Charles Knie at the Parrot cafe in Crystal Creek with two Macaw's parrots.
Charles Knie at the Parrot cafe in Crystal Creek with two Macaw's parrots. John Gass

Cafe has monkey business on menu

CRYSTAL Creek is a beautiful little hamlet set in the hills between Murwillumbah and Mount Warning.

It's not where you'd expect to meet monkeys, performing horses and brightly-coloured giant parrots from South America.

It's certainly not where you'd normally find a man who has ridden hippos and rhinos whilst juggling.

But the Knie family at Crystal Creek is not your average family.

From a long tradition of circus performance that dates back to 1814, Swiss born Charles Knie well and truly has the circus in his blood, as does his wife, Doriana who grew up as a performer with her family's Italian Circus.

"When you are born into the circus, you tend to think of it as normal," Mr Knie said.

"But for outsiders of the circus world, it must seem fascinating."

Mr Knie's love of Australia has seen he and Doriana settle at Crystal Creek with their parrot garden and cafe.

The gardens are teeming with parrots, monkeys, horses, goats and alpacas, to name some members of the menagerie.

Sinto the palomino will dance and perform for his master who uses love and rewards to train his animals.

"You should always be kind to animals," he said.

"There is no excuse for cruelty.

"Animals love to perform and should be treated with respect and affection."

Mr Knie's career has seen him train hippos and rhinos with his family circus that dates back to his ancestor, Friedrich Knie who formed the family's first performing arena in 1814 when the son of a doctor fell in love with a girl from a travelling circus.

"He was just 19 years-old," Mr Knie said.

"That was the start of an almost 200 year-old circus dynasty.

"Living in the circus is like existing in another world.

"I went to a normal school, but contact with the outside world was very limited.

"I ate, slept and breathed the circus life 24 hours a day for seven days a week."

The man who trained a seven-year-old wild rhino to literally eat out of his hand is very modest about his skills.

He laughs when he tells how he rode on the bare back of this rhino, yet fell off a cow whilst performing for a group of nuns at Camden, NSW.

"In all the years I performed with rhinos and hippos I never fell or got injured," he said.

"I think the cows were startled by the nuns' habits.

"They panicked and I was thrown off.

"I landed in a nun's lap.

"I don't know who was most shocked.

"I also got a big scar from a cow's horn.

"That was the only time I got hurt.

"I certainly wasn't going to make a habit of it," he laughed.

You can see the Knies' fascinating gardens and enjoy homemade food in the cafe at Crooks Valley Road, Crystal Creek from 10am (NSW) to 4pm from Saturday to Monday. Phone 0447 124 919 or visit for more information.

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