GALLERY: Life in the big top

IT started with the theft of a miniature pony.

Photographer Natalie Grono had been sent to meet the Weber Family Circus and cover the story of their missing pony, Thunder.

Grono was pregnant and already a mother to a two-year-old, as was Wonita Matousek, the eldest daughter of circus co-owner Natalie Weber, and the women started chatting.

‘‘Then I met [Wonita’s sister] Wonona, a stunning redhead and asked, ‘Can I come back and take some photos on the weekend?’’’ Grono said. ‘‘I was just intrigued by the kids.

‘‘When you’re young you dream about running away and joining the circus but, for them, they are born into it and they start straight away.

‘‘They’ve got quite a bit of responsibility on their hands.

‘‘The younger performers in the circus make the circus. Without these kids the regional travelling circuses wouldn’t really survive.’’

Grono photographed sisters Wonita, Wonona and Dakota Weber and their cousins, Tahlia and Tianni Weber, in costume before performances, on stage and in portrait.

‘‘They’re used to having eyes on them and being on the road a lot so they’re open to meeting people and having new people hanging around,’’ Grono said.

The girls spoke freely about growing up, marrying men from other circus families and perhaps establishing their own companies.

Grono also photographed the girls in the caravan where they spend the day before each show, studying with a teacher who travels with the company across the country.

Grono  said that despite their extraordinary lifestyle, the girls were similar to other children in many ways, perhaps most noticeably in the classroom.

‘‘In class they could be naughty, giving the teacher heaps, being disinterested and running around,’’ she said.

‘‘They were on Facebook, checking their mobiles backstage.

‘‘They’ve got this different life, but they’re still like other kids that age except for the work thing.

‘‘I wanted to show the performance but also behind the scenes of living in a circus compound. Not just backstage but everyday life on the circus grounds.’’

Grono has had a lifelong fascination with the circus.

As a child growing up near Gosford she frequently attended shows, as a teen she read books about Coney Island in the 1920s,  and the travelling circuses of Europe and America and, to celebrate her 30th birthday, she held a sideshow-themed party.

Grono now plans to photograph more family circuses over the coming summer months.

Tablet - Narrow
Tablet - Wide