Postcard, sepia, showing a monkey on a miniature bicycle, paper, made by Taronga Park Zoo, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 1948-1949
This postcard from the late 1940s features a monkey riding a bicycle at the Taronga Park Zoo animal circus which performed at a special arena built there in 1936. For over thirty years the monkey circus delighted and entertained families and visitors at the Zoo, overlooking Sydney Harbour. The circus saw monkeys riding miniature bicycles and doing tricks. One of the most popular drawcards was Mabel, the monkey, referred to in the press at the time as the 'Zoological Cycling Champion'. She rode up to twelve circuits of the arena depending on the reaction and enthusiastic applause from the audience. Two monkeys pedalling on a tandem bicycle were also very popular. Other acts at the circus included monkeys on roller skates, riding scooters, sitting at tea parties wearing clothes and hats, balancing on the backs of dogs and being 'jockeys' riding on Shetland ponies which raced around the ring.
After a critical review in 1967, the Zoo embarked on its current philosophy of emphasising scientific research, conservation and education. Earlier favourite attractions including the elephant rides, miniature train, merry-go-round and monkey circus were removed. The monkey circus closed in October 1967.
The monkey postcard has significance in that it relates to the history of leisure in Sydney and its changing nature. The postcard was purchased as a souvenir after a visit to the Zoo by the donor.
"Monkey Circus : New Taronga Attraction" in The Sun newspaper, 18 July 1936
Assistant Curator, Science & Industry
The postcard was made commercially and sold as a souvenir of the Taronga Park Zoo in the late 1940s. It is known as a real photo postcard type because it is an actual photograph, but in this case does not have the printed postcard markings for address and stamps on the back.
The Zoo was established in 1884, at Moore Park and was operated by the Zoological Society of New South Wales. It moved across the Harbour to a magnificent 52-acre site at Mosman which opened in 1916 with a special entrance building, seal ponds, elephant temple, monkey pits, aviaries and walking paths. The giraffe house was added in 1923, an aquarium in 1927 and floral clock in 1928. The animal kindergarten opened in 1932 with monkeys Freda and Freddie who rode miniature bicycles. This attraction must have been so popular that a special concrete monkey circus arena, 25 ft (7.6 m) in diameter and capable of accommodating hundreds of spectators, was opened near the northern entrance of the Zoo on 1 November, 1936, by Lord Hartington, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Dominions.
The postcard was purchased by the donor while on a visit to the zoo as a primary school aged child in the late 1940s when she was living at Westmead. In recollecting her Zoo visits the donor notes: 'I was born and grew up in Sydney, and so had many trips to Taronga Park Zoo. I remember that we always caught the ferry from Circular Quay-always a highlight-and I can remember having an elephant ride when I was about three or four years old. I would have bought the postcard in the late 1940s when I was in primary school-say, 1948-49, when I was ten or eleven years old. I put the photograph in a home-made photo album with my black and white 'box Brownie' photos and school class photos.'
The postcard is one of three versions of postcards, featuring monkeys on bicycles, known to have been sold at the Zoo around that time. The other postcards feature a monkey on a bicycle wearing a hat and two monkeys riding a miniature tandem Malvern Star.
The postcard was offered to the curator, Margaret Simpson, after an appeal for photographs of the Taronga Zoo monkey bicycles appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald's Column 8. As well as this postcard, two sets of home movies, and copies of six photographs for scanning were received. These all add significantly to the interpretation of the two miniature bicycles made by Silas Edworthy in 1936 for the Zoo's animal circus and used there until 1940, which were acquired in 2008.
A digital copy of this postcard was used when the two miniature bicycles were displayed in the Museum's New Acquisitions showcase in November 2008.