New Acquisition from Holden Brothers’ Circus

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.

Adolphus Holden
Adolphus Holden with ‘Nancy’ the pony, 1900

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.

Poster advertising Gordon the Great (Adolphus Holden), c 1900

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.

Roy (Yank) Condon and Francis Gerald Holden, c 1940
Kenneth Francis Holden, c 1940

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.

Barrie and Maree Holden (foreground), Queenscliff, VIC, 1950
Francis David Holden (back right) and local children, VIC, 1950
On the road to Pyramid Hill, VIC, 1950

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.

Francis Gerald Holden with his children – Francis David (left), Maree (middle) and Barry (front right) – and his brother Lennie (back right), c 1950
Francis Herald Holden (back centre) with daughter Maree (front centre) and local children, Werribee, VIC, 1950

Nicole Bowller
Assistant Curator

New Acquisitions from Holden Brothers’ Circus
8 February – 22 April | Hamer Hall, Level 6
Arts Centre Melbourne


Vale Doc Neeson

Doc Neeson by Kathleen O'Brien
Doc Neeson by Kathleen O’Brien


The rock world was saddened this week to hear of the death of The Angels frontman, Doc Neeson, aged 67. If you never saw Doc Neeson perform live, you missed out on something pretty special. His band mates said it best.

‘Doc became one of the great frontmen of all time, a dynamic, demonic, artistic and imposing performer who would give it his all night afer night, totally spent at the end of each show.’ (John Brewster)

“He would dress up in that morning suit in the late 1970s, looking like someone going to Ascot races and during the show, he would lose the jacket and the tie and end up this sweaty, gritty rock guy.” (Buzz Bidstrup)

The Performing Arts Collection has recently digitised a series of 100 rare live performances shots of Neeson in action during the late 1970s which capture some of the passion, theatricality and raw energy Neeson put into his performances. The photographs were taken by Kathleen O’Brien, a freelance photographer for the Australian rock journals, RAM, JUKE and Rolling Stone.  The Kathleen O’Brien Collection takes us deep into the dark, sweaty, smoky clubs of Melbourne and Sydney during the late 1970s and early 1980s where Australian performers The Angels, Rose Tattoo, Dragon, The Sports, Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons, AC/DC, Skyhooks and international acts such as David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Brian Ferry, Lou Reed and Blondie worked their magic.

This week seems like a perfect time to revisit some of those old haunts and to see one of the best showmen in rock ‘n’ roll strut his stuff.

Keep Cool Melbourne!

Laurie Richards Photographic Collection, purchased 1991. Arts Centre Melbourne, Performing Arts Collection.
Laurie Richards Collection. Arts Centre Melbourne, Performing Arts Collection.

As Melbourne swelters through its fourth consecutive day over 40 degrees celsius, I was inspired to search our Collection for examples of people beating the heat!

This wonderful photograph is one of approximately 28,000 images in our Laurie Richards collection. Richards (1907-1985) was a professional photographer who worked in Melbourne during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Richards was a member of the Royal Australian Airforce Reserves when his interest in photography began, stemming from his involvement in aerial work. Early in his career he worked as a press photographer for the Adelaide Advertiser, the Argus and the Herald Sun. During his time with the Herald Sun Richards also worked as a freelance photographer. Having made a number of valuable contacts and securing a reputation through one of Melbourne’s leading newspapers, Richards established his own company in the early 1950s which operated from a ‘self-built’ studio, situated at the back of his home in Alphington. By the 1960s he employed a team of twelve photographers, with his wife Connie tending to the daily office activities of an ever-expanding enterprise.

Richards’s business specialised in advertising and public relations. His style of photography was often playful, animated and action-fuelled, capturing a variety of entertainers, presenters and audiences ‘in the moment’. Regular clients included Shell, Mobil, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, HSV 7, Hector Crawford Productions, 3DB, 3UZ, 3AW and 3KZ. While working for his television and radio clients, Richards photographed many well known celebrities, both Australian and those visiting from overseas. These included The Seekers, Graham Kennedy, John Farnham, Normie Rowe, Sir Robert Helpmann, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Fred Astaire, Sammy Davis Jnr., Danny Kaye, Gregory Peck and many more.