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From the circus to politics — the greatest shows on earth

Troy Lennon’s father, Phil Lennon, in his lion taming days. Photo Lennon Family Archives

Roy Butler’s Media Manager, Troy Lennon, says politics is a circus too. PHOTO TWH

When the Bourke Show throws open the gates on May 14, it will continue a treasured Australian tradition.

Local shows were - and still are - an important community event, and so were traveling circuses which often hitched their wagons to agricultural shows, and Bourke has a surprising link to that still thriving institution.

Member for Barwon Roy Butler travels the region with his Senior Media Manager, Troy Lennon, who is a direct descendant of the famous Lennon Brothers Circus family.

Troy’s great-great-grandmother Mary founded Lennon Bros Circus in the 1890s and it has been traversing the countryside of Australia ever since.

Troy chose a different path to the rest of the Lennon family, becoming the first to gain a university degree and choosing a life away from the sawdust and floodlights of the big tent.

Troy admits politics can be the biggest circus of them all and laughingly says he ran away from the circus to forge a different career path in journalism, but he is proud of his family heritage.

“Family legend has it that great-great-grandmother Mary married a man from a prominent horse family from Grafton, who left her, and she ended up working as a farm labourer in the Penrith area during the 1890s,” Troy said.

“She had two sons, and they went to see a circus that rolled into town, liked what they saw, went home, and practised their tricks.

“Most of the circuses had a Wild West feel - trick riding, whip cracking and in the 1880s members of the Buffalo Bill show had been to Australia and they had a big influence.

“A lot of performers had those skills from working on farms and then honed them to a higher degree, which is what my great uncles did.

“There was a drought on at the time and work was drying up, so Mary Lennon took the show on the road, over the Blue Mountains to the inland.

She had nothing more than one horse and cart and her two sons performing tricks and doing leatherwork, and then they joined other circuses touring around the country.

“By 1900, they had built up their own show and the Lennon Circus and Rodeo became a big concern,” Troy said.

During the 20th century, Lennon Bros Circus spawned Hudson’s and Stardust Circus, run by Troy’s uncle and two cousins.

Troy’s father was part of the family show, starring as a trick rider when he was just a youngster.

“My Dad was born in 1941 and the family story goes that he was roped in as a trick rider because the cowboy suit wouldn’t fit his older brother,” Troy said. “He turned out to be a good rider and his father William ‘Mick’ Lennon was a champion rider in NSW.

“Some of my family members, my cousins and nieces and nephews are still performing and running shows.

“My uncle has a lucrative sideline renting out tents and when you look back at the history there have often been times when things weren’t going so well or people didn’t have money for entertainment, so they had to do other things like boot work, making leather belts and whips and breaking in horses.

“The Lennon Brothers went to Bourke in 1946 where I believe my grandfather Mick Lennon performed a modern William Tell act, shooting an apple off his wife’s head using a high-powered rifle.

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