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David Terence (Dave) Meekin (1888–1966)

by Richard Broome

This article was published:

David Terence (Dave) Meekin (1888-1966), boxer and showman, was born on 31 December 1888 at Attunga Springs, Tamworth, New South Wales, and registered as David Thomas, fifth son and seventh child of William Meekin, an English-born labourer, and his wife Mary, née Wright, from Ireland. Dave boxed at school, then professionally while working as a rural labourer. Giving his occupation as traveller, he married Florence Mary Brown on 7 November 1914 at St Peter's Catholic Church, Surry Hills, Sydney. He hardened into a welterweight and middleweight fighter in Brisbane main events, and claimed to have won titles in California, South Africa and—as 'Champion of the Orient'—in Manila, before retiring in 1923.

As a boy, Meekin had wanted to be a 'showie' after attending country shows, and his boxing career drew him further into the world of performance. His trip to Africa, a continent he later described as 'wonderful and mysterious', heightened his interest in the exotic. He entered sideshow alley in the 1920s with a boxing tent, but failed to survive as Jimmy Sharman and others monopolized the lucrative big shows. Meekin and Bronte ('Snowy') Hodge struck success at the Royal Easter Show, Sydney, exhibiting Goliath, a monstrous bull. Their advance publicity was so effective that they set a showman's record by covering their costs on the first day. Meekin then successfully showed 'Abdullah the Indian Magician' and ran successful equine 'in-out' shows, exhibiting 'Pom Pom the World's Smallest Horse', 'Wee Jimmy, the World's Smallest Racehorse', shod with gold-plated shoes, and 'Ajax, The Biggest Horse in the World', allegedly owned by the Sultan of Arabia. While the first two were genuinely small, the last was a 'con', the horse being an ex-baker's hack. Meekin also worked as a lion tamer, once being mauled on the arm. Thinking that too dangerous, he exhibited Chinese giants, Filipino firewalkers and 'Jang', a Borneo boy with a tail. Meekin helped to found the Showmen's Guild of Australasia in 1938.

Travelling extensively in Africa, he made contact with Pygmies and learned their language. In the late 1920s he assumed the rights to exhibit Ubangi Chilliwingi, also known as 'Maria Peters', a Pygmy woman from Cape Province touring the Australian show circuit. Their professional association over a generation established a Pygmy troupe that became famous and made the pair, especially Meekin, very wealthy. Meekin accompanied Ubangi and the troupe back to Africa each year, after their visas expired, and then re-signed those available. In a reciprocal paternalism, he called Ubangi 'Bubby' and she referred to him as 'Baba' or 'Daddy'. Meekin, despite his homburg and tailored suits, assumed the title 'Africaneer' on his letterhead, promising to search 'the Universe for Strange People, Freaks and Novelties for the Entertainment of Show Patrons'. Other showmen revered his exploits and thought him honourable, and there is little evidence to the contrary. Television and modern attitudes, however, made his Pygmy show outmoded by the 1960s. In retirement he lived at Kings Cross, Sydney.

Predeceased by his wife, Meekin died on 19 March 1966 in hospital at North Sydney and was buried with Anglican rites in Woronora cemetery. His daughter Beryl, a Tivoli performer, survived him; she persuaded the Department of Immigration to allow Ubangi to live with her on the Gold Coast, Queensland.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Badger, The Boy from Buninyong (Melb, 1993)
  • R. Broome with A. Jackomos, Sideshow Alley (Syd, 1998)
  • Australian Women’s Weekly, 29 Mar 1947, p 19
  • Outdoor Showman, Nov-Dec 1949, p 29, June 1951, p 5, Sept 1951, p 4, May 1966, p 16, Nov 1966, p 21
  • Argus (Melbourne), 21 May 1917, p 4
  • People (Sydney), 17 Apr 1957, p 27
  • Maria Peters file, J25, item 1975/11361 (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

Richard Broome, 'Meekin, David Terence (Dave) (1888–1966)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 24 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Meekin, David Thomas

31 December, 1888
Tamworth, New South Wales, Australia


19 March, 1966 (aged 77)
North Sydney, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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