The Martinettis, Australian acrobatic troupe, about 1938. Courtesy of Andrew & Alison Downey, Werribee, Vic

The Martinettis were an Australian acrobatic troupe consisting of six siblings (the children of Alfie Warren Snr and his wife, Maud, second daughter of circus proprietor, Fred Ashton) and a midget, Harold Simmonds. Shown in the above studio portrait from left to right are: Alfie Jnr, Les, Alfie Snr, Doug, Eddie, Dorrie and Harold Simmonds.

Alfie Warren Snr married Maud Ashton at Kempsey, NSW in 1916. Alfie, from Bendigo, Victoria, received much of his training as an acrobat in Ashton’s Circus. Maud, a 3rd generation Ashton, was an excellent wire walker. The Warrens and their young family parted ways from Ashton’s Circus in 1925 and formed their own circus, Warren Bros Olympic Circus. After losing their circus tent in a fire at Condobolin, NSW, the family moved down to Sydney and began working vaudeville.

The family trained hard to develop its acrobatic act, practising on Moore Park or in the backyard of the fruit shop that Fred Ashton opened after retiring from circus life. The twins, Dougie and Eddie, served apprenticeships as acrobats in Australia’s largest circus, Wirth’s Circus. As the Warrens got their act together, they were joined by another acrobat, a young midget from Adelaide, Harold Simmons.

In the 1930s, under the name of The Martinettis, they worked in Les Shipp’s vaudeville Show; Cameo’s Vaudeville Show (1933); with comedy acrobat George Wallace at the Majestic Theatre, Adelaide; Ivan Bros Circus (1935); and toured New Zealand with Stanley McKay Gaieties. After three years touring South Africa with Pagel’s Circus (1935-37), the family moved on to England to work the Blackpool Tower Circus. By this time, the family had a well-developed Risley (foot juggling) act and knockabout clowning routine. Dorrie also worked on the trapeze. Starring engagements followed with some of the leading English and Continental theatres.

After the start of World War II, the troupe returned to Australia in a convoy of 57 ships, several of which were sunk by German U-boats en route. During the war, the family worked in the munitions industries but maintained their acrobatic skills. After the war, the family again launched its own circus, again calling it Warren Bros Olympic Circus. The circus was eventually subsumed into George Sorlie’s touring vaudeville tent show.

(Information from Gail Shaw, Kelso, NSW and Take a Drum and Beat It: The Story of the Astonishing Ashtons, 1848-1990s by Judy Cannon, with Mark St Leon.

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