Posted by: Gregoryno6 | August 18, 2010

I’m sure he’d make a lovely suitcase.

DARWIN, Tuesday – In her heyday during the 1950s Gladys Eckersley was known as the Northern Amazon. Travelling with the family circus Gladys left young girls awestruck with admiration and young men thinking twice about asking her out to a movie.

Six nights a week, and twice on Saturdays, Gladys wrestled crocodiles.

“I never thought it was dangerous,” she says, as she rolls herself another cigarette. “If your parents own a grocery store, you help out in the store. Well, my parents didn’t own a grocery store. Are you drinking that beer or leaving it to tan in the sunshine?”

When Eckersley’s Circus Extraordinaire folded its tent for good in 1972 Gladys was 35 years old, single, and bearing a few scars of battle.  “I lost all my front teeth in a fight with my aunt,” she explains. “We were the only members of the family left after Dad cleaned Rosco the lion’s cage and forgot the lock. Never trusted cats before that, and sure as bloody hell haven’t trusted them since. I feel pretty much the same way about Aunt Lettie too. Old bitch knocked me down with a whiskey bottle when I said I wanted Mum’s best dress to wear to the funeral. When I woke up I was in a hospital bed getting measured for a set of dentures. And all my loved ones were lying cold six feet under.”

But Gladys can be philosophical about the horrific loss today. “Just quietly, son – care for a refill? Thirsty work, all this – I haven’t talked so much in years… just quietly, Dad hadn’t been keeping Rosco up to the mark with his rations. If you know what I mean. The old bugger,” she cackles suddenly. “He didn’t leave much for the undertakers. We got the whole family into one box – Mum, Dad, and my fifteen brothers and sisters. They gave us a bargain rate, of course.”

With no assets and no income to speak of, Gladys turned to the only friends she had left. Herb and Sammy, her sparring partners.

“Just them and me,” she says, and there’s the hint of a tear in her eyes as she opens her photo albums – one for each of her ‘boys’, bound in their own scaly hide. “These days the kids talk about – what do they call it? Multi asking?” Multi-tasking, I correct her gently. “Yeah, that. You’re good with words, aren’t you?” She throws me a leering wink from her one good eye. The other one has been covered by a patch since the random swipe of a tail caught nineteen year old Gladys in the face. For a moment I share the unease that the Northern Amazon’s opponents must have felt when she stepped into the wrestling arena. But then she’s back with her memories. “Multi-tasking. The little buggers think they invented it, don’t they? I could tell them a thing or two about multi-tasking. Drive six hours, set up the show, get changed into costume… ever put a croc behind the wheel of a Land Rover? Here’s my advice: save yourself the trouble. First mother with a pram they see crossing the road, they think it’s dinnertime. And they haven’t got a bloody clue about red lights.”

Gladys declined to be photographed for this interview. But we did manage to catch a snap of Frankenstein, her current scaly companion, as he disappeared into the bush with a freshly caught wild pig. “There’s a few of them around here – but not as many,” Gladys snickers, “as there used to be.” She sighs with the contentment of a life that has been lived to the full, and rolls another cigarette, using only three of her remaining five fingers. “He’ll probably outlive me,” she says. “I do worry sometimes about leaving him behind… in our own way, we love each other.” Gladys Eckersley, the Northern Amazon, turns her one penetrating eye full upon me. “You’re not going to make something nasty out of that, are you, son?”

I’m quick to reassure her that I won’t. And the suggestion I was going to make about Frankenstein’s future, I keep to myself.



  1. Hi,
    A very good story to go with the picture. Well Done.

    • It’s pretty good, I have to admit.

  2. Neat story, though I would have liked to have seen a picture of Gladys. I’m just curious that way.

  3. I’d have liked to see Gladys too, but there you go. It’s a great tale, to be sure, to be sure…

  4. Sadly, no images of the Northern Amazon are available. The entire collection of circus memorabilia is locked away as part of the ongoing battle between Gladys and her Aunt Lettie.
    I can only offer as consolation this honorary mention of an an equally feisty matron.

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