Magic 1850s to 2017 – A strong connection between Australia and India

15 May 2017

Soft Tread Enterprises and author John Zubrzycki have collaborated to bring to light the untold story of the historical links between Australia and India in the world of popular entertainment.

One of the greatest things about magic is that it transcends age, class, linguistic and cultural barriers. 

This project was a combination of stage magic and literary history, featuring events and public performances in Mumbai and New Delhi in November 2016.  The literary events showcased doctoral candidate John Zubrzycki’s research at the University of New South Wales, which explores historical links between Indian and Western stage magicians.

‘What started off as a trickle of Indian magicians travelling to Australia in the 1850s and 1860s, usually as part of circus ensembles, turned into a steady stream by the late 1870s,’ explains Zubrzycki.  In the 1940s and 50s, big names of modern Indian magic appeared, such as Gogia Pasha and PC Sorcar.  Sorcar toured Australia with 20 tonnes of equipment and his three-hour show featured the famous sawing a lady in half trick!
Australian magicians, including Murray the Escapologist, started arriving in India in the early 20th century.  Australia’s greatest magician, Les Levante, toured India in 1932 and 1933.

While the heyday of stage magic was arguably the 1960s and 70s, its popularity has revived thanks to talent shows such as India’s Got Talent, and access to performances on the internet.  The relationship between Indian and Australian magicians is an ongoing one.

Many informal connections exist but a revival of formal exchange in magic is in the makings.  In October 2016, Indian street magician Rehman Shah performed in Melbourne as part of the Confluence: Festival of India in Australia.  Mada’s Marvels and Cardistry toured Mumbai and Delhi with Zubrzycki.  Along the way they interacted with local magicians and gave magical masterclasses to disadvantaged children in Mumbai.

This project was supported by the Australia-India Council (AIC).  The AIC advances Australia's interests by supporting activities that enhance awareness and understanding between the peoples and institutions of Australia and India.  

Clairvoyant and fortune teller Mystic Mora and her partner Doc Rowe were among the earliest Australian magicians to tour India (1918 to 1920) and travelled as far west as Peshawar. Credit: State Library of Victoria

Last Updated: 15 May 2017