Highwire Show Pays Tribute to Con Colleano During Lismore NAIDOC Week

Highwire Show Pays Tribute to Con Colleano During Lismore NAIDOC Week

Words by Zara Hallett

The community came together for an incredible spectacle during NAIDOC Week on the Bundjalung Nation in Lismore. With bated breath, the audience witnessed some of the greatest wire walkers in Australia talentedly tread across 60m long tightwires, hanging high overhead at the Lismore Quad. 

This premiere event by SeedArts, The Xrossing, was created through collaboration between Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists locally and interstate, and pays homage to the incredible story of Con Colleano. 

Con Colleano was born in Lismore in 1899 to an Irish father and Gamilaroi mother, and later became known as the “greatest tightwire artist of all time.” (ABC News) He earned this title in being the first person to master a front somersault on a tightwire - a maneuver believed to be impossible due to its blind landing. After perfecting this inconceivable stunt at only 19 years of age, he soon began touring internationally as a star circus performer.

Con Colleano. ABC News.

He disguised his Aboriginal, West Indian and Irish heritage by adopting a Spanish Matador persona during performances. Con’s reputation led to him performing for prominent figures including Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler, who were so impressed that they awarded him with a medal and German passport respectively. 

From such humble beginnings in the regional city of Lismore, to becoming a world-renowned wire walker, Con Colleano has left a profound legacy. 

Dylan Singh, who is a proud Wiradjuri man and fellow wire walker, describes Con as an “unsung hero as a black fella.” (ABC News)

Con’s singular success reflects his mastery of both body and mind. The ability to circumvent the innate response to danger at such extreme heights requires incredible mental fortitude.

"A lot of wire walking … comes down to focus and that ability to kind of switch off the inner monologue and to be able to go deep within yourself and to know that you've got the capability and the skill to do the trick," Singh explains.

"As soon as the doubt and any of that kind of creeps in, then it starts to filter into your body and you start to get shaky." (ABC News)

Dylan Singh walking along the wire suspended 6 meters off ground. Image: Echo News

In addition to being a world-class wire walker, Con Colleano was blessed with good-looks and a multitude of talents. Some of these skills included being a trumpet player, boxer, and the ability to somersault on horseback.

Con Colleano on a highwire. Image: ABC News.

To honor this lauded legacy, proud Bundjalung man Black Rhodes, composed the original score for The Xrossing. As a Lismore-born, First Nations artist, Blake has derived inspiration from Con Colleano’s life.

"The story itself, his story, is such an incredibly insane story," he said.

"I wanted to make it feel as big and as grand as possible while keeping the calmness and making it feel introspective for everyone who will see it and hear it." (ABC News)

Uncle Gilbert Laurie opened the event with a Welcome to Country, accompanied by fellow Custodian of the Northern Rivers, Jarmbi, who performed poetry. Also speaking at the show was Deb Hescott, a relative of the great Con Colleado. The Xrossing was presented on the 8th and 9th July to packed audiences from Lismore and surrounds.

The Xrossing at Lismore Quad. Image: Echo News.

This free event was one of many held across the Northern Rivers for NAIDOC Week, under this year’s theme “For Our Elders.”

At BW Tribal, we recognise the amazing First Nations performers and artists from the past and present. Head on over to our website to read similar stories https://bwtribal.com/