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Life

Australia's 'big tops' a model for 21st-century circuses

Traditional traveling shows have moved with the times and growing restrictions

Walison the clown of Hudsons Circus started out in his native Brazil as a general circus hand, before training as a motorcycle stunt rider and then discovering a natural talent as a clown. (Photo by David Roma, courtesy Hudsons Circus)

CESSNOCK, Australia -- The circus is coming to town! Bold posters and huge inflatable clown faces announcing the arrival of the circus evoke childhood memories: the roar of the lions, the crack of the ringmaster's whip, the thunder of horses galloping around the ring, the gasps of the audience as the trapeze artists swing through the air, the slapstick humor of the clowns as they keep the crowds laughing between acts.

Except that it will not be like that. The modern Australian circus is very different from its 19th- and 20th-century predecessors. Forced to contend with competition from theme parks, on-demand electronic entertainment and changing attitudes to the use of exotic animals, the traveling circus today takes a different tack.

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