For her talent, skillset and courage in “daring to be different”, Bundaberg-born circus performer May Wirth has been nominated in a project that recognises inspiring women from within the region.
The Bundaberg Regional Council initiative aims to acknowledge local women through public memorials, as well as street names, parks, building and other civic facilities
Community consultation for the project is currently underway with an online survey garnering nominations for Bundaberg Region women, past and present.
A nomination for May Wirth describes her as “a young woman of courage and skill who, when young girls were not encouraged to be bold and daring, decided to do things her own way. A real role-model.”
May Wirth was born in Bundaberg in 1894 and spent years performing tricks with horses alongside her family in the circus before becoming known as “‘the world's greatest bareback rider”.
According to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, May's talent was recognised from an early age, learning her skillset from her adopted-mother, equestrian Mary Elizabeth Victoria.
“After starring in Sydney in April 1911, when she rode and drove eight ponies, and turned somersaults on a cantering grey, May visited the United States of America with her mother and sister,” reports the Australian Dictionary of Biography.
“Engaged by John Ringling for two seasons to tour with his Barnum and Bailey circus, she was billed as ‘the world's greatest bareback rider' and given a conspicuous place on the programme at their opening show in New York on 21 March 1912.
“An immediate success, May developed her act by somersaulting backwards through rings and by leaping from the ground to the back of her galloping horse with her feet encased in baskets.”
Her circus performer status continued to rise in success, with May being labelled as the star equestrienne in her family's touring act.
Dubbed the ‘Royal Wirth Family', May, her mother and sister Stella toured Australasia with Wirth Bros Ltd Circus in 1915 and 1916.
“May was dainty, ‘like a butterfly in flight … alive, alert' and delighted Sydney audiences,” the Australian Dictionary of Biography said.
She went on to tour North America with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circuses, showcasing her talent throughout Europe, London, Chicago and more.
May retired from circus life at the peak of her career, in 1937.
She later moved to Sarasota, Florida, where her name was added to the Circus Hall of Fame in 1964.
She died on 18 October, 1978.
Recognising inspiring women in our region
May Wirth is one of 26 local women who have so far been nominated in Council's Recognising inspiring women in our region project.
Earlier this year, Mayor Jack Dempsey asked Bundaberg Region residents to put forward ideas for local women who could be acknowledged in public memorials.
Mayor Dempsey said he was inspired to pursue the concept after learning about a petition to State Parliament by eight-year-old, Malia Knox, calling for greater representation from women and girls in public spaces.
Attorney-General and Minister for Women, Shannon Fentiman, said there were only three statues of women in Brisbane and she applauded Malia for her efforts and her work towards gender equality.
A survey has been made available to Bundaberg residents to nominate an inspiring woman who should be recognised as part of the local project.
International not-for-profit organisation Statues for Equality has also offered its support to co-fund a statue of an inspiring woman.
Time is running out to complete the survey, so if you know an inspiring local woman, nominate her now.