THE Circus Joseph Ashton finished with a disastrous bang on Sunday, with their iconic big top being torn down by the wild weather on Sunday, causing major damages to the tent and the internal infrastructure.
“We are all in one piece,” said Michelle Ashton, wife of the circus head, Joseph Ashton, “and that’s the main thing.”
The circus has seen some rough weather in their time performing shows around Perth and WA, but never to the extremes seen on Sunday.
Michelle said that during other storms the tent had been packed away, or the full force of the bad weather had missed them.
“In all our time performing we’ve been lucky, but on Sunday, luck wasn’t with us,” she said.
The performers knew a storm was on the way, and decided to scrap their usual pony rides during intermission, one of the longest parts of the performance, and cut the total performance time down by around 30 minutes.
They knew they had made the right decision when 30 minutes later, right when the performance was due to finish, the big top was hit by a powerful gust of wind that brought the whole tent down.
If the show had run to time, the audience would have been sitting inside as the tent collapsed around them.
“We have very strong pegs that hold deep into the ground, and to see those just fly out was – well you can imagine,” Michelle said.
“The tent then just slowly folded in on itself.
“It is the first time in my 25 years of circus experience that I have seen that happen.”
The internal steel support columns were bent as they came down, smashing some of the lighting, damaging the flying trapeze equipment, and breaking the famous Wheel of Death in half.
The miniature ponies became quite panicked during the storm, but otherwise all the animals were uninjured and safe, and apart from some damage to solar panels on Becky Ashton’s caravan, the performers’ lodgings were fine.
“The cost to repair the damages will be completely out of pocket, with the cost of insuring the equipment being too high to maintain.
“The cost for insurance is astronomical,” Michelle said, adding that insurance companies won’t cover them for putting up or taking down the tent at all.
The damage has left the circus stranded, with much of their equipment being too bent to fit back on their trucks, leaving them unable to move on.
Not surprisingly, the Ashton’s Mandurah shows have been cancelled, with ticket agents now issuing refunds.
The Ashtons run a tent hire business in Perth, and may be able to use one of their other tents for future shows, provided other equipment can be repaired.
Michelle says the family circus will try to set up early at the Cannington Greyhounds ahead of their scheduled return to the site for the school holidays.
Michelle said she was just glad everyone was okay, saying: “Everything else can be fixed, but you can’t put a price on human life.”