Arthur Rodella Greenhalgh (1896-1972), showman, was born on 2 December 1896 at Southern Cross, Western Australia, fourth child of William Greenhalgh, produce merchant, and his wife Daisy Sarah, née Planz, both from England. The family moved to Kalgoorlie, then to St Kilda, Melbourne, to Armidale, New South Wales, and to Mackay, Queensland, where William ran a hotel-booth on the showgrounds. Billing himself as ‘Captain Greenhalgh’ or ‘Dead Shot Bill’, in 1909 he and his two younger children started travelling as a sharp-shooting act in tented, sideshow alleys on the dusty, country-town circuit. Arthur acquired some education on the way, at Charters Towers and, though he was not a Catholic, at St Joseph’s School, Woollahra, Sydney. His first appearance at the Royal Easter Show was in 1910 with ‘Volta, the Electric Marvel’.
Describing himself as an auctioneer from Bondi, Greenhalgh married 19-year-old Esmée Georgina Burt at the district registrar’s office, Waverley, on 18 December 1923; they remained childless and later separated. For many years he lived with Fuchsia Lillian Lupton (d.1963). Arthur had branched out on his own in 1924, working with rodeos and boxing troupes. In 1928, with Fred Clare, an American, he began importing acts for Australian shows, including the ‘Wall of Death’ motorcyclists, ‘the Reckless Jacksons’. In August one of these daredevil riders, Texas-born Ernest Jackson Ibsch (c.1896-1965), known as ‘Jack Jackson’, bought out Clare. Greenhalgh & Jackson became one of Australia’s leading sideshow entrepreneurs, presenting acts like ‘Tam Tam the Leopard Man’, ‘Dennis O’Duffy, the Irish Giant’, and ‘Chang, the Pin-headed Chinaman’. In 1934 Greenhalgh made the first of his many overseas tours to recruit novelty acts for his tent shows.
The outbreak of World War II put a temporary end to show business and in 1943 Greenhalgh bought the Beach Hotel, Newcastle, where he housed ‘the Snake-charmer’, ‘the Skeleton Man’ and others who were stranded for the duration. Arthur liked to spin a tale: he claimed that ‘the Giant’ washed the windows (without a ladder), ‘the Midget’ tapped the barrels, and ‘the Fat Lady’ and ‘the Tattooed Lady’ jointly presided over the kitchen. Appointed a justice of the peace, Greenhalgh was a notable identity at Newcastle, where he invested in a block of flats and was a patron of community organizations, such as the Police-Citizens Boys’ Club and the local surf lifesaving club. The owner of several racehorses (including True Leader, winner of the Doomben Ten Thousand in 1953), he was a member of the Australian Jockey Club, turf clubs in Sydney, Brisbane and Newcastle, Tattersall’s clubs in Sydney and Newcastle, and of the latter’s Masonic club. He visited Melbourne annually for the racing season, seeing fifty-six Melbourne cups in succession up to 1970. He was also a keen lawn bowler.
Greenhalgh was short, with a bustling manner. A ‘red-faced, chubbily important little figure’ with the voice of the sideshow spruiker, he usually sported a large, diamond tie-pin in his cravat and a ring on his index finger. After the enforced idleness of wartime came a boom, and Greenhalgh’s tents resumed their journeys to shows and raceday carnivals from Brisbane to Perth. His business involved the employment of ‘freaks’, but he acquired a reputation for honesty. ‘In the old days when acts were scarce and money was scarcer, we could always turn a swaggy into a wild man of Borneo and get away with it. Now we think nothing of spending a few thousands on air passages in order to sign up a new act.’ In 1947 they engaged ‘Zandau, the Quarter-man’, an American Negro born without hips or legs. Greenhalgh and Jackson owned mechanical rides, the ‘Wall of Death’ and the ‘Wild West Show’. They also employed waxworks exhibitors, Chinese acrobats, magicians, jugglers, ‘the Wonder Boy Canadian Glass Blower’ and other attractions which flanked Jimmy Sharman’s boxing tents in the alleys at Sydney’s Royal Easter Show and various carnivals. There, youths gawped at the exotic, saw-dusted wonders. Sample-bags or fairy floss in hand, children implored parents to let them do the same.
Greenhalgh was a founder (1935) and president (1950) of the Showmen’s Guild of Australasia. His partner Jackson died in Sydney on 2 May 1965. By then Greenhalgh had become patron of the guild. Less peripatetic, he ruled his motley empire mainly from the hotel. He died on 20 February 1972 in Royal Newcastle Hospital and was cremated with Anglican rites; most of his estate was bequeathed to his long-time friend Bert Anderson, manager of the Beach Hotel.
- People (Sydney), 11 Apr 1951, p 43
- Outdoor Showman, Nov 1960, p 1, Nov 1962, p 24, July 1965, p 1, Apr 1966, p 20, Mar 1972, p 15, June-July 1978, p 15, Oct-Nov 1980, p 15
- Sydney Morning Herald, 25 Oct 1947, 2 Apr 1950 (Royal Easter Show supplement), 3 May 1965, 21 Feb 1972
- Newcastle Sun, 25 Oct 1968
- Newcastle Morning Herald, 21, 23 Feb 1972
Chris Cunneen, ‘Greenhalgh, Arthur Rodella (1896–1972)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/greenhalgh-arthur-rodella-10359/text18345, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 4 March 2021.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996