It was a big day for Albury-Wodonga when the Nanjing Acrobatic Troupe came to town and an even bigger day for a young Nicci Wilks, who was one of the townspeople to line up alongside the railway station to welcome the Chinese performers.
‘There was a brass band. It was huge for Albury,’ Nicci says.
Albury-Wodonga is the home of Australia’s premier youth circus, the Flying Fruit Fly Circus (known as The Fruities), and the 1983 visit was part of a project to teach the art of Chinese circus to the young performers as well as Circus Oz and other performing artists from around Australia.
By the following year, the tables had turned and Nicci was touring overseas as a Fruity, performing in the big top in front of thousands of people.
‘It was amazing,’ Nicci says.
‘Every school holiday we'd go on tour with the tent and we'd all live in caravans. We were like one big family.'
‘The Fruities were also trying to open up a school and I was on the committee so we would come down to Melbourne and have meetings with the government and then go and hang out with Circus Oz and see shows at The Last Laugh. I was only 16. Through the circus my world just opened up.’
After leaving the Fruities, Nicci moved on to Circus Oz, performing in Thai for the King of Thailand one week and Hindi for shows in India the next. ‘It was a crazy time.’
The ‘crazy’ didn’t stop there. Nicci has taught and performed circus from the Pitjantjatjara lands to 42nd Street, presented serious material as a ‘dark clown’ and moved into more physical theatre, with text-based works, including in Patricia Cornelius’s acclaimed play, SHIT. As a Clown Doctor for The Humour Foundation, she also brings a bit of joy to sick children and adults in hospital.
‘There is something about performing, about making people laugh. There's something really special about that,’ Nicci says.