Taronga Park Zoo monkey bike

Tandem monkey bicycle with toy monkeys. The bike was made by the Edworthy Cycle and Motor Works of Sydney from metal tubing and re-spoked pram wheels. Powerhouse Museum collection 2008/197/2. Gift of Kenneth Edworthy, 2008.
Tandem monkey bicycle with toy monkeys. The bike was made by the Edworthy Cycle and Motor Works of Sydney from metal tubing and re-spoked pram wheels. Powerhouse Museum collection 2008/197/2. Gift of Kenneth Edworthy, 2008.

Do you remember the monkeys riding tiny bicycles at Sydney’s Taronga Park Zoo? This miniature tandem bicycle was made for the Zoo’s monkey circus and used between 1936 and 1940. It’s one of the most unusual bicycles produced by the Sydney firm, Edworthy Cycle & Motor Works.

The Zoo was established in 1884 at MoorePark and was operated by the Zoological Society of NSW. In 1916 it moved across the Harbour to a magnificent 52-acre site with a special entrance building, seal ponds, elephant temple, monkey pits, aviaries and walking paths. The giraffe house was added in 1923, an aquarium in 1927 and a floral clock in 1928.

The animal kindergarten opened in 1932 with monkeys, Freda and Freddie, who rode miniature bicycles. This attraction was so popular that a special concrete monkey circus arena, 7 metres in diameter and capable of accommodating 1000 spectators, was opened near the northern entrance in 1936. The circus featured trained dogs and ponies as well as monkeys racing on miniature bicycles.

One of the most popular drawcards was Mabel, the monkey referred to in the press at the time as the ‘Zoological Cycling Champion’. She rode up to 12 circuits of the arena depending on the reaction and enthusiastic applause from the audience. Two monkeys pedalling on a tandem bicycle were also very popular. As well as the Edworthy company, several other firms supplied bicycles for the monkey circus, including Malvern Star and Speedwell.

For over thirty years the monkey circus delighted and entertained visitors but after a critical review in 1967, the Zoo embarked on its current philosophy which emphasises scientific research, conservation and education. Attractions including the elephant rides, miniature trains, a merry-go-round and the monkey circus were subsequently removed.

Postcard of a monkey cyclist on the circus arena at Taronga Park Zoo c.1948. Powerhouse Museum collection Gift of Jocelyn Pitts, 2009.
Postcard of a monkey cyclist on the circus arena at Taronga Park Zoo c.1948. Powerhouse Museum collection 2009/8/1. Gift of Jocelyn Pitts, 2009.

The monkey bike represents not just an interesting innovation in bicycle manufacture but also an episode in the history of leisure in Sydney with an attitude towards primates which we would cringe at today.

Post by Margaret Simpson, Curator, Transport

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