Con Colleano 1899-1973
In 1950 Con Colleano became an American citizen.
Con and Winnie (they had married in 1925) retired to Miami, Florida. There Cornelius Sullivan – ‘Con Colleano’ – died on 14 November 1973.
In 1950 Con Colleano became an American citizen. He made a few appearances in Australia the following year, including a stint with the Hopalong Cassidy touring show, but his circus career was waning. He returned to Australia in 1955 and ran the Albion Hotel in Forbes, New South Wales. This ended in financial disaster, and, again, hoped-for circus or variety bookings never came.
Con Colleano gave his final performance in Honolulu in 1960; by then he was no longer the headline centre ring attraction, and the presence on the bill of the once celebrated Wizard of the Wire went virtually unnoticed.
Con and Winnie (they had married in 1925) retired to Miami, Florida. There Cornelius Sullivan – ‘Con Colleano’ – died on 14 November 1973. His wife survived him, as did his elder sister, also named Winifred; she had achieved international renown as a trapeze artist. She, Con and May Wirth are the only Australians represented in the Circus Hall of Fame. Con’s younger brother, Maurice, worked as an acrobatic comedian mainly in British variety, though he toured Australia for the Tivoli in 1949-51 and 1958. A nephew, Bonar, had a notable career as a film actor, paving the way for his son, Mark, who works mostly in television.
In 2004 the Albury-based Flying Fruit Fly Circus marked its 25th anniversary with Skipping on Stars, a celebration of Con Colleano’s life and art devised by artistic director Kim Walker. The young performers were joined by veteran Aboriginal actor Noel Tovey, who portrayed an older Colleano, looking back on his ground-breaking life.
Tovey had seen Colleano perform many years before, and recalled him as a powerful presence in his bullfighter’s cape and leggings. ‘The thing I remember most about him was when he walked on stage, it was like charisma overflowing,’ Tovey told an interviewer. ‘He had a bearing, a presence. That is something I’ve tried to copy for the rest of my life, that same ability to command the space that you’re in – he could do that.’
Frank Van Straten, 2007
Mark St Leon: The Wizard of the Wire, Aboriginal Studies Press, 1993
Mark St Leon: ‘Con Colleano’, in Australian Dictionary of Biography, volume 13. Melbourne University Press
Mark St Leon: ‘Con Colleano’, in Companion to Theatre in Australia,Currency Press, 1995