After growing up on her family’s farm in South Gippsland, Shirley Billing had a crack at getting a ‘proper job’, but soon decided joining a travelling circus was more her style. ‘The circus was pretty wild. It was a fun, interesting creative ride,’ Shirley says.
‘I used to come out dressed as Elvis Presley in a gold jumpsuit and sing Are You Lonesome Tonight…we even had a convertible and we’d drive onto the stage.’
An actor, song writer, comedian and cabaret performer, Shirley is half of the long-running Ukulele Ladies roving comedy act. Shirley also visits aged care homes as an Elder Clown.
‘One of the reasons I love working with older people is they're very kind,’ Shirley says. ‘And they're also happier with a slower pace so when I am at work I don't have anyone saying, “Hurry up, can't you go any faster?” and I'm like, “No, this is top gear,” and it's like, “You're fired, we're going to restructure you”, and I'm like, “Oooh no”,’ Shirley jokes.
But being an Elder Clown is not all laughs. ‘Not everyone's happy to be in aged care. Some people are angry and some people are frustrated,’ Shirley says.
‘At one of the homes, there was a lady and no one could get in her door because she'd throw library books at them and they sent me in because I had a good reputation for being able to get people to talk to me. So, I opened the door a crack and said, “So what are you reading at the moment?”. I thought, she's not going to throw it at me if she's talking about it…we became friends.’
Watch Shirley's 2020 Victorian Seniors Festival reimagined performance.