One-legged trapeze artist Adolphus Holden founded The Holden Brothers Travelling Circus in 1892. Adolphus had 10 sons – all of whom played instruments – and one daughter, who all journeyed around Victoria by horse-drawn wagons, stopping to show in every village and hamlet from Melbourne to Ceduna.
This was the start of one of Australia’s longest-running family circuses . Little did Adolphus know that his legacy would be passed down from generation to generation, and continue to this day.
The fantastical, bygone era of the Holdens lives on through the marriage of music, stories passed down from family to family and stills from classic heritage footage.
Singer, songwriter and media personality Mark Holden continues to honour his family’s history. In 1998, Mark and young film-maker Amiel Courtin-Wilson travelled with the Ashton’s Circus, who joined forces with the Holdens in the 1930s. On the journey, he met the matriarch, Phyllis Ashton, who passed on footage of the circus of yesterday like the first live outside broadcast recorded on cinescope called Ampol Show of Surprises . Her son Mervyn Ashton gave Mark all his 16mm footage from the 1950’s and 60’s which has never been seen before,
Mark has written songs with his family, inspired by tales of the Holden Brothers Travelling Circus, as a tribute to the lives lived by the generations before him. The classic footage provides a mesmerising backdrop to the tales sung by Mark and his family, who have banded together to perform under the name of The Holden Brothers Travelling Circus.
Bruce Permezel, director and editor of ABC's multi award-winning series The Choir Of Hard Knocks, has brought the scenes to life with editor Duncan Balmain. Five 25-minute short films under the title of The Holden Brothers Travelling unify the old with the new.