LONGTIME locals may remember a very strange event which occurred on August 17, 1975. A lion escaped from a circus during a performance at the Alexandra Football Ground.
Ray Mathieson was the acting police sergeant at the time, as the regular sergeant was on holidays. Ray recently explained the events which took place.
The circus used to visit every year in that era, and possibly through wanting cheap security, they provided free tickets to local police officers. According to the Alexandra Standard article published following the event, the circus was the Swiss Circus Royale, and the escapee lion’s name was Jacko.
Ray explained, “My son was very young at the time, and I thought this would be good for him. I’ll make use of these tickets, so we went along, my wife and I, and David, my son.
“It all went very well. We were enjoying ourselves. It was terrific. Until the time…
“One of the lions got aggravated during that part of the show. A bit upset. They actually had the heavy duty lion trailer that they carted them around in, with the bars down the side, old fashioned, like a jail. They had that backed up to the gate, but above the top of the trailer, there was a gap. They hadn’t closed that off.
“The lion tamer realised that the lion was upset, so he ushered all the lions back into the cage. The lion went up the ramp but instead of jumping into the trailer, he jumped over it. This was well into the show, and everybody was inside, enjoying the show, which was great.
“So off went the lion. The lion tamer was looking rather nonplussed and what have you. He made bit of a call over the radio, ‘Is there a policeman in the house.’ I wasn’t too impressed with that. Everyone turned and looked at me of course. So alright, I thought, I’d better do something. I’m in charge.
“I went down and I said, ‘Well, what’s the go here. Do you trust this thing or what?’ and he said, ‘Well, no.’ So I though, well, keep everybody inside here, and I’ll go outside and have a look,” Ray said. As Ray wasn’t officially on duty, he wasn’t carrying a gun.
When he went outside, there was virtually nobody there, “and neither was the lion. So we had a lion loose in the town. As was the case in those days, in the mid 1970s, a lot of the local kids had CB radios. There were a couple of lads pulled up and I told them what was going on. Anyway, I said, ‘Look, will you go out and search around the streets around here and there. Carve the town up and try and locate this lion.’
“So what I did was, because I used to hunt deer, I had a heavy duty rifle. I lived up on Bailey Street and got my .30-06. I thought, oh this is a bit good. I’ll have a lion skin to put on the loungeroom floor, because I was looking for trophies as a young man.
“We had a CB in the police car as well, and I was keeping in touch with the guys, and somebody said, ‘It’s run around over the hill at the back of the footy ground.’ They said that it was on Endicott Road, the continuation of Swann Road, in a paddock.”
Ray went straight there in the police car and he found the car pulled up. He said, “I pulled up and I had my gun. I said, ‘Where is it, where is it.’ ‘Out there in the paddock.’ So I go out there and got ready to have to shoot it. And it was a jersey calf. Wasn’t the lion at all. What am I going to do now?
“So I jumped back in the car and I went back into the main gate of the showgrounds, and there’s kids there and I say, ‘What’s going on? Anybody know where it is? Any sightings?’ and they said, ‘Yes, it’s here. It’s in the ladies toilet.’
“I said, ‘We’ll pull the gate closed so it can’t get out. We’ll get a couple of other gates and we’ll put them over the toilets so it can’t jump over the wall.’
“So they said, ‘Well, it’s in there, it’s safe now. We’ll wait until the morning when it settles down and we’ll back the trailer up and get it out.’ Which they did.
“That shattered my illusions that the lion might end up on the lounge floor,” Ray said.
Ray had the phones from the police station going to his house after hours. Very soon the phones started ringing, with newspapers and radio stations wanting to know what had happened.
In the newspaper article published at the time, it stated, “Tuesday night had been a particularly cold one, with white frost on the ground, so Jacko could be excused for being out of sorts after sleeping on the cold concrete floor of the ladies toilet all night.”
Christeen Purcell was only a little girl on the night of the lion’s escape. She said, “We were home. We lived in Grant Street, right up near the showgrounds. All we got were knocks on the door saying that we had to stay indoors because there was a lion that had got loose. You could hear it roaring and carrying on around the town, round the streets, you could just hear it because it was late. I just remember hearing it and being scared and thinking ‘oh my goodness, it’s going to be in the back yard.’ I remember that the cornered it in the toilet block.”
Do you remember the event? You can email your experiences of the evening to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll include them in the paper.