We weren’t planning on working this year. But about 4 months in and after a particularly expensive March filled with mini breaks, flights and festivals Jot was in a panic about money. As she is in charge of the Galea-Castle empire and dollar I took her word for it. I’m terrible with money and until I finished up work in December of last year I transferred her my pay each month to have it dolled back to me week by week in an attempt to budget and save. Not particularly mature or independent woman of me, but it worked for us and it was allowing me a gap year or two.
“I’ve found us some jobs, just fill in this form with your psychological history and sleep patterns and I’ll sort the rest.” And she did. A few weeks later we were at a University in our pjs eating a microwave meal and hooked up to numerous machines that monitored our sleeping patterns for two nights. That was random job number one.
Random job number two was even more unexpected. And lasted a lot longer than two nights. For the last 5 months Jot and I have been part of the Hudson Circus crew. No, I wasn’t the bearded lady, or shot out of a canon.
For the first four months we were the circus advance crew. Who knew that was a job! Jot had seen the ad on Gumtree and arranged to meet a guy in a coffee shop in Adelaide. At the time we’d been illegally parked and living in the city park lands. That sounds horrific but actually it was really lovely. Surrounded by grass, rivers and running tracks, close to the city, always a game of footy or ultimate frisbee to watch out the bus window, what more could you want?! But the day after we meet Patrick, the circus marketing guy, he moved us into a caravan park near the beach paid for with circus tickets, our new currency. Over the next few days we were given everything you could need to be the circus marketing people; sellotape, blu tack, a date stamp, posters, flyers and best of all, a clown car called Fido.
The only caravan park I knew of was the one Alf Stewart runs in Home & Away. Which seems to be gorgeous bushland by the beach and full of attractive surfers passing through Summer Bay. Ours wasn’t like that. There were lots of permanents at this site who looked like they’d been there forever, adding awnings and other fixed structures to the original van bit by bit until their spot looked like a mini shanty town. Other people were living in their tents, not having the sparkling references or the credit history needed to get an apartment. At this time Jot and I weren’t aware of the segregation of traveller and permanent tenant, so when a guy with a thick South African accent and a scarred face who’d been living there for five months invited us to his van for dinner off we went. A new friend we thought, excited to have someone other than each other to speak to for a night. The other guests to the “big sausage party” were some terrified, young German backpacker girls and a cheeky young Aussie guy who wanted circus tickets as a way to get to see his four kids one weekend. A few hours in and the German girls had fled leaving us alone with the South African “I have killed more than 50 men, see my stab wounds” ex army guy, and the Aussie who it turned out was just out of prison for beating up his wife as he suspected she was having a lesbian affair with his cousin. After these revelations we had a panicked conversation with our eyes and eyebrows, decided it would be rude to leave and we partied on with our new friends.
For the first time in months we set our alarm to be up at 8 and out in our clown car by 9 and I wondered what we had gotten ourselves into and how long it would last. But day after day, week after week, month after month, Jot, Bus, Clown Car and I travelled from town to town. Putting signs on fences and going into shops to deliver the happy news that the circus was coming to town and to ask to put up posters in exchange for a few tickets was our new normal.
I’d never actually been to the circus. In The Galea Family Rules it states that I’m not allowed to. It’s right in between rule no.7; Don’t buy ice cream from ice cream van men (as they don’t wash their hands after they go to the toilet), and rule no. 9; No soft drinks on Christmas Day. The rule came from a good place as mum was worried about animal cruelty, which circus’s have a reputation for. That was of course our first question when we originally met Patrick, and we were happy to hear, and tell people who asked, that the animals were rescue animals. Either from being culled or being bred for leather. As soon as we met them we could see how much the animal trainers loved their animals, and how they trained them no differently from how people train their dogs to sit and fetch. With rewards, treats and praise. There were no exotic animals so no elephants balancing on balls or lions jumping through fire hoops. Just rescued, domestic, well fed and loved animals who have tons of space on every lot and really just have to run around the big top in formation.
That part of our circus life lasted for nearly 4 months. From Adelaide, the SA capital to the more and more remote towns of Whyallya, Port Pirie and Port Lincoln. Residents were thrilled that the circus was coming to their town, and we were hailed as heros. Then across the Nullarbor. The once in a lifetime four day, 2,000 kilometer drive across the bottom of the country that leaves the brown dust factory towns of South Australia for the red dirt mining communities of outback Western Australia.
We lived and travelled with the circus convoy of about 30 vehicles from time to time over those four months but mostly Jot and I were a few towns and a few hundred kilometers ahead of the big top, performers and crew. Then things at the circus changed and as one door closed another opened and a new opportunity presented itself to us. No, I wasn’t sawed in half or asked to be ringmaster. This time we could be part of the crew. Pulling down Australia’s largest big top tent and putting it up again at the next town. Fortunately we had already invested in some steel toe capped work boots as I kept dropping mallets on my feet while hammering signs in but finally I had a reason to get some hi vis clothing to complete my tradie look. We were paid by the hour and for the four days it took to take the tent down, travel to the next place and put it back up again we could live with the circus. While they were showing for five days, a week, or however long they were on that lot for we were free to go off and explore in the bus.
We did this for a month. And being part of the crew is the hardest, most rewarding work I have ever done. Back in the day I used to feel pretty pleased with myself for hitting a target, or when a magazine I’d worked on hit my desk with no upside down ads in it, but standing back looking at the circus all set up and ready to go knowing that Jot and I had helped build it gave me a huge sense of accomplishment. It didn’t matter that we often worked 12 hour days in the rain and wind and fell into bed too tired to wash, or that every bit of me was bruised, or that I could barely lift my arms to put my hat on my muddy hair each morning. I loved it. I loved how it all fit together like a giant jigsaw puzzle. I loved how after the first pull down and set up we knew what to do without being asked. I loved the banter with the rest of the crew and the expectation that we could lift 4 meter long 50 kilo poles, and then when one had taken every ounce of strength to get in place, there were another 99 to move. I loved being paid in cash at the end of the day, even if I did have it whipped away moments later as Jot scuttled off to the bank to top our savings back up.
So while we weren’t planning on working this year plans change and when an opportunity jumped out of Gumtree and into our bus who were we to say no. This trip is all about getting out of our comfort zone, meeting new people, experiencing a different lifestyle. And what is more different from working at a content marketing agency than working at the circus. If there is something further from that then I hope I find it and I hope I have the courage to give it a go. While I will never drink a soft drink on Christmas Day I am very happy that I broke Rule No: 8 and joined the circus.