by Kim Odgers When the first weeks of warmer weather approach many in our region would identify the annoying call of the Koel as the earliest sign of summer. But for me, it is the arrival of the first of the Bell's carnival trucks to park on Corrigans Reserve. This happened yesterday and this lone truck will soon be joined by dozens more from all over Australia - most belonging to the extended Bell family.
I am a huge fan of the carnival, and of the Bell family, and of their annual association with Batemans Bay that now stretches back in some form or other for nearly half a century.
For the Bells it is a family call to to the scattered kin to gather at the Bay for their annual reunion. In the following article you will read how many of the extended family privately sit together at Corrigans for Xmas dinner. Bells Carnival 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. Most of the Bell family are involved in 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 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 the cow. Public safety in 2017, although not from roaming lions, is an issue Elwin Bell regards as paramount. “Safety first, entertainment second” is the Bell Carnival motto. In a recent interview, 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. This annual fireworks display is co-funded by the Bell family. Kim Odgers has called Batemans Bay home since 1999. He is one of a stream of Canberra refugees who have sought the retired lifestyle and the more even climate of the NSW South Coast. Kim is a strong advocate of the recording, either orally or in writing, of the earlier efforts and achievements of a generation 'who have made a difference' and contributed so significantly to the region we live in today. The above is an extract of his Kim's book: Our Town | Our People A Tribute to the Men and Women Who Have Shaped Our Town Volume 1
Bells Carnival finishes on Australia Day