Walcha history: Wild times when the circus came to town

Wild Walcha: Circus elephants after having a drink from the Apsley River.
Wild Walcha: Circus elephants after having a drink from the Apsley River.

Ashton’s Circus followed the horse racing circuit, visiting Walcha on several occasions in the 1870s.

They generally brought along a brass band that played at the races as well as at the race night performances held on then vacant land opposite the Apsley Hotel.

In those days Ashton’s entertained primarily with trick riding.

It was not until after the railway came to New England in the 1880s that other circuses made regular trips to Walcha, often bringing a menagerie of exotic animals that included elephants, big cats, bears, monkeys and other animals rarely seen in country areas.

The Walcha Witness of March 26, 1898, gave an account of the arrival of the Eroni Brothers Circus and Menagerie saying: “On Tuesday last this celebrated circus opened in Walcha. It consists of about twenty wagons, a large mob of horses, an army of performers and numerous mammoth tents. The company formed quite a township and at night the roar of lions could be heard all over Walcha.

“The circus was crowded on Tuesday and Wednesday nights and it was a treat for the children to see lions, a leopard, a huge bear, monkeys, some deer and other strange animals.”

Ashton’s Circus returned in November 1899 after having toured India, Africa, New Zealand and other countries, securing some talented performers in the process. They were at Walcha again in 1903, seemingly for their last visit.

Baker’s Paragon Circus arrived in January 1906 with 25 wagons, 70 horses and gave a great display on the high wire and the trapeze.

Perry Brothers Circus and Zoo entertained Walcha in the 1930s with a staff 92 performers and assistants.

They offered “pulse quickening” high wire walkers, trapeze artists, aerial acrobats and many clowns together with performing lions, tigers and elephants.

The late Gordon Case recalled circuses in the 1940s and 1950s setting up their “big top” and mini zoo on land in Pakington Street. Locals occasionally saw unhobbled elephants strolling along the banks of the Apsley River.