Stardust Circus’ wild tradition of exotic animals standing firm in the Hunter

The Stardust Circus has rolled into Maitland, bringing with it familiar scenes of high-flying acrobats, comic clowns – and controversy surrounding the use of exotic animals in their shows.  

Members of the Animal Justice Party protested at Maitland Showground on Friday and called on Maitland council to ban shows on council land.

However ringmaster Adam Presland, who was born and raised in Gillieston Heights, said the animals still have an important role to play in modern circuses, and live fulfilling lives on the road alongside their human co-workers. 

Mr Presland, who performs under the ring name of Adam St James, admitted it was “disappointing” to see the protests on home soil. 

“It’s disappointing to come here and see that,” he said. 

“It’s frustrating having to constantly defend yourself every day against misleading or false allegations.”

Protesters from the Animal Justice Party at Maitland.

Protesters from the Animal Justice Party at Maitland.

The ringmaster said current laws and regulations surrounding the use of exotic animals meant any step out of line would be “prosecuted straight away”. 

The idea that their lions were trained to jump through “flaming hoops of fire” and were disciplined with whips were outdated concepts, he said.

When contacted for comment, a Maitland council spokesperson said the “Maitland showground is not a council facility and we have no involvement in what events or activities are booked (there)”. 

Stardust Circus is one of two circuses in Australia which still uses exotic animals in its routines.

Their animal contingent includes six lions, five rhesus macaque monkeys, as well as goats and show horses. 

Newcastle council banned travelling circuses with exotic animals more than a decade ago; however, this has been circumvented in recent years by performing on state government-owned land. 

“They’re part of our circus family and given as fulfilling a life as any other animal,” Mr Presland said. 

Defending the show’s traditions is one small part of the ringmaster’s role. The Hunter local has been travelling with the circus for 21 years now, the culmination of a boyhood passion. 

Adam St John and Cleo.

Adam St John and Cleo.

“From the time I was a little boy I use to have circus posters all over my bedroom walls,” he said.

Following his dream has seen him travel the length and breadth of Australia multiple times, in a job that is anything but ordinary. 

“The thing is, this isn’t just a job, it’s a lifestyle,” he said. 

“You don’t work 9-5. You might have to get up at 3am because bad winds are coming and you have to secure the tents. You’re talking about the structure of a travelling show. 

“I love it, but it’s nice to be back in Maitland and get a good home-cooked meal.”