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When the town centre looked more like a circus

During one exciting Masterton day, an elephant helped with traffic control and a kangaroo made a break for freedom. MARK PACEY of the Wairarapa Archive recalls the day the circus came to town.

There was great excitement on April 1, 1967 when the Ashton Circus came to Masterton.

Reported as “easily one of the best ever to visit Wairarapa” the show delighted young and old with its variety of acts. In all, 17 different events were held over the course of the show, from animal antics to comical clowns, there was something for everyone.

Before the event even started, residents and a bewildered traffic officer got a taste of what was to come. Because it was April Fool’s Day, the organisers and some of the locals decided to have a bit of fun. Motorists were startled when instead of just seeing Officer Steve Clements helping to direct traffic, he had a helper with him. A rather large, trunked helper being one of the elephants from the circus.

The show started with a pair of lions showing off their agility. To be more accurate, it showed the agility of one of the lions and the outright stubbornness of the other.

The trick was for the lions to jump over a stick that was balanced between two chairs. While the first lion did this with no complaint, the second decided he would rather keep his paws on the ground and walked around the obstruction. When prompted to go back the other way, he simply walked around it again.

Their tamer decided it best not to contest this behaviour.

The hitches continued with the next act, the performance of the Russian Samoyed dogs and their trainer. Despite some misinterpretations of her commands, most did what was asked of them, all bar one who only responded to politeness. While the rest of the pack mostly followed the instructions, this proper pooch would only follow her commands if she included “please” to the end of each one.

Then it was time to send in the clowns. They were regarded on the night of a not particularly high standard. The paper reporting on their act said, “the wit of the clowns, while welcome when it appeared, was generally not far above a fair standard”, a very polite way of saying it was mediocre.

The rest of the night was filled with trapeze acts of extraordinary co-ordination. The skill of the aerial acrobats was awe-inspiring, with one even doing the exercise blindfolded.

This event would have been perfect except for a rather unwelcome reappearance of a particular performer.

“All the aerial acts were top-class performances, with perhaps one disappointment, being the distraction of the antics of a clown during the Flying Ashton Act”. It was not a good night to be a clown.

One of the most daring acts of the night was an outstanding trapeze feat, Jonaas and Nikki’s dental act. While Jonaas was suspended upside down, he supported Nikki, who was holding on with just his teeth clamped down on a rod. And all of this was done with no safety net.

The night continued with Russian Cossack riding, ballerina acts and horse riding. As the events closed out the spectators made their way home and the animals were locked up for the night, ready to head out on the road the following day. Or so the organisers thought.

During the night, while the town slept, as well as most of the animals, one mischievous marsupial decided he wanted to see a bit more beyond the confines of his enclosure and escaped.

When doing the rounds at 2am a circus staff member was horrified to see the kangaroo was missing. Thinking it had been stolen, the alarm was given, and the search parties were sent out and he was eventually found after much searching happily nestled in with the horses.


  1. The great 👍 old days when people were treated as thinking 🤔 human beings. Never happen today in this nanny environment we have? Shame.

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