ADVENTURE: In her early 20s, Sasha Courtney ran off to join the circus.
ADVENTURE: In her early 20s, Sasha Courtney ran off to join the circus. Jonno Colfs

Fire, snakes and elephants, what a life!

AT ALMOST 80 years, Warwick resident Sasha Courtney has had the kind of life you might only hear about in the movies.

Growing up in Adelaide, Ms Courtney dreamed of more than what life was giving her.

"My parents were very strict," Ms Courtney said.

"They were quite elderly and I was an only child."

"My mother ruled the house with an iron fist, and we never went anywhere or did anything."

Ms Courtney said she wasn't allowed to meet anyone and at the age of 19, was taken by her mother to an introduction agency.

"I married the first person I met," Ms Courtney said.

"So I could get away from my parents."

A few years later, things still hadn't turned out like she had wanted.

"I'd never been out of South Australia," Ms Courtney said.

"I didn't want to end up like my parents.

"I swore I wasn't going to live life like they had, I wanted to see the world."

Then, a small ad in the paper changed everything.

"I saw an ad for a circus and knew I had to get away so I went along for an interview," Ms Courtney said.

"I got the job.

"It was Bullen's Circus, the biggest one around at the time and I was going to be riding the elephants and helping out with costuming."

Ms Courtney said this was when her life began.

"I was excited," she said.

"The first day I was too scared to get up on the elephants," she said.

"I pretended I didn't hear the whistle to climb on.

"The next day I did and didn't want to get off, they are such beautiful animals."

Life became a different town every day, new scenery, new people.

"All the travel, all the sights and I absolutely loved it," Ms Courtney said.

"The work was so much fun too because I loved being in front of an audience."

In the mid-1960s Ms Courtney met a fellow performer and joined his act.

"He was an acrobat, juggler and a knife-thrower," she said.

"I became his assistant and he taught me how to juggle and breathe fire.

"I bought some snakes for my act as well, at one point I had about 30 living with me in the caravan."

Ms Courtney said it was her job to stand on the target while her partner threw knives all around her.

"It was usually ok and I trusted him to hit the board and not me, but I'd always get a bit nervous if we've had a fight recently," she said.

"Once, one of the knives hit my wig, and as I stepped away to take my bow, the wig stayed, stuck to the board.

"It was frightfully embarrassing."

After about eight years with Bullen's Circus, the pair joined Ashton's Circus.

"The money was never great, but I did it for the love of it," Ms Courtney said.

"One show that sticks out was during a cyclone in north Queensland, the next morning all of the trucks and caravans were bogged on the oval we had used for the circus and the elephants pulled everyone out."

After about 20 years in the industry, Ms Courtney said she and her partner left the circus and moved to Sydney.

"We did our show on the club circuit and also clowning and juggling shows in shopping centres during school holiday times," she said.

"I also joined Nimrod Theatre and had a few acting roles over the years.

"I was on Number 96 and Prisoner and was an extra in Caddy and Mad Max."

"Eventually I retired from it altogether and got a job as a receptionist in a gentleman's club.

"A proper gentleman's club, not the funny kind."

Miss Courtney said she was so glad she ran away and join the circus all those years ago.

"I loved it," she said.

"I got to see all of the country and was a part of a tight-knit community.

"If the circus comes to town, I'll go and see them and they'll know who I am."

A little over 20 years ago, Ms Courtney said she was still living in Sydney when she suffered three strokes and a couple of heart attacks.

"My partner and I had separated, but he called me and said I should move to Warwick and live with him," she said.

"So I did. I'm still here."


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