Circus WOW’s first public appearance was at the fire-spectacular finale of the first Viva la Gong festival on 1 April 2001. The event took place on the banks of Fairy Creek at one of Wollongong city’s most popular parks, Stewart Park, just north of the city centre. Already the Viva la Gong festival had excited a new response from Wollongong citizens and the finale, Flame, attracted an estimate of over 1,500 people. The naming of the new festival carried with it a larrikin ebullience, whilst Amanda Buckland, its director, stated that the name:
“Honours the working roots and struggle of the people, [It is] a call to solidarity.”
Flame also had an unstated yet ironic meaning. The recently burnt down Lagoon restaurant, on the banks of Fairy Creek, was owned by the then Mayor of Wollongong, George Harrison. At that time Harrison was embroiled in a legal wrangle threatening to bankrupt him. As many residents understood, if declared bankrupt Harrison could no longer remain Mayor of the city. In the midst of this bankruptcy case his very popular restaurant strangely burnt down. Nobody was charged and Harrison remained mayor until bankruptcy did indeed force him from office.
Flame was a pertinent sign to a more sophisticated readership at the Viva la Gong festival, that times had changed in Wollongong and that Wollongong artists could reflect openly on political matters, which had usually been swept under the local government’s carpet.
—Execrpt from Circus WOW, Women of Wollongong’s Community
Circus: The politics of the site-specific by Janys Hayes