HOMEWARD BOUND: Retired Ashton Circus performer Jonaas Zilinskas, who will return home to Lithuania shortly, in front of his sc
HOMEWARD BOUND: Retired Ashton Circus performer Jonaas Zilinskas, who will return home to Lithuania shortly, in front of his sc

The Great Jonaas

By JULIA ILES julia.iles@dailyexaminer.com.au

CHEATING death was old circus man Jonaas Zilinskas' bread and butter.

For 45 years the Corindi resident performed trapeze stunts, swallowed knives and performed feats of strength with the Ashton Circus.

Within months he will return to his homeland, Lithuania. The days of him cheating death are but a distant memory.

"I've spent more time upside down than I have upright, for many years I was upside down, it was practise, practise and work all the time," Jonaas said.

His long beard is white and wild, his Lithuanian accent thick and animated.

A sign with the words 'The Great Jonaas' sits on the rear of his home ? his original circus caravan.

The caravan is parked in the corner of a paddock, fenced off by barbed wire, and is still attached to a red truck, as if he arrived overnight.

But Jonaas moved to the area after the Ashton Circus shut down in the late 1990s.

I spied him drinking coffee in the doorway of the caravan.

"Jonaas," I yelled repeatedly as he sipped, peacefully unaware of my presence.

I wondered if I was being ignored, or perhaps it was a circus gag?

Then he saw me and ran to pull up the barbed wire fencing so I could climb underneath.

Jonaas kissed my hand and called me blondie.

"Very sad about circus, circus collapsed you see," he said.

Five sculptures surround the caravan, all made of cement with layers of decorative rocks around them.

They are adorned with bronze door keys and faceless gold watch bands.

"One time I had 14 tonnes of keys, I could have built a house of keys," he said.

"I always collect things to build something."

One sculpture has the shape of a female on top.

"It's a lady and is called the German word for paradise," he said.

Another has about 300 keys hanging on nails with Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse toys resting on a ledge, with a white cement cross on the top.

"That one is also the German word for paradise, it is about religion," he said.

Ropes drape from a gum tree forming a makeshift trapeze.

A pole sits three metres up supporting a crate of toys that hangs from it.

"That is from my days in the circus, that's what I used," he said.

He is a tad deaf and I have to yell for him to hear my questions.

Jonaas' eyes twinkle when I ask him how old he is.

"Very old, a good age I say," Jonaas said.

"I was strong, nobody was stronger than me, I am still strong."

To prove it, he attached an acrobatic noose around his neck, clipped it to a rope and pulled himself up by his neck.

"I toured Australia 27 times and New Zealand seven times," he said.

Jonaas said his situation was sad and complicated. He had once had a family life, but lost it.

He is returning to Lithuania as he has no relatives in Australia.

His childhood was spent on a farm and he didn't receive much of an education.

"I had a big family, brothers, sisters and relations, and I was known in my country for being in the biggest family," he said.

"There were 24 born 21 who lived, but they are no more young and are old and die.

"It was a nice country, Australia, but my hands are really bad so I can't hold any tools in my hand."

He said he doesn't want to go to a retirement home.

"I think I'll go back (to Lithuania) forever, no old folks home for me, I would feel like I am in jail," Jonaas said.

When he returns home, Corindi will have lost a little colour, however, his sculptures will remain as a legacy of the Great Jonaas.

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