Tag Archive for May Wirth

Circus: The Australian Story

Circus – The Australian Story by Mark St Leon
Released 20th May, 2011

Circus: The Australian Story - book by Mark St LeonIn Circus: The Australian Story, author Mark St Leon presents a comprehensive, entertaining and visually stunning history of circus in Australia. His interest was sparked by his insatiable curiosity about his own family’s celebrated past in the Australian circus.

You will read how a colonial circus industry developed out of its Old World roots; how the saga of circus is woven into the historical fabric of modern Australia; how circus in Australia absorbed influences from as far afield as America, Japan and Europe; how Australia has been visited by some of the world’s major circus companies; and how Australia’s circus people have coped with unrelenting social, cultural, technological and economic change.

You will also read how Australia has been a significant developer and exporter of circus talent. The ‘worlds greatest bareback rider’ May Wirth and the Indigenous wirewalker Con Colleano although forgotten in Australia are regarded, internationally, as among the finest circus artists of modern times.

The author shows how circus in Australia today, in both its traditional and contemporary generes, is the outcome of a continuum that extends, not only over some 175 years of modern Australia’s history, but back to it London, medieval and ancient roots.

Published by: Melbourne Books
Author: Mark St Leon
288 Pages
ISBN: 9781877096501
Released: May 2011




May Wirth

One of the greatest female acrobats on horseback of all times, May Emmeline Wirth (1894-1978) was born on June 6, 1894 at Bundaberg, Queensland, in Australia, the daughter of John Edward Zinga, a circus artist from MMay Wirthauritius (an island nation off the southwest coast of Africa) whose original name was Despoges, and his Australian-born wife Dezeppo Marie. In 1901, after her parents separated, May was adopted by Marizles (“Rill”) Martin (1868-1948), an equestrienne and a sister of the Wirth brothers, proprietors of one of Australia’s largest circuses.

Having already been taught by her father to turn “flip-flaps,” May soon featured in Wirth Bros. Circus in balancing and tumbling acts, and as a tight wire performer and contortionist. From the Wirths, May also learned equestrian skills. At the age of ten, she was a “real trick rider.” In Melbourne in 1906, aged twelve, she was billed as “May Ringling,” the “American fearless hurricane hurdle rider.” Like the most adroit of circus performers, bareback riders in particular, May was short but strong. She grew to be only 150 centimetres tall (about five feet).

Contortion work and tumbling, the earliest and most basic performing skills she acquired, were the basis of the technical precision and artistry she brought to her career as a bareback rider. By 1910, May’s work on horseback was clearly the most outstanding of her versatile accomplishments. But for all her skill as an equestrienne by that time, she did not rank highly on the Wirth program.

In 1911 the remarkable flying trapeze troupe, The Flying Jordans, and the wild animal acts claimed most of the attention of Australian audiences who came to see Wirth’s circus that year—and in Sydney, at the annual opening of the Circus, May was simply “a remarkably pretty girl who rode and drove eight ponies and turned somersaults on a cantering grey.”

Read more of the May Wirth Story on Circopedia or for an indepth view of the life of May Wirth copies of the limited edition book – Volume Thirteen – Circus in Australia: May Wirth, The Bareback Queen