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Sacred Sites

10 Dec 2015

Sacred Sites Image

Wirth’s Park, 4.5 hectares (approx.), was on the site now occupied by the Melbourne Arts Centre.

An American circus had arrived in the District of Port Phillip as early as 1852. Cooper and Bailey’s Great American International Circus became renowned and this was followed by the FitzGerald Brothers’ Circus which became the first Australian circus.

The FitzGerald Brothers built a permanent circus home on the Sturt/ Sloss streets triangle site and the area not used for the circus became a fashionable meeting place called Prince’s Court featuring a Japanese Tea House, open-air theatre, miniature train and a water chute.

In 1906/7 the Wirth Brother’s Circus bought the site from the FitzGerald Brothers and by 1930 they had developed the site to include: The Trocadero Danse Palais (previously called the Green Mil) and a large hippodrome amphitheatre (Wirth’s Olympia) which ran along Sturt St. This was the main arena, a cavernous structure of timber and galvanised iron, elegantly appointed, with a foyer, padded seats and cloak rooms. Wirth’s roller skating rink was alongside Sloss St (and the site of the photograph).

Wirth’s Olympia was not only the place for circus-style performances. It was used for film screenings, garden shows, exhibitions and fairs (for example the Pan-Pacific Exhibition and Fair which ran between May 9 and May 23 in 1923), jazz concerts and YMCA gymnastic displays.

In December 1953 a catastrophic fire left Wirth’s Park in ruin and brought the era to an abrupt end. Sloss St was subsumed by the building of the Arts Centre.

A mosaic linking the arts, cultural and entertainment history of the site and marking the 150th anniversary of circus in Australia was unveiled on June 7, 1988 at the Victorian Arts Centre. This was a joint project between the Circus Fans of Australasia Inc. and the Performing Arts Museum, Victorian Arts Centre.

The Royal Historical Society of Victoria is the historical society for the City of Melbourne. It has a program of exhibitions, lectures and walks. The RHSV is at 239 A’Beckett Street Melbourne. Open Monday – Friday 10am – 4pm. Further information: www.historyvictoria.org.au

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