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Circus Life by Don Cox

Not clowning around

Regular AMCN contributor Don Cox is a walking encyclopaedia on the achievements of Australian riders abroad during the golden era of motorcycle racing. Thankfully he is also a damn fine journalist who has parted with some of this knowledge in a cracking hardcover book titled Circus Life, Australian motorcycle racers in Europe in the 1950s.

Back in the 1950s a dedicated group of riders travelled from one end of Europe to the other, competing in the motorcycle world championship purely for the love of the sport. Back then, the world championship trail was colloquially known as the Continental Circus. With the memories of World War II still fresh in everyone’s mind, and the world economy recovering from the ravages of six long years of conflict, the privateer riders who made up the travelling show of the Continental Circus were out to enjoy a free life. They quickly became a close-knit community made up of journeyman from all corners of the globe, including Australia. They raced hard and often partied harder, and a lot of the time their sole objective was to raise enough funds just to make it to the next round. This led to a number of legendary conflicts with race organisers – a few physical – over starting money. Some of these racers were loners, others playboys, and a number were family men on the road with new brides and out for the ultimate adventure. It was a dangerous way to make a living and see the world, many didn’t return.

In the 1950s a stream of Australian riders joined the continental circus. AMCN’s 2016 Hall of Fame inductee Jack Ahearn was just one of a number of ambitious Aussies who set sail for the continent, determined to race against the best. Others included Keith Campbell, Bob Brown, the Hinton boys, Tom Phillis and Bob Mitchell.

Don’s book does more than chronicle the achievements of these Aussie riders, it delves into their lives and reveals the personality of each. It also includes accurate detailed information about the machines they raced.

We liked

Almost 500 pages of rare photographs and informative text including quotes from the riders and those close to them. As well as the great racing images, there are collections of personal photographs which perfectly capture what life must have been like travelling the Continental Circus in 1950s Europe.

The hard cover, paper and print quality are top notch. This is not a book you read in a few days and then retire it to the bookshelf, it is a piece of reference material that will take even the most avid reader a serious amount of time to get through. Just flicking through the pages and looking at the photographs deserves a good chunk of a weekend.

We didn’t like

What’s there to dislike about a book designed to keep the memory of our great two-wheeled Aussie heroes alive?

Not so much a dislike, but a warning. This is a big book – at just under 500 pages, measuring 330mm x 250mm and weighing a couple of kilograms, it is not the sort of thing you will be carrying around in your backpack.


Don Cox is a legend in the Australian motorcycle journalism industry. As well as writing for a number of the country’s best motorcycle publication, including AMCN, he is also the author of Australian Motorcycle Heroes 1948-1989 and The Aussie and 2NZ blokes, all self-published work.

Don is on a crusade to ensure these great Aussie racers receive the recognition they deserve, and Circus Life is a great way of achieving this. Even if you have no knowledge of the history of Australian riders, this book makes riveting reading.


Awesome photos

Entertaining and addictive layout

Top quality paper stock

Bargain for the price


A very large book

Leaves you wanting more

$99 and $12 postage anywhere in Australia