Travelling carnival life is more than a sideshow for this fourth-generation show family
For many Australians, there is something special about a travelling carnival that rolls into town once a year complete with sideshow alley, the bright tunes and spinning lights of old-fashioned rides, and the sweet allure of fairy floss.
But for some, it is a permanent way of life, and a life they love.
Rochelle Young is a fourth generation show worker, carrying on a trade that first started with her great-grandfather.
Ms Young said it was hard to imagine a more conventional life.
“I really don’t know any different, so for me it’s just normal life,” she said.
“Most families are generational … I’m fourth generation, but there will be some from further generations back.
“It’s usually a couple of kids from each family will stay and get a partner elsewhere and stay in the carnival life.”
Rochelle Young and Darren Tierney, pictured in Port Macquarie with their children Skyler and Aeries, love the travelling show lifestyle. (ABC News: Emma Siossian)
A nomadic life
Ms Young said there was a strong sense of belonging and she enjoyed travelling and making people smile.
“Ninety per cent of the year we’re travelling. We start in New South Wales and we go to Queensland and then down to NSW central areas, and then Victoria and then Port Macquarie,” she said.
“A lot of people don’t understand the time and effort we put in to come here. They always think it’s really easy for us, but it’s not. Pretty much every day they work until lunchtime, and then stop, and then work until night time.
“I like seeing all the different places, even though I’ve seen them many times, things change, towns change.
“A highlight is seeing all the happy people having fun, going on the rides, and the games, and all the happy kids.”
Old fashioned rides like the dodgem cars are still very popular at travelling carnivals. (ABC News: Emma Siossian)
They also have a few favourite places.
The Young family carnival has been coming to Port Macquarie on the NSW mid-north coast at Christmas time and into January every year for around 45 years, since 1974.
The carnival has become something of an institution in the town over the height of summer and the town itself has also become a comfortable and welcome base for the travelling show people.
“We’ve been coming here that long that it’s the normal thing, summers are spent in Port Macquarie,” Ms Young said.
The Young family carnival has been coming to Port Macquarie over Christmas and January every year since 1974. (ABC News: Emma Siossian)
Ms Young’s partner Darren Tierney also works with the show, which he joined after originally working as a chef in NSW.
“Many years back one of my friends joined and he said ‘this is great, come and give it a try’ and I wanted to get out from where I was so I moved out here and met up with them and I’ve never left,” Mr Tierney said.
“I could be classified as one of those people who said they’d run away and join the show, but it was never run away, I enjoy this lifestyle.”
Rochelle Young and Darren Tierney love seeing people smile as they enjoy old-fashioned carnival favourites. (ABV News: Emma Siossian)
Ms Young and Mr Tierney have two boys, aged six and two, and live in a large caravan they describe as a house on wheels.
Mr Tierney said they enjoyed the quality time the carnival life allowed them to spend together as a family.
“For us it’s casual. We do work hard most of the time, but in the end I like seeing the faces of the kids and the people you make happy, that’s why I chose to stay,” he said.
“There is a certain freedom you get doing this. You can’t go to work every day and spend time with your family, but here we are around our family 100 per cent of the time.
“You wouldn’t want to do it if you didn’t like moving around. I like the driving and travelling, seeing different places and getting into the lifestyle where you are, going to the beach or fishing.”
School on the road
The travelling show life offers children more freedom and flexibility than normal, but they do still have to go to school.
Most of the school year they put on a uniform and attend the National School for Travelling Show Children, which travels throughout the east coast of Australia all year long, its mobile classrooms rolling in alongside the carnivals.
The curriculum is set by the Dubbo School of Distance Education.
Skyler Tierney attends the National School for Travelling Show Children, which has classrooms on wheels. (Supplied: Rochelle Young)
“The classrooms are really big and they are mobile, so at each show we go to there will be one or two classrooms depending how many kids are there,” Ms Young said.
“They set it up and the kids go to school at normal times.
“It’s K-6, all taught in one classroom, so the children are used to all different age groups, so it’s good for them.
“There are times we don’t have a classroom and we do the schooling at home ourselves.”
It is a learning experience familiar to Ms Young who also attended a travelling school when she was a child.
“Until I was about 8 or 9 I did that and then we settled in Sydney for a while so we could do schooling and high school,” she said.
The appeal of old-fashioned fun
Mr Tierney and Ms Young said the appeal of old-fashioned carnival shows continues to be strong in communities around Australia.
“All kids love the clowns, and the old rides like the dodgem cars and the Cha Cha,” Ms Young said.
“Everyone loves the Cha Cha — that ride is over 50 years old — it’s been in our family a long time, and people will say ‘Oh, I went on that ride 30 years ago’ and they still love it.”
“It’s like a family antique”: The popular Cha Cha ride has been in the Young family for more than 50 years. (ABC News: Emma Siossian)
“We deal with the older rides and an older generation of people. The older rides are a lot different to the newer ones and I think that’s what people like,” Mr Tierney said.