Saturday, 31 May 2014

Bullen Bros. Circus

This image belonged to my late grandmother Evelyn Wilder (nee Fletcher), who grew up in Torrens Creek, Queensland, in the 1920s and 30s. It made me curious about this circus troupe - Bullen Bros. - and I found that it was once one of Australia's biggest circuses, and, by all accounts, one of the most exciting.
Bullen Bros. Circus. Possibly Torrens Creek, Queensland.
Note: The circus wagons often got bogged and the elephants were used to pull them out.
Photo: Private collection of Trisha Fielding.

This excerpt is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography entry for Alfred Percival (Perce) Bullen:

“In the early 1930s Bullen Bros Circus travelled mostly in Queensland with a show that included its own brass band and a menagerie. Perce, the ringmaster, also juggled and trained the ‘big cats’. Lilian played the cornet, juggled, worked monkeys, dogs and horses, and, with three young girls, appeared in a dancing troupe, ‘The Four Marzellas’. When she retired from the ring she took over the administration and worked hard to ensure her family’s success. A ‘colourful and forceful’ personality, if somewhat temperamental, she proudly flaunted her diamond rings and was known as ‘Tiger Lil’. In the mid-1930s the show drifted to Western Australia where the Bullens settled for a time before returning to Queensland.”[1]

One of Perce and Lilian Bullen’s sons, Stafford Bullen, began his circus career at four years of age.  According to his obituary, he was soon working as a contortionist, tumbler, clown, wire-walker, bareback rider, juggler, trainer of horses and elephants, and eventually ringmaster.

“As a small child, I was filled with the wonder of it - the animals who became my friends, the big-hearted performers, the hard work,” he said. “There was a lot of laughter and comradeship you would never find in any other profession.”[2]

[1] Mark Valentine St Leon, 'Bullen, Alfred Percival (Perce) (1896–1974)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 13 May 2014.

[2] Stafford Bullen obituary, by Jenny Tabakoff, Sydney Morning Herald, 12 January 2001,

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Goats in Townsville

Goats were once a common, everyday sight in Townsville.  There were so many goats in Townsville, the council introduced a system of licensing, so that stray, unlicensed  animals could be rounded up and sold, or moved on to other areas.
Two boys with their goats, Townsville, c.1890.
Photo:  CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection

Many early Townsville households kept goats, which provided milk and meat.  Children loved to ride in carts harnessed to goats, and enterprising young boys could earn a tidy sum with a goat and cart, transporting wood or other materials.
Kelso family children playing in goat cart, 1917.
Photo:  CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

Despite their practical uses, complaints about goats were numerous. Stray goats got into all manner of trouble. Unwelcome goats made a nuisance of themselves under schoolhouses; they camped, uninvited on private verandahs, and dug up gardens and scattered garbage about.

In 1879 the council announced that all unregistered and untethered goats would be seized and destroyed. After the Town Solicitor advised council that it risked being prosecuted by goat owners for stealing, if it seized goats, a special council meeting was held to consider goat by-laws.

Numerous and frequent ‘raids’ on goats were conducted by the Inspector of Nuisances.  These raids regularly netted hundreds of goats at a time.  Some were sold, many were destroyed, and others were ‘deported’ to nearby islands.  While the raids met with approval from some, many in the community ridiculed the practice. 

One morning in April 1888, Mr Pease, the Inspector of Nuisances rounded up and impounded 123 goats from Ross Island. By 7am, a number of children began removing fence railings and succeeded in scattering most of the goats by throwing stones around in all directions!
Ambulance Station, corner of Stanley & Sturt Streets, with goats grazing nearby, c. 1910.
Photo:  CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

In 1922, the number of registered goats was 851, which only narrowly surpassed the number of registered dogs, of which there were 827.  But just because a goat was registered, that didn’t mean it was confined to a yard. 

Throughout the 1920s, letters to the Editor of the Townsville Daily Bulletin were filled with complaints about the ‘goat nuisance’.  One contributor complained, “I am afraid the goat nuisance is getting as bad as ever, for quite recently I have seen mobs of over 20 rambling about the North Ward. Today when coming from lunch I saw a long and shaggy white goat with a collar on in the garden plot opposite the Excelsior Hotel. I drove him away as well as I could, but not before he had done more damage to the plants than weeks of growth will put right”.
A goat race at Keyatta Park, 1966.
Photo by Alex Trotter, held by CityLibraries Townsville Local History Collection.

Goat racing became an extremely popular sport in Townsville.  In December 1927, the speedway at the Townsville Showgrounds was the venue for a much-anticipated race between champion goats “Son O’ Mine” and “Koongal”.  The main activity was meant to be motorcycle racing, but the goat race at the end of the night appears to have been the bigger drawcard. 

Son O’ Mine was a local champion and Koongal hailed from Rockhampton.  The goats were vying for the title of Champion Goat of Queensland.  Reporting on the race, the Bulletin noted, “Koongal was playing tricks at the barrier, but got slightly the better of the start. Son O’ Mine took up a lead of half a yard.  Koongal, however, passed him later and led by two yards”.  

By the turn for home, Son O’ Mine had the better of his opponent, and in a brilliant finish, came away with the win. 

According to the Bulletin, “Koongal ran off the track near the winning post, but even if he had continued he would not have made any impression”.