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91/258 Banner, side show, 'Malcolm's Mice Circus', paint on canvas, Australia, 1950-1959. Click to enlarge.

Malcolm's Mice Circus' banner from the 1950's

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 attitudes prevalent in the 1950s, specifically a fascination with animal novelty acts.The subject matter of sideshow banners 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 … 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.

Peter Cox
February 2012


Object No.


Object Statement

Banner, side show, 'Malcolm's Mice Circus', paint on canvas, Australia, 1950-1959

Physical Description

Banner with blue background and yellow border, numerous cartoon style mice dressed in shirts and tops, performing acrobatic acts in a circus ring. Text in red across yellow scroll, reads 'Malcom's Mice Circus'. At bottom left 'M. McGann L4048 Brisbane'.


Title, red letters on yellow scrolls across top of banner, paint, 'Malcolm's Mice Circus', bottom left of banner, 'M.McGann L4048 Brisbane'



1766 mm


3537 mm



The banner was created for showman Arthur Cheyne and his partners Bert Washington and Ronny Burns, who put on shows in sideshow alley. The name at the bottom left of the banner is thought to be the artist's: 'M.McGann L4048 Brisbane'.



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.


Credit Line

Gift of Mr Arthur Cheyne, 1991

Acquisition Date

14 May 1991

Cite this Object


Malcolm's Mice Circus' banner from the 1950's 2021, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 5 March 2021, <https://ma.as/116643>


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