The Astonishing Ashtons

SBS • 1999

For 150 years, Ashton's Circus has criss-crossed Australia, battling floods, high winds and outback roads to bring the magic of the circus to rural and city dwellers alike. A documentary about persistence, commitment and the love of circus...

Ashtons Circus is one of the longest running circus’s in the Western world. It has toured Australia for over 150 years and has featured seven Ashton generations. Phyllis Ashton at eighty is the driving force of the circus and Doug Ashton at seventy nine knows Australia like the back of his hand. He’s been finding towns to play, every night for the last sixty years.

Travelling the length and breadth of Australia, Ashtons Circus is constantly on the move attracting new audiences. The last six months have been tough with poor audiences attendance affecting wages. Yet the Ashtons are tenacious and the forty vehicle convoy that is the circus doesn’t give up. They have a deep commitment to the circus lifestyle. As Phyllis Ashton, the matriarch of the circus says “I’ll never leave. They’ll have to take me away on a stretcher!”.

During this period generator breakdowns wreak havoc with performances, there is a caravan accident, rain makes life miserable and one of the families leaves on an overseas holiday causing the circus to be one act short. Bekki Ashton one of the foremost flying trapeze artists in Australia puts together a new act and performs her single trapeze for the first time under the Big Top.

The Astonishing Ashtons follows the Ashton family over a six month period during which the struggle they experience brings to light the natural family cohesion, team work, persistence and their eternal optimism that keeps them going during adversity. “We’re like the farmers we have our good runs and bad runs. It’ll be alright. It has to be!” Doug Ashton

As they approach the school holidays they become more hopeful. The holiday periods are their harvest which if successful can carry them through the tough times. They’ve put in a lot of hard work promoting the show through a local radio station and offering free tickets to all children who come to the show dressed as circus performers. But will it pay off?

We experience the Ashtons harvest through the eyes of a little girl attending the show. Dressed in circus costume she participates in the grand parade. The show and the season is a sell out ensuring that the bust and boom cycle of the circus continues.

As the pre eminent Australian circus family the Ashtons continue to bring us a singularly inspiring show which entertains people from all walks of life all over Australia. For this family the show is the most important thing. Their show is their family, their income, it’s who they are. Rain, hail or shine, big crowd, small crowd, it doesn’t matter the circus goes on and on…

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