NotesThis miniature bicycle was used as a stage prop by Klimo the clown from the mid to late 1930s until his death in 1950.
Fred Klimo was born John Fredrick Uhrstrom in Sydney on 22 March 1887. At the age of 13 or 14 he obtained employment, without his mother's knowledge, in a circus that was operating at a park near Sydney's Central Station. Spotted there by a family friend, he was hauled from the circus and given a hiding by his mother, who wanted him to become a school teacher. However he ran away with the circus and became a clown, which he remained until he died.
Uhrstrom changed his name to Fred Klimo early in his life. His daughter Fay (the donor) bore the surname Klimo and only found out that this was an assumed name after having seven children.
Klimo performed with travelling circuses including Wirth's, Bullen's and Fox Brothers, and graduated to the vaudeville circuit. Vaudeville was a form of variety entertainment staged in theatres, mixing dance, sketches, novelty acts, spectacle and comedy, and was particularly popular in Australia. Sydney had a number of variety theatres including the Tivoli in Castlereagh St and the Palace. Vaudeville had a natural affinity with circus performers and by the 1920s many Australian circus acts had sought to maximise their income by alternating between circus and vaudeville engagements.
As well as performing at Sydney venues such as the Tivoli and the Capitol, Klimo worked with touring vaudeville companies, performing at theatres around the country (including Tasmania) and Perth's Ambassador Theatre. A photograph in the donor's possession indicates that Klimo toured New Zealand in 1904. One such touring theatrical company was Fullers, established by the New Zealand impresarios John and Benjamin Fuller to rival the Tivoli circuit. The Fullers had a string of theatres including Fuller's National Theatre in Castlereagh St Sydney. Another touring company that employed Klimo was Dixon Baker. According to his daughter (the donor) Klimo shared the bill with the vaudeville stars George Wallace and Roy Rene and 'was a top act in vaudeville'.
He formed a double act called Keldine and Klimo. Keldine did trick cycling on a special oversized bike, rode a unicycle and had a two-wheeler which he dismantled during the act. Klimo was the duo's comic focus and rode his miniature bicycle. Sometimes they were billed as Cyko and Byko. (This was because audiences were sometimes reluctant to pay to see acts they had seen before. If the acts had a different name, potential customers might think it was a different act.) Fred promoted shows, sometimes staged at Earl Park in Arncliffe, where the crowd sat in the grandstand. He also had an double act with his cousin Roy Clifton, billed as the Clifton Brothers. He worked as a Santa Claus at Farmer's department store and, between engagements, as a lift driver. One lift he drove was in the clock tower at Sydney Showground. He also worked as a spruiker at sideshows including Sydney's Royal Easter Show. He was employed as a clown at the opening of Sydney's Luna Park in October 1935.
Fred's wife Hylda was born Hilda Williams on 9 March 1887 at Goulburn. When she was young they lived in a tent by Cooks River at Earlwood. They built a home in Garners Ave Marrickville. She and her sister Mabel formed the Trevena Sisters, a singing/dancing vaudeville act. The sisters learnt to dance and joined a travelling show, and experienced the excitement of being 11 year-old girls travelling in a covered wagon. They eventually became well-known vaudeville entertainers.
Hylda and Fred married in 1909 at St Clements Church Marrickville. The donor was born Fay Trevena Klimo in 1922, one of six children. Her name contained the stage names of both parents. She married Ray 'Bud' Abbott. When Bullen's Circus first came to Sydney, Fred got Ray a job there as the drummer and panotroper (responsible for operating the panotrope, a sound system that provided mechanical music).
During World War I Fred Klimo served in the first AIF in France for four years. He was wounded by shrapnel and the scars remained visible on his chest. He injured his wrist in the war and for the rest of his life could not bend his hand, but he somehow still managed to ride his miniature bike.
During World War II he joined the militia after the Pacific war started, serving in Australia. He trained German Shepherd dogs and was camped for a while where Australia's Wonderland stands today. He told stories of guarding caves on the coastline with brooms. Fred Klimo died of a heart attack in 1950.
Fred had no motor car and always carried the miniature bicycle in its original 'Carbine Cycles' canvas bag. He used this bike in performances until he died, after which his widow Hylda took care of it. When she died the bicycle came into the possession of their daughter Mrs Fay Abbott, who donated to the Powerhouse Museum in November 2003.