Marvellous Miss May: Queen of the Circus
Stephanie Owen Reeder
136pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99
What better way to share Australia Day than a look back to a significant part of our past when travelling circuses were a major source of entertainment, particularly in rural areas, and that of the Wirth Brothers was one of the most well known.
Focusing on May Wirth, who as a seven-year-old growing up in poverty in Bundaberg in 1901, was given away to Marizles Martin an equestrienne and a sister of the Wirth brothers. With big dreams and a desire to become the greatest bareback rider in the world, she transformed her ability for acrobatics into being able to perform them on horseback, even able to perform a Charleston as her horse moved around the ring! Determined, resilient and tenacious she worked hard for perfection eventually performing for King George V and Queen Mary. The Queen of the Circus was performing for the Kings and Queen of England. Her dreams had come true!
Laced with photos and posters from the collection of the National Library of Australia, this new addition to the author’s Heritage Heroes series follows Miss May’s journey and introduces the reader to characters and times gone by which were so important to the shaping of this nation. At a time when most young women were not encouraged to be more than a decorative appendage to men, May was a role model for an alternative lifestyle and she was a champion of women’s rights and suffrage and in 1964 she was one of just three Australians to ever be inducted into the American Circus Hall of Fame.
In 2016 Lennie the Legend: Solo to Sydney by Pony won the CBCA Eve Pownall Award for Information Books, and my prediction is that Marvellous Miss May: Queen of the Circus will be amongst the awards this year. But whether it is or not, this is an inspirational read that celebrates an Australian of the past, a heroine unknown to many in an entertainment unfamiliar to many in this age of screens, that adds yet another layer to this country’s history.
For those wanting more…Wirth’s Circus Home Movies , Wirth’s Circus Archive, May Wirth and of course, the collection at the National Library of Australia detailed in the acknowledgements.