A story of resilience
The most recognised Aboriginal identity in Australian circus was William ‘Billy’ Jones, otherwise known as ‘Little Nugget’, of Burton’s Circus. He rose to fame by appearing in almost every official Australian circus in the 1850s, performing as an equestrian, juggler, acrobat, ropewalker and ringmaster.
He wowed adoring fans by leaping over twenty horses and walking a tightrope stretched from the centre pole of the big top down to a tree stump. Dan FitzGerald (of FitzGerald Brothers’ Circus) claimed Jones had the mind and energy to plan and execute the organisation of a great circus.
William Jones (Little Nugget) will be played by Beau James (listen to an interview with Beau on our podcast Deadly Voices from the House).
These characters were among many Aboriginal people kidnapped or lured and coerced to join Barnum’s circus, who understood this to be their new lot in life, and some even embraced it as a vehicle to lead a new secret existence away from the missions.
To escape the Aboriginal Protection Board, which governed where Aboriginal people could live or work and quarantined all their wages, many performers hid their identity to get ahead.
Natives Go Wild is fundamentally about truthtelling, and honouring the strength and enduring resilience of First People. But it’s also about celebrating the incredible skill and virtuosity of First Nations circus and cabaret performers, layered with provocative political humour and stinging social commentary.
Natives Go Wild plays in the Sydney Opera House Studio from October 22 - 27. Book tickets now.