Circus life runs deep in the Lennons blood
By ANDY PARKS
LINDSAY and Jan Lennon say they tried to leave the circus life once, but they just couldn't do it.
Fourteen years ago they bought a house near Brisbane and were planning to settle down into semi-retirement.
"We thought we'd live there and just visit the circus now and again," said Lindsay. "I thought I was at a stage where I could let the kids run it, and at first it was a bit like having a holiday."
But Jan says after three weeks they were bored, and by the end of six weeks they couldn't wait to get back to the caravan.
"We missed the kids and missed the life too much," she said. "We sold the house and moved back into the caravan. Since then I've never wanted to live in a house again."
Lindsay and Jan are the Mike and Carol Brady of the circus world. When they got married he had four kids and she had seven, and now they all work in the business together.
Together they run both the Lennon Brothers Circus and the Stardust Circus, which is in Lismore at the moment. They live and travel on the road all year round. Each circus has a crew of between 20 and 30 people, most of whom are family members. The family travels with a convoy of four semi trailers, 16 trucks, 15 caravans and four cars. They are a fully self contained operation, carrying everything with them from the big top marquee, to the chairs, generators, and lights.
Then there is food for the animals. They have a truck with up to 500 bales of lucerne and oats for the elephants. The lions eat about 70 kilograms of meat in a single feed, so their semi trailer carries a chest freezer full of meat. According to Jan, their animal feed bill can be up to $2000 per week.
"The travelling is what it's all about. People say we don't have a home, but we do. The circus is our home. Its very family based, we help each other through good and bad. It works well," said Lindsay.
Lindsay's great grandfather started Lennon Brothers Circus in 1893 and the circus is in Lindsay's blood. He has a great grandchild who will be the seventh generation if they carry on the family tradition. Lindsay is now almost 70 and confines his roles mostly to mechanical and welding work, but he has been a lion trainer, a wire walker and a trapeze artist in his day. His sons Geoffrey, Warren and Scott are all clowns in the show and Shane is the ringmaster. They also run a tent hire business.
Jan grew up in suburban Sydney and was 15 when she met her first husband Victor West. She says she was 'swept up into the circus world' and started learning trapeze. They started the West Family Circus in 1969 and performed at shopping centres and schools.
"Then we got a tent made and took it on the road. It was hard yakka for the first few years. The kids were only little and money was tight. We tried to do everything ourselves but we had to put on some staff because we just couldn't do it all. Later on we started doing rural shows and the kids started doing acrobatics and aerial acts and so on."
Victor West died 25 years ago when his youngest children, the twins Yelena and Gene were babies. Jan says she had known Lindsay for years from the circus business, and his wife had died too. The two of them ended up together 'very naturally' and it all felt right.
"In 1989 we left Sydney with the Lennon Brothers Circus. It was the first time we had been on the road with both families and we have been ever since."
These days the kids are all grown up and between them they do everything from driving the trucks, walking the tight rope, selling the fairy floss and looking after the animals. Six of Jan's children are with her at the moment in Lismore and the other is travelling with the Lennon Brothers Circus which is currently near Brisbane.
Most of her kids are married or have partners who have also joined the travelling circus life. Together they have produced 11 grandchildren, seven of whom are on the road with them.
"My daughter Wonona's husband Matt started as a tent hand. Now he drives a semi and works in the show as a clown. He and (my son) Glenn trained the lions. They'd never trained lions before, but they started when the lions were just baby cubs about six years ago."
"My son Gene married Anna, a Hungarian hand balancer we brought out for some shows in 2000 and they've been together ever since."
Another one to marry into the family is Shannon. She trained as a dancer and had her first taste of circus life eleven years ago when Lennon Brothers were in Sydney.
"I did some shows with them in Sydney before going overseas and working on cruise ships as a dancer," she said. "Then when I came back Glenn and some of his sisters taught me to do aerial work and that was it for me. I told them 'I want to stay here'."
Shannon is married to Glenn and they have two children, Memphis, five, and Cassius, two.
"Memphis is starting school next year and we have found a teacher who will be travelling with us for six or eight weeks at the beginning of next year. We're hoping to find another one who will travel with us for the rest of the year," she said.
There are two other kids of school age travelling with the circus who also do some of their schooling through the Brisbane School of Distance Education.
Shannon says she definitely wants her kids to grow up in the circus environment.