The Dutch – Australian connection here is a bit convoluted, but as it is too interesting to not cover it, so please bear with me.
It starts with the van Texel family. Jan Cornelis van Texel was one of the first Dutchmen that arrived in America. He was one of the first settlers of ‘New Netherland’, a 17th-century colony on the east coast of North America, controlled by the Dutch West India Company, located primarily (but not exclusively) in the Hudson River Valley (modern U.S. states of New York and New Jersey).
Dutch presence began with Henry Hudson’s 1609 voyage of exploration. Dutch control ended on 27 August 1664, when Governor Peter Stuyvesant surrendered to invading English forces of the Duke of York (Articles of Capitulation), but the Dutch maintained significant autonomy in New Netherland until 24 October 1674, when the Treaty of Westminster stipulated all Anglo-Dutch hostilities were to end. However, the Dutch-dominated culture of New Netherland continued to characterize the region (the New York Capital District, Hudson Valley, New York City, western Long Island and northern New Jersey) until well into the 19th century.
In America the family changed the name to van Tassel.
We now jump to approx. 1853 when Park Albert van Tassel was born in Albuquerque. He became a pioneering aerial exhibitionist using balloons. He invented and introduced methods of parachute jumping from balloons.
In 1890, he travelled to Australia with his show and premiered the first balloon flights and parachute jumps by women in this country. One of Park’s 5 wives as well as some of his daughters were part of the troupe. Their visit created both a lot of excitement as well as uproar.
Dressed in gymnastic suites the girls would perform trapezes while hanging under the balloon and when they reached the right height they would ascend by parachute. These were awe inspiring sights and attracted thousands of people. In Brisbane they performed at the Exhibition Grounds and the parachute landed at the old Children’s Hospital.
At another event in Brisbane, at the Breakfast Creek Sports Grounds, one of the launching poles snapped of and killed a 12-year-old boy.
Their performance in Townsville led to heated debates in the Queensland Parliament. Evangelical firebrand Dr Bill Metcalf created the uproar accusing the performance in Townsville by those ‘scantily dressed girls’. There were an estimated 600 soldiers of the Queensland Defence Force among the crowd, estimated to contain half of the population of Townsville. Beaten up by Metcalf it was argued in Parliament that the soldiers ‘were mesmerised by the scantily clad skydivers’, and there were fears that the corps ‘would be beset with an outbreak of masturbation that would ruin their collective manhood’.
To read more about their performances in Brisbane click here.
They must have performed also elsewhere in Australia, including Melbourne and Adelaide, but I have not been able to find any further information on this.