Wirth's Circus: At Ocean View, Coogee
Home movie footage of the Wirth family at work and play. Performers and family members in costume perform routines for the camera.
We see George Wirth and Philip’s wife Alice Wirth (nee Willis) arrive arm in arm; they are seated and entertained by an exotic troupe of performers. The young woman seen toe-dancing and wearing a tutu is Philip and Alice’s fourth daughter, Madeline Wanda Wirth.
This film was shot on the grounds of Philip Wirth’s famous residence, ‘Ocean View’, which was his home in Coogee. The grand mansion overlooks the Gordon’s Bay and Coogee Bay area of the Sydney coastline and was built in 1926 by Philip.
His wife Alice and seven children lived there and the home stayed with the extended Wirth family up until 2009 when it was sold. Philip Wirth (b.1864) died aged 73 at ‘Ocean View’ in 1937.
Later in the clip we see Philip Wirth, white cockatoo perched on his shoulder, with some of his daughters (possibly, Eileen, Doris & Madeline) walking out the front of his home.
It is rumoured that one of the Wirth’s Circus most famous elephants, Alice (Princess Alice), is buried on the grounds. She was a star attraction with the circus and in 1898 during a tour in England, it was said that the Prince of Wales rode her before her became King Edward VII.
This footage is teamed with a recording of Philip Wirth playing the tin whistle, originally recorded on lacquer disk and digitised by the NFSA (Side A: Cuckoo / Side B: Scottish Medley). It is unknown when this music was recorded however it is known that Philip Wirth took up playing the tin whistle in his older age and would often play it in the circus ring during performances.
Wirth’s Circus was Australia’s largest and most prestigious circus company. For 80 years Wirth’s was billed as Australia’s own ‘Greatest Show on Earth’, and was a huge travelling circus of international standard and reputation.
It was the sons and daughters of Johannes and Sarah Wirth, of German origin, that formed the circus: John, Harry, Philip, George, Marizles, Mina and Madeline.
The Wirth brothers began performing with their father as a travelling band though they soon advanced their show into a variety troupe and established themselves as a small circus by 1882.
The circus grew rapidly; extended family featured as artists, they embarked on world tours, travelled Australia extensively, boasted an exotic menagerie of animals and recruited star attractions from Europe and America.
It was Phillip and George Wirth that continued to manage the circus as Wirth’s Bros Circus from the 1910s. George Wirth retired in 1930, though Philip Wirth and his extended family continued running the business up until its demise in 1963.
The NFSA currently holds approximately 50 x 16mm home movies that document the Wirths' private life, circus life and performances from approximately 1926 until the 1950s. They primarily cover the period that Philip and George managed the circus.
The majority of the films are thought to be shot by George Wirth, who became a director of Pagewood (Film) Studios after his retirement in 1930.
Notes by Tara Marynowsky