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The Circus Comes to Town (c.1943)


This silent documentary follows Wirth’s Circus and Zoo as it travels to Brisbane, Queensland. It shows the arrival of the circus train at the station and the elephants hauling equipment from the train. A large crowd gathers around the elephants and fills the station platforms. A circus parade of performers and animals goes through the main street. The big top is set up in the showground and the main entrance is erected. The film ends with crowds entering the showground.

Intertitles are used to describe the action.

Curator’s notes

This silent documentary is a visual record of one of Australia’s early circuses – Wirth’s Circus and Zoo. Brothers George and Philip Wirth entered show business in the 1870s when they worked for the Ashton’s Circus in Queensland. They formed Wirth’s Circus in 1882. Wirth’s Circus disbanded in 1963.

Travelling circuses and itinerant performing troupes have undergone many transformations in recent decades, due in part to the diversity of entertainment options now available to people but also because of the rise of the animal rights movement. The caged animals and elephant trains which are paraded through the streets in this film are now a thing of the past, and the great circus families of yesteryear no longer have the impact they once had. Of course families still go to the circus, but the images here of the parade through the main street and the crowds gathered in their thousands at the train station to witness the circus train’s arrival are all the more powerful because they are a prism into history. The images really capture the excitement and wonder that the circus used to bring to people of all ages.

Harry Poulsen made this film in the early 1940s as a private venture. It was shot on 16mm and he sold some prints to the Queensland Department of Education. However the film never had a theatrical release and no negatives exist.

Behind the Big Top and The Last Circus, also on this website, are also about circuses in Australia.