Showing posts with label balancers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label balancers. Show all posts

Friday, July 8, 2022

The Myrons- Balancers, Acrobats and Jugglers.


The Myrons, jugglers, acrobats and balancers, were features of the Australian stage and circus during the Second World War and beyond. Their voyage from Nazi Germany to Australian citizenship is a classic tale of the variety stage.

Arno Koehler ( Kohler) and Felix Slawinski were both born in Germany. Arno in 1905 and Felix in 1903. Felix was a wrestling champ and Arno a gymnast and they met while training. They paired up and produced a balancing and equilibrist act that astounded and surprised audiences.

In April 1939, the pair travelled to Australia under contract to the Tivoli circuit. Due to tensions with Germany, they were billed as Austrians who did not drink, smoke or keep late hours.

Their first performance was at the Tivoli Melbourne. They were jugglers, balancers and antipodean experts.

Their act was primarily balancing. Felix lay on his back balancing a ladder which Arno climbed. On top of the ladder Arno performed various feats. He stood on his head, he juggled four rings, performed hand stands and then lying on his back, twirled an axle with two large motor wheels with his feet. It was a turn that astonished Australian audiences.

Their tricks were called breath taking, and they were labelled ‘perhaps the finest acrobatic act that Melbourne had seen’.

Arno and Felix were performing as tensions with Germany were increasing. They shared the stage with comedians and satirists who used the international situation as part of their act. One such comedian was American Sammy Cohen who was Jewish. Cohen made jokes about Germany's treatment of their Jewish population. Sammy quipped that he had been offered a job in Germany for a lucrative salary with all funeral expenses paid. Such jokes were plentiful on the Australian stage in 1939 and Arno and Felix who spoke little English must have been the subject of conjecture and suspicion.

However, they were determined to participate in the life of the local community, and before leaving Melbourne for Sydney they contributed to a charity performance in aid of the local children’s hospital.

As war in Europe crept closer, the jugglers performed in Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide. By September 1939 they were in Melbourne. On September 3, Australia joined England and declared war on Germany.

Felix and Arno became subject to the Alien Registration Act. Their every movement was monitored and they were obliged to register as enemy aliens. As such, they were legally forced to register with the nearest police station if they travelled around the country. They were also fingerprinted and subject to internment in camps of dubious quality in remote areas of Australia. Their livelihoods and freedom were at the whim of the Australian government.

On September 13th both men registered with the St Kilda Police, their fingerprints and photos were taken. Alien 74 and Alien 75 were officially registered and issued with cards confirming this.

Their careers seem to have stalled immediately after war was declared, however, by March 1940 they were working with Wirth's Circus. They travelled around the Australian countryside to towns big and small as the Balancing Myrons. At every stop they registered with the local police and had their alien cards updated.

Unfortunately, working with the circus had unexpected hazards. For example, the circus animals did not recognise the importance of alien registration cards, and this almost caused a catastrophe that could have ended the freedom of the jugglers.

One day while raising the big top, Felix and Arno hung their coats on a fence. A curious elephant strolled by and investigated the contents of their pockets. Finding something papery, the elephant ate the contents. Unfortunately, the appetising papers were actually registration cards 74 and 75.The  Myrons raced to the nearest police station to get them replaced, and the duty officer duly noted that the originals had been eaten by elephants.

However, not all encounters with the authorities were so humorous. In 1941 Japan entered the war and this led to harsher restrictions for enemy aliens in Australia. There was an official ‘round up’ of Japanese people in Sydney, and Wirth’s Circus was targeted. Their alien performers were investigated and a Japanese acrobatic troupe, performing with the circus, was interned.  Felix and Arno escaped this fate and remained safely with Wirths throughout the war.

In 1944, perhaps attempting to avoid internment, the acrobats applied for Australian naturalisation and in 1947 they attained Australian citizenship. That same year they performed with George Formby and followed him to England. In 1948 they performed at the Royal Variety Command performance in front of the Queen.

After touring the world, Arno and Felix returned to Australia to perform in theatres. They were popular and well received wherever they went.

The Myrons, Felix and Arno weathered the storm of World War 2 safely in Australia. They lived their last years in the country. Felix died in Melbourne in 1979 and Arno, who had married and had at least one child, died in Sydney in 1987.