The Holden Brothers’ Circus, founded in 1892 by Adolphus Holden (1868-1938), was one of the longest running family circus’ in Australia. With thanks to his grandchildren, Francis, Barry and Maree, the Australian Performing Arts Collection is now home to a unique photographic collection capturing a specific moment in the nation’s performing arts history. The comprehensive collection of over 500 photographs, 600 negatives, archival material and a number of important props, provides an intimate insight into the life of a travelling circus in the mid-twentieth century.
As a child Adolphus Holden lost part of his left leg in a railway accident in Melbourne and during his rehabilitation discovered a talent for acrobatics. Showcasing these skills, the circus Adolphus established included the trapeze act The Flying Gordons, featuring himself, his son Ernie and later performer Harry MacKenzie.
During the early years, the circus toured extensively during the summer months, returning to Melbourne to perform vaudeville-style acts in theatres during the winter. The circus underwent numerous iterations over its lifetime with various family members continuing the circus.
The photographs in this collection, dating from 1900s-90s, document life on the road throughout New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania with five generations of the Holden family.
Francis Gerald Holden (1906-1966) was one of a large number of siblings who joined the their father, Adolphus, in his circus. Francis regularly performed his rope spinning act under the name of Tex Gordon. Following in the family tradition, his family joined him on the road with his children later continuing the family circus until the early 1990s.
New Acquisitions from Holden Brothers’ Circus
8 February – 22 April | Hamer Hall, Level 6
Arts Centre Melbourne