The featured collage image is really a story about Brisbane’s Exhibition or Royal National Association (RNA) Show, a 10 day event beloved by all Brisbaneites. However to Brisbane people it really only has one name, the Ekka, or occasionally the Show.
The Ekka is still a cause for great excitement but in my childhood even more so, as there were fewer competing events and treats to capture our imaginations. The Ekka existed mainly for the display and competition of produce, crafts and livestock especially for people from the bush, who would arrive in town en masse. It would be something of a novelty to see the country people in town dressed to the nines, or occasionally wearing an Akubra.
The Ekka was held at the RNA showgrounds, not too far from my home, so we would see the progressive unveiling of the accoutrements of the fair. It covered a lot of ground so you needed to have your walking shoes on and even that didn’t guarantee that you wouldn’t end up exhausted.
There were basically four areas to visit and a wise visitor planned their trip well in advance.
The Show bag Pavilion
The building (now demolished) which housed sample bags was of course one of the most popular with children. We would plot and plan just what we’d buy to make our pocket money stretch the distance….few children would have unlimited funds. My own children did much the same when their turn came round, costing each item in the sample bag to maximise bang-for-the-buck. But of course in those pre-decimal currency days before 14 February 1966, our purchases were in pounds, shillings and pence.
Sample bags actually offered samples of goods and I remember that they’d include things like a weetbix in a packet, for example or lollies. We would then use the empty boxes afterwards to play shops. In my uni days I remember working on a stall with my friend. Our job was to encourage people to try the free freshly-ground coffee, no doubt because tea was still the usual drink of choice. The stand smelled absolutely delicious, and I barely drank coffee in those days.
Upstairs in the same building was the display of arts and crafts and baking. It was always intriguing to see what children your own age had produced and wonder over the skills of the cooks who’d produced the delicious looking cakes, biscuits and confectionery. Little did I know at the time that my great-grandfather had won prizes at the equivalent show in Ipswich (Qld). Near the steps going up to the arts displays was a man who would make your portrait by cutting out your profile with scissors from black paper. This is where my featured photo for today came from. Nearby was the kewpie-doll stand with those gorgeous (to small eyes) dolls on sticks with frilly netting skirts and lots of glitter.
Wool Pavilion, Tasmanian Potatoes, and Machinery (and sometimes exams)
Across the road in the other buildings were the rather boring things like machinery but the nearby Wool Pavilion was much more fascinating with its wonderful fashion parades featuring Australia’s superb woollen fabrics. The Wool Parade was a great hit with girls and mothers, but less so with husbands and fathers. In later years I sat several exams in the Wool Pavilion. In the November heat, without any form of fans or airconditioning it wasn’t the more conducive atmosphere for doing your best. Still and all I can’t blame my Chemistry I exam results on that! Another popular spot was the Tasmanian potato stand where you could buy delicious fresh, hot chips on buttered rolls..they were constantly in high demand.
The showground: animals, motorcyclists, and fireworks
The hub of the Ekka was the main showground where the livestock exhibitions were held. When your feet gave up you could go and chill out and watch the premium stock being paraded or the expert woodchopping. At other times there were also exhibitions by the Police motorcyclists who would perform skilled choreography on their bikes, leaving everyone with their hearts in their mouths at the near-misses. As darkness fell everyone made sure of getting their place in the various stands so they could watch the night’s fireworks display. Everyone would choose their favourite colour and barrack for which one would go highest with oohs and aahs of happiness or disappointment. Behind the stands were various food outlets and I remember my mother working on the Guide stand serving food. Even the city-slickers would go and have a look at the large bulls and cows, the cute calves and the horses. Of course the smell was a bit overwhelming but it was fun even if we didn’t have the knowledge to assess the animals’ worth.
Sideshow alley was one of the “must visit” areas of the Ekka. Just imagine all the thrill of the fair: spruikers selling their shows, the wrestlers, the Fat Lady, the Mirror Maze and Slim Dusty’s singing show. And then there were the opportunities to win a cuddly animal or some other (often tacky) item: the sharpshooters stand, the clowns with their smiles swishing back and forth (more suitable for littlies) and the big Mater wheel.
And the rides!! As a small child you would start with the gentle horses on the carousel and progress to the train before moving up to the centrifugal force of the Octopus or the stomach-churning fear of the Wild Mouse roller coaster. Each year the scary rides got scarier. The stately ferris wheel was an all-time favourite and good for all ages. Each day as I went past on the bus to school I could assess just how close the Ekka was by its steady growth.
If we’d finished for the day we could duck out the gate near the hospital and catch the bus home, but usually we had to go back to pick up the show bags that had been put in storage rather than carrying them around: a good excuse to stop near the underpass of the railway line and get some bright pink fairy floss and that Ekka staple, an ice cream with strawberries and cream. Yummo!
To top it all off we got a public holiday on the Wednesday but wise people didn’t go to the Ekka on that day!
And there you have it, a day at the Ekka. If you used to go, what do you remember most?