Troupes : Juvenile Companies



aka Josie Johnson’s Juveniles / Josie Johnson’s Lilliputians / Josie Johnson’s 10 Wonders / Josie Johnson’s 11 Wonder Kids / 9 Amazing Wonders

(1921-ca. 1950s) Sydney-based juvenile entertainment troupe

Josie Johnson opened her first dance school in Granville in late-1920, and over the next 30 or so years provided opportunities for many of her students to work with professional managers like Bert Howard, Harry Clay, Ike Beck, and George Drew and Jim Romaine. Although billed under various names at different times, Josie Johnson’s Wonder Kids was the most commonly-used, and indeed was still being used in the 1950s. The troupe toured Queensland and Northern New South Wales in 1925 and was a feature of Ike Beck’s 1926 Dick Whittington pantomime (Hunter Valley) and 1928 New South Wales touring productions Beauty and the Beast (Howard and Johnson Pantomime Co), and Aladdin and Mother Goose (Josie Johnson Pantomime Co). Sydney’s Sun newspaper records that Johnson’s students were presenting a full musical revue in December 1950 (12 Dec. 1950, 28).

1. Very few advertisements or reviews provide the names of the children who appeared as members of the Wonder Kids. Two students identified to date were Doreen Buxton (contortionist), Ethel Robinson (soubrette). In 1929 Everyone’s provides a list of some 50 or more students who appeared in that year’s annual concert at Clay’s Gaiety Theatre. However, there is no indication that the school concert was presented as a Wonder Kids performance (4 Dec. 1929, 47).
2. The Queensland leg of the 1925 tour reportedly included Warwick (Show Week), Toowoomba and Brisbane. Glen Innes has been identified as one of the towns played in New South Wales.
3. The Wonder Kids were also popular additions to boxing and vaudeville programmes as well as between films entertainment.
Image source: Propeller (Hurstville, NSW) 29 July 1927, 3.



aka Liddiard’s Lilliputian Opera Company

(1907-1912) Comprising children who came almost exclusively from owner/manager Tom Liddiard’s home suburb of Fitzroy (Melbourne), Liddiard’s Lilliputians was put together in September 1907 especially for a tour of the East. After arriving in Calcutta, India, the young performers, aged between eight and sixteen, underwent further training under the direction of Lilliard’s sister, Fannie, herself a former high-profile opera singer (ex-J.C. Williamson’s). Although often billed as an “opera company” the troupe’s repertoire also comprised other theatrical forms and genres – notably burlesque, vaudeville and pantomime. After returning home in April 1910 the troupe undertook several regional tours, while also playing two Christmas pantomimes at William Anderson‘s King’s Theatre, Melbourne. The troupe also played Adelaide, Sydney and Brisbane.



Pollards ad [HM 18 Nov 1881, 3](1881-1885) Following Mrs G.B.W. Lewis‘s success in Melbourne with a juvenile production of H.M.S. Pinafore, James Pollard staged the same work in Hobart, utilising his and other local children along with some of Lewis’s principals. He soon afterwards sent his Lilliputians through New Zealand, and later Australia and the East. The original line-up included Maud, May, Olive, Arthur, and Willie Pollard, with James Pollard Jnr (conductor), Charlie Pollard (leader), Fred Pollard (flute), Harry Pollard (double bass), Alice Pollard (piano), Nellie Pollard (organ) and Tom Pollard (stage manager). Other known children were Lena and Herbert Salinger, Connie and Dick Osmond, Joe Sheehan, and Arthur Godwin. Family squabbles saw this first company disband about a year after James Pollards death.

Image source: Mercury (Hobart) 18 Nov. (1881), 3.


1: As the name “Pollards’ Lilliputian Opera Company” implies, the various troupes established over the years operated largely as juvenile [comic] opera companies. The curiosity value of a company comprised entirely of children did lend the company an air of popular culture entertainment, however, drawing a large cross section of the public to its shows. The post-189i companies also presented pantomimes, musical comedies and occasional variety entertainment. As a theatrical institution for over 20 years (not including the five year gap between 1896 and 1890), the Pollards’ companies also served an important training ground for a number of child performers who later went on to carve out high profile careers in the variety industry.
2: The company that toured under Tom Pollard’s management between 1896 and 1905 was essentially an adult company, comprising performers who had previously toured as juveniles, along with new adult artists. This company, included in the entry below [No 2] was known as both The Pollards and The Royal Australian Opera Co]
3: The Tom Pollard-managed companies were linked with the Charles Pollard and Nellie Pollard companies in name only, and should be regarded as entirely different entities.
Pollard's Lilliputians - 1891 [Downes]Pollard’s Lilliputians [2], 1891. Source: Peter Downes. The Pollards (2002).



(aka Juvenile Opera Co / The Pollards / Royal Australian Opera Company)

Philippines ca. late-1904 or early-1905. Source: University of Washington Library.

(1891-1905) In February 1891 Tom Pollard revived James Pollard’s juvenile opera concept for W. Williamson. It subsequently toured Australia and New Zealand before being taken over by Pollard and reverting to the original name – Pollards’ Lilliputians. This company, which included original members such as W.S. (Willie) Percy and Harry Quealy, along with newcomers May and Maude Beatty, initially toured as a juvenile company. From 1896 to 1905, following a major line-up change, it became an adult company – touring Australasia and South Africa as The Pollards, and later as the Royal Australian Opera Company.

