Traffic passing by Corrigans Reserve this week would have noticed the slow build up of trucks and caravans carrying the signage of Bells Family Carnival. The first to arrive was Elwin Bell, and he will be the last to pack up when others have left after Australia Day in the New Year.
Elwin Bell is not a resident of Batemans Bay. In fact I’m not sure that he is a resident of any given place. When I asked him where he lived for those times he and his carnival were not on the road he simply pointed over my shoulder to his caravan, adding that he and his family are on the road for 50 weeks of the year, every year.
Elwin Bell may not live here but he is as much about Batemans Bay as those of us who do, because he and the Bell Family Carnival bring entertainment to Batemans Bay every summer and have been doing so for over 40 years.
For many Bay residents the beginning of the summer holiday period is marked by the sighting of the first Bell Carnival semi-trailer pulling into the Corrigans Beach reserve. This first truck is then eventually followed by a steady convoy, each carrying a particular ride or other carnival attraction.
The carnival’s star attraction, The Thunderbolt, requires two trucks for its transport. Valued at over $700,000, The Thunderbolt is advertised as the “Fastest Ride in Australia”. Big call perhaps, but it has been clocked at more than 160kmph by police radar. One of the newest rides, The Crazy Raft, is also valued at over $700,000, while the intimidating No Limit would cost over $1 million on today’s market.
Elwin Bell Jnr is a 3rd generation Bell. His grandfather, Roy Bell, started the Bell show business dynasty with his Bell’s Touring Boxing Stadium in 1924. Jimmy Sharman’s rival boxing tent may have been better known but Roy was considered to be the ultimate showman, or ‘spruiker’. Among Roy’s stable of boxers was the Australian champion Vic Patrick and the famous aboriginal Sands brothers.
Today Elwin Bell leads the more than 20 trucks around all States except Tasmania and Western Australia and estimates the total annual loop at about 30,000 kms.
In earlier years the carnival would set up in whatever spare space was available in the Bay at the time. Sometimes in the shopping district, or the old Perrys Mill site (Spinnaker Reach) or at Hanging Rock. But in more modern times, Corrigans Beach reserve has been the carnival’s permanent home. Just as permanent is the date set each year to arrive in Batemans Bay.
The Bell family celebrates Christmas by assembling their entire extended family for the occasion. Many of the Bell family are involved in other carnival activities during the year but a special effort is made for a full assembly of the Clan here at Corrigans Beach. Last year nearly 70 family members and close friends gathered together for the Christmas Day feast.
Through marriage the Bell family is related to the Perry Circus family, another show-business dynasty which has toured Australia for 100 years. At one stage the Perry’s absorbed the smaller rival Eroni Circus.
In 1907 the Eroni Circus set up in Batemans Bay with an expectation of the usual interest and excitement from the townsfolk. But excitement turned to panic when a large lion escaped from its holding and roamed loose. The ‘Big Top’ emptied. Some townsfolk spent the night on rooftops, others in trees. The lion headed down Beach Road before taking an interest in a small herd of cows. Before the lion could organise his evening meal a volley of rifle fire ended the life of both the lion and a cow.
Public safety in 2018, although not from roaming lions, is an issue Elwin Bell regards as paramount. ‘Safety first, entertainment second’ is the Bell Carnival motto. Geoff Cannock of the Royal National Capital Agricultural Society said, ‘Elwin Bell has a history of maintaining his rides in immaculate condition and in accordance with the highest Australian standards’.
The Bell Carnival’s annual entertainment extends to the now traditional Corrigans Beach fireworks displays on both New Years Eve and Australia Day. These performances feature a series of dazzling ground level displays accompanied by more than 80 shells launched to explode spectacularly over Corrigans Cove.
Bells Family Carnival returns to Corrigans Beach Reserve, Batemans Bay on December 21st running through to Australia Day with their HUGE fireworks nights on New Years Eve and Australia Day CLOSED XMAS NIGHT Armbands will$30 per person from 7pm to 10pm Nightly (weather permitting)