerant shows brought juggling to a wider audience.

With the advent of the talkies, juggling, as with other vaudeville and circus arts, fell into decline. But it was a large part of the Australian popular theatrical experience for a very  long time and of course continues to be enjoyed by many (strange, odd, eccentric and mathematical) people today. 

And if you're interested in present day practitioners of this strange hobby you might like to look at Sydney Juggling