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Granny and Pop Join The Circus!

Many retirees have plans to work and travel Australia. Farmers from Cowra NSW, George and Kelton Wilson, raised more than a few eyebrows when they joined the travelling Silvers Circus. Kelton takes up the story….

It was the 16th December 2006. The harvest was over, we were heartily sick of dry weather and feeding sheep. Had caravan. Started thinking about travelling.

My husband and I had often talked about looking after other peoples’ farms while their owners had a break. I looked up the positions vacant section in the Land newspaper and there was this advert; ‘COOK WANTED – OWN CARAVAN – must be able to travel – CIRCUS’.

I thought will I or wont I, then, why not? I phoned. Yes, the job was still vacant, but we are 63 and 65, “oh just what we want,” they said.

The very next morning we were up and off to the outskirts of Melbourne (an 8 hour drive) for our interview. We got the job. Then it was back home to break the news to the family.

The daughter-in-law looked at us and said, “Oh Granny, what will we tell our friends?”

The son just grinned and said, “Go for it”. Our daughter and her husband could only laugh, while our grand-daughters asked to come with. Friends reacted with amazement and disbelief, although when they saw we were genuine they also had a laugh and wished us well.

We didn’t have much time to worry because we had to be there by December 23rd. So we packed the caravan and headed south into the unknown two days before Christmas.

On the trip down I couldn’t stop thinking about what my mother would have said. Dad loved rodeos and circuses and always took me and my brother along whenever the Big Top was in town. Mum refused to go because she thought they were dirty, grimy places where only the lowest worked. “Only naughty kids run away and join the circus”. Nevertheless, my brother and I loved it all.

We joined the circus as it was touring the Mornington Peninsula and started becoming familiar with the set up.

The Big Top was already set up ready to commence on Boxing Day. We met the Secretary who showed us where to park our van and the van we’d be using for the catering.We started work immediately giving the kitchen a good scrub up and tidy up. At about 6pm the secretary landed over with a tray of chops and said “could you feed the boys”.

The Christmas meal was cooked by the owners (I did cook the turkey) for all the staff and performers and it was excellent.

We didn’t cook for the artists as they came from all round the world and had different food requirements – so they cooked for themselves.

I cooked for up to 13 workers – there was one chap who had been with the Circus for 26 years, the other boys were mostly backpackers. During the 7 months we were with the Circus we had 21 different boys from Israel, Turkey, Ireland, Scotland, Germany and a few Aussies. I can honestly say they never grumbled or complained and never said a thing I could take offence at. These boys did all the necessary jobs and were an excellent lot of young people – most had plans to eventually return home and finish their education.

Circus work was hungry work and boy could they eat! One young bloke always ran to the van to be there first, ate a huge meal, then sat and waited for everyone else to finish so he could clean up what was left. Another lad once saw me put half a cup potato in the bin and said, “please don’t throw anything out; I’ll find someone to eat it”. He used to eat six Weetbix plus a litre of milk for breakfast followed by four slices of toast and jam. He came on the lean side but I’m proud to say left two and a half months later shining. Breakfast was a fun highlight of the day, when all were talking about the mishaps both good and bad from the night before.

The artists, if they wanted to work in Australia, sent a video out of their performance and were selected on merit if their act was needed at that time. They then made their way out and started immediately.

There are things we take for granted when a circus rolls into town but it’s all much more complex than it appears.

Firstly someone has to go ahead and distribute flyers and drum up publicity around the next town and district. Power and water has to be connected by the qualified people and very often a large bond has to be paid in case of any damage to property or grounds. In wet boggy weather it is hard to keep the grounds perfect.If the circus is near a residential area, people living nearby have to be contacted and often there’s a curfew at night.When it comes time to move and pull down the tent it takes four to five hours. When we moved there were 30 odd vehicles all needing drivers. It was quite a parade. Arriving at the next town, it usually took another two days to have everything up and going.

If you think taking a caravan to Tasmania is quite a feat, imagine taking a whole circus!

We loaded up the ferry and crossed Bass Straight spending 13 weeks in some of the Island State’s most beautiful locations, always close to water. We then came back to Melbourne and spent another 15 weeks at locations in and around Melbourne and Geelong.

Sadly we had to leave at that point. My father-in-law wasn’t well and I don’t think he ever did get over the shock of us going ‘off to join the circus’. It was most embarrassing for the poor old chap.

We have no regrets and only great memories of our seven months in the circus. It gave us an insight to how other people live and an appreciation that other businesses have their ups and downs, just like farmers.