21 November 2023

Riverina Rewind: The Wagga giant who stalked an Austrian giantess across Europe

| Chris Roe
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Wagga Giant Clive Darril

Wagga Giant Clive Darril who pursued his “Giantess” across Europe. Photo: The Bystander, 1907.

This is the extraordinary (and perhaps apocryphal) story of Wagga Wagga giant Clive Darril and his attempts to woo the world’s tallest woman ‘Mariedl the Tyrolean Giantess’ in the hope of siring giant children.

His pursuit of the hapless Maria Fassnauer in 1907 caused an international sensation and was breathlessly reported in the Australian media as bearing “all the elements of real romance”.

While journalists of the day attempted to cast the pair as a kind of Romeo and Juliet in a fairytale of unrequited love, the scenario approaches something closer to stalking and involves more than a touch of tragedy.

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Clive Darril was reported to be a wealthy farmer from Wagga Wagga who inherited a “comfortable competence” from his father and at 24 decided to “do Europe”.

His father was said to be “the tallest man in Australia” and it was claimed that his two sisters were more than 2 m tall.

Standing at least 2.33 m tall (some accounts say more), and being “broad in proportion” the young man from the “Wilds of Wagga Wagga” had little luck with the ladies who, according to Broken Hill’s The Barrier Miner, “rather shrunk from him and stood in some dread of his massive form”.

He had resolved to find himself a lady of similar size and build and to propose marriage with the surprising goal “to rear a race of giants for posterity to wonder at and admire”, something the scientists of the day deemed highly unlikely.

Upon arriving in Vienna in January of 1907, Clive went to see the famed Miss Mariedl, who was appearing at a local theatre and was instantly infatuated.

Miss Mariedl, the Tyrolean Giantess was the stage name of Maria Fassnauer, a young woman born to a farming family in the Austrian mountains.

Standing 2.17 m tall by the time she was 15, sideshow operators hounded the family until tough economic times led them to agree to their requests to “exhibit her” as an attraction at fairs and theatres.

Wagga Giant

Postcards of Clive and Maria. Photo: Various.

Maria was a year into her show business career when Clive arrived on the scene and he proceeded to follow her across Europe attending her shows on an almost daily basis.

As The Barrier Miner reported, “Between him and the object of his affections stood the lady’s manager, who was adamant to all appeals for an introduction. Darril bombarded her with bouquets and bonbons, and sat in the stalls every night at the theatre, but he got no nearer to the accomplishment of his heart’s desire.”

Intent on keeping his cash cow away from unpaying eyes and unwanted suiters, Maria’s manager smuggled her out of town, but Clive soon tracked her to Berlin and then to London where he attended nearly every performance at the Hippodrome.

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Night after night he sat enthralled and continued to shower her with gifts and letters until he had had enough and decided to bypass the interfering manager.

On a Thursday night, the towering Australian stood up in the middle of the show and spoke directly to Maria, declaring his undying love and affection in front of an enraptured crowd.

Given that Maria spoke no English, it is unlikely that she understood the commotion that saw Clive removed from the theatre. But he was back again the next night proclaiming his proposal, and again the following afternoon until the owners banned him from the theatre.

There was a scuffle when he again attempted to return and Wagga’s biggest export was manhandled away from the entrance. When a friend brought the theatre manager up on a charge of assault, he told the magistrate that it was a “love affair’ between a giant and a giantess” and accused the Hippodrome staff of conspiring with Maria’s manager to interfere. While it was stated that Clive “could have knocked him 10 yards away”, he had acted with restraint and suffered a broken cane and battered hat.

The Australian was nothing if not determined and tried a new strategy upon learning that Maria took a drive in a motorcar every Sunday. Hiring his own vehicle and enlisting a German-speaking interpreter, Clive chased the motorcade towards Portsmouth.

After several flat tyres, he finally overtook them and argued his way past the manager to finally stand face-to-face with his giantess.

When the manager resignedly made the introduction, Maria “graciously shook hands and smiled on him encouragingly. The couple, surrounded by their friends, had lunch together and, Mr Darril took advantage of the opportunity to advance his suit.”

It was agreed that the manager would write to Maria’s parents to request the match, but Clive was told that it was her intention to become a nun at the conclusion of her tour.

Her parents declined the match as the Aussie was not a Roman Catholic and it seems his unrequited ardour fizzled out.

Maria continued to tour Europe for the next six years before returning to the family farm in poor health and passing away in 1917.

While she did not become a nun, she was described as a shy, quiet woman who was deeply religious and spent much time praying in church.

While she gained great fame and sent all her money back to her family, Maria also endured great loneliness and physical suffering as she would stand on exhibition for hours at a time and was not allowed to be seen in public.

While little else is reported of Clive, a postcard was circulated showing him standing in formal attire and a top hat and listing his age as 35. If accurate, it would date to more than a decade after his European adventures.

*Alternatively, the lack of ongoing records or local knowledge of the name Clive Darril, could suggest that it was a pseudonym used by another large statured performer who thought ‘Wagga Wagga’ had an exotic ring to it and created a character.

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