Key locally-written productions involving The Pollards were: Djin Djin (1895/97), The Forty Thieves (1898/99), Australis; Or , The City of Zero (1900), and Tapu (1903).



Pollards Juvenile Opera Co - 1909, Auckland CL [Downes] Pollard’s Juvenile Opera Co, 1909. Source: Auckland City Council.

(1907-1910) Two years after disbanding his adult opera company, Tom Pollard revived the juvenile concept with a production of Bluebell in Fairyland in New Zealand in mid-1907 (Theatre Royal, Christchurch). After touring the production through New Zealand he took the company to Australia, maintaining a constant touring schedule up until 1910. In addition to comic opera, musical comedies and pantomimes, the company’s repertoire also included vaudeville – comprising miscellaneous sketches, dances, songs and comedy routines assembled by Pollard. Among the performers engaged for this company were Clarice Buckman, Ivy Aldous, Ruby and Hazel Esdale, Minnie and May Topping, and Charles Albert.

See also: Pollards Lilliputian Opera Co – 1 and 2 [above] • Tom Pollard

Harry Quealy also made a brief return to the Pollard fold in New Zealand in January 1908.



(1921-ca.1931) Formed in Sydney by Haymarket Theatres Ltd in conjunction with dance teacher/ director Frances Scully, the Sunbeam Pantomime Children specialised in song and dance, character sketches and specialty acts (primarily acrobatics, tumbling and contortion). In addition to pantomimes the troupe often presented straight vaudeville or a series of specially invented revues prior to a programme of moving pictures. Known to have still been active in early 1931, two of the troupe’s most successful performers were Stella Lamond and Wee Georgie Wallace (aka George Wallace Jnr).



(aka Rahilly-Brown’s Sunshine Kiddies)

(1921 – ca.1941) Established in Brisbane by Agnes Rahilly-Brown, the Sunshine Kiddies performed regularly at social events, jazz nights and concerts, presenting a combination of variety acts, dramas, musical comedies and revues. From 1925 the Kiddies also appeared Rahilly-Brown’s original pantomimes. In Brisbane these were mostly staged at the Majestic Theatre as support to the Union Theatres film screenings. Brown also took the children on regular regional and interstate tours. Popular comedian Joe Lawman was a member of the Kiddies between 1923 and 1928.  Rahilly-Brown’s name has been linked to the troupe as late as 1941.

NB: This entry also includes a brief biography of Agnes Rahilly-Brown.



(aka Y.A.L. Boys / White Minstrel Revue Co)

(1932-40) The Young Australia League’s White Minstrels company was formed in the early 1930s (although the League is known to have been presenting juvenile concerts and tours from ca. 1908). Numbering around forty members aged between eight and fourteen, various combinations of boys toured throughout Australia up until at least 1940. After initially staging revues, the company turned retrospectively to a Christy Minstrel-show format, albeit without the blackface, in 1933. Backed in the early days by a five piece orchestra, the musical ensemble increased to twelve later in the decade.


The Young Australia League was founded in Western Australia in 1905 by J. J. Simons (1882-1948) and Lionel Boas (1875-1949) as the Young Australia Football League (Y.A.F.L.). Although conceived as a means of promoting Australian Rules football its success led to the W.A. Football Association taking over this aspect of the movement. This allowed Y.A.L. to pursue its mission to promote education through travel. Among the diverse activities it promoted were literature, debating, band music, sports, theatrical performances, and outdoor pursuits such as hiking and camping. These were publicised in the annual Australian Junior (1906-11) and in the monthly Boomerang (edited from 1914 by Simons). The Y.A.L. concerts typically ranged from classical and band music to variety-style extravaganzas (including athletic displays, comedy, dancing and specialty acts). Between 1921 and 1930 Y.A.L. also operated an annual carnival called Coo-ee City. The event was held at Perth’s White City.
Although its membership included girls, Y.A.L. was largely a boys’ movement. Its first interstate tour was undertaken in 1909, with branches established around Australia after WWI. International tours were also mounted (including 1911-12, 1914, 1925, 1929 and 1935). By the mid-1930s Y.A.L.’s membership was more than 23,000, and it has been estimated that by the time of Simons’ death more than 50,000 youths participated in its travel tours around Australasia and internationally. The League continues today but is now only operational in Western Australia and as a not-for-profit organisation.
Some well-known Australian theatrical identities were at one time associated with Y.A.L. These include comedian Terry Scanlon, actors Colin Croft and Bill Kerr, entertainers Tilton and West and Rolf Harris, and entrepreneur David N. Martin (Tivoli Theatres). Martin was a flugel-horn player on Y.A.L.’s first international tour. One notable Y.A.L. production was the 1935 revue Around the World (Apollo Theatre, Melbourne). Staged under the direction of producer Ernest C. Rolls, and comprising only boys, Around the World alluded to the League’s forthcoming international tour (to be undertaken immediately after the Melbourne season concluded). Cast members included Billy Kerr and Colin Croft.
• See also: White City (Perth) [aka Coo-ee City]
YAL Band - 1919 [YAL]Image: Y.A.L. Band, 1919. Source: Young Australia League.


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Published on July 28, 2012 at 7:17 am  Comments Off on Troupes : Juvenile Companies