“Attractive Novelties”

Spectacular Innovation and the Making of a New Kind of Audience within Colonial Modernity

Chapter 6 in Anna-Sophie Jürgens and Mirjam Hildbrand (Eds.). Circus and the Avant-Gardes: History, Imaginary, Innovation. (London and New York: Routledge Advances in Theatre Studies, 2022), 93-117.


One of the words most commonly used in the many advertisements and playbills for spectacular attractions in the Australian  Colonies was ’novelty’. The desire to take part in the latest innovations in entertainment had a particular urgency for colonial spectators on the frontier, who acutely felt the experience of being a long way from the metropolitan centres. As they developed in the Australian colonies, spectacular attractions — with their key ‘circus’ tropes of the exaggerated body of the acrobatic clown, mechanical ingenuity and illusion, and audience awe and wonder — were central to this perpetual demonstration of ‘The New’. Using case studies, I will discuss how the circus was central to Colonial Modernity. I will use colonial modernity to challenge the usual avant-gardist assumption that innovation or reaction to historical change begins at the centre and spreads to the periphery. I will argue that in many ways colonial audiences were ‘ahead’ of their metropolitan brothers and sisters in their spectatorship of spectacular entertainments. 

Figure 5: Troedel & Co. ‘Amphitrite. Afternoon & Evening. Daily’, colour lithograph, 1889. State Library of Victoria. 

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