Banner, side show, 'John Half Man Half Woman', paint on canvas, Australia, 1950-1959
This sideshow banner has significance as a record of popular entertainment presented at sideshows in Australia during the 1950s and later. Used at Sydney's annual Royal Easter Show and at other showground venues, its function was to hang outside a sideshow attraction to attract customers by suggesting excitement, colour, sensation and bizarre fantasy.
The imagery on the banner conveys cultural values prevalent in the 1950s, such as a fascination with sexual ambiguity. Sideshow alley was one of the few places to gain a glimpse of semi-naked women. The subject matter was frequently sensational and wildly exaggerated. The bright colours were designed to stand out amidst the din of sideshow alley, where every amusement had to compete to attract customers.
'The oldest surviving form of fairground decoration is the painted canvas banner. Its need to appeal to a semi-literate public has ensured that its decoration has been predominantly figurative. Banners functioned precisely like old painted shop signs and were hung outside the entrance to a show or booth to advertise its content. They could be effortlessly erected and easily rolled up and carried away, which was essential for showmen who travelled on foot Â? Generally, banners functioned as advertisements for the shows and those with bigger frontages displayed more than one banner. For shows with more than one attraction the banner had the advantage of being easily changed if the entertainment was varied' (G. Weedon & R. Ward, 'Fairground Art', London, 1981, p236)
Sydney's Royal Easter Show at the Moore Park Showground was a favourite site of recreation for the people of New South Wales. Combining elements of an agricultural show, an arts and crafts fair, a travelling carnival and an amusement park, it gave rural communities an opportunity to present their produce and lifestyle to their urban counterparts. The Show remains a major annual leisure event in Sydney, although the showground is now at Olympic Park in Homebush. Sideshow alley has been a feature of the Show since the 1890s. Its attractions have included merry-go-rounds, ferris wheels and many other mechanical rides, competitive stalls, freaks, illusions, magic, death-defying acts and boxing tents. Sideshows endure but many of the former attractions have disappeared along with their material evidence.
The banner was created for showman Arthur Cheyne and his partners Bert Washington and Ronny Burns, who put on shows in sideshow alley. The artist is unknown, however Arthur Cheyne remembered that some of his banners were painted by O. (Ollie) Harris and others by Althouse and Geiger.
Used for many years by showman Arthur Cheyne and his partners Bert Washington and Ronny Burns, to advertise their shows in sideshow alley at Sydney's Royal Easter Show and other shows.