Opinion: Circuses evolved over years to entertain and thrill

Grant WoodhamsGeraldton Guardian

Our city has been adorned in recent weeks with large signs and larger-than-life clown-like characters telling us of the arrival of a circus.

While it’s tempting to suggest the advertising campaign is a little early and the real circus isn’t until Saturday, May 18, I will resist.

Both circuses will cost money, you can be sure of that, but only one will pack up and leave town with minimal impact on the good citizens of Geraldton.

Actually, the history of circuses makes for fascinating reading. The modern-day circus as we know it, with performances usually staged in a large tent, was developed in the UK only a couple of years before James Cook “discovered” Australia.

From there, it spread to Europe and the Americas.

But people had been doing various tricks, often using animals as part of their performances since Roman times, so it is truly difficult to pinpoint where the idea of a circus came from.

The word circus is borrowed from the Romans, who described the place where performances took place as the Circus Maximus — Latin for a rounded arena or ring.

There have been many famous circuses over the past couple of centuries with names like Barnum and Bailey, and the Ringling Brothers having made a huge impact worldwide.

In Australia, the Lennon Brothers, Sole Brothers and Wirth’s circuses enjoyed more than 100 years of touring, all of them dating back to the 19th century.

Anyone who has worked in a circus for long enough knows there is almost a separate language that circus people speak.

For example, people working in a circus would probably describe you and me as “flatties”, that is, we’re non-circus people.

At the same time, they might describe themselves as “didicoy” — that is, fairground people. There are quite literally hundreds of circus slang words.

In the 21st century, circuses are continually having to reinvent themselves.

The biggest challenge has been the use of animals.

The era of the lion tamer, once the centrepiece of virtually every circus, has now passed.

Animal liberationists have convinced much of the population wild animals should not be subject to life in a cage on the road.

So you won’t hear much roaring in the next couple of weeks ... unless it is the early arrival of the other circus, the one due in May.

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