Fab Feb Photo Collage Festival: Day 11: the Ekka

4 x 7UP collage

Front cover of The Queenslander newspaper 11 August 1927. Copyright expired.  SLQ bishop.slq.qld.gov.au:503000
Front cover of The Queenslander newspaper 11 August 1927. Copyright expired. SLQ bishop.slq.qld.gov.au:503000. It captures the kewpie dolls, icecreams, balloons and sample bags…and the happiness.

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

Two young girls enjoying their show bags. Copyright expired, SLQ bishop.slq.qld.gov.au:139717
Two young girls enjoying their show bags. Copyright expired, SLQ bishop.slq.qld.gov.au:139717

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.

How old was I when this was done? Maybe about 11?
How old was I when this was done? Maybe about 11?

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

Hereford bull SLQ 1948
Hereford bull judging at the Ekka 1948. Copyright expired SLQ bishop.slq.qld.gov.au:101780

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.

Livestock parade main arena Ekka c1981

Sideshow Alley

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.

Side Show Alley from the ferris wheel late 1980s
Side Show Alley from the ferris wheel late 1980s. P Cass.

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.

Sideshow alley lights
Sideshow alley lights and the Octopus (?). P Cass
My Littlest one (some time ago) enjoying her strawberry and cream ice cream
Our Littlest Bear (some time ago) enjoying her strawberries and cream ice cream

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?

Fab Feb image

Family Hx writing challengeThis post is part of the February PhotoCollage Festival and the Family History Writing Challenge.

7 thoughts on “Fab Feb Photo Collage Festival: Day 11: the Ekka

  1. Wow! What a collage … baby kangaroos, babies and everything in between. Your Ekka sounds a lot like our Lane County Fair, which was located right across the street from us as I was growing up. Thanks for the history and sharing your memories with us.

    Kathy M.


  2. Ah the Ekka…I love it…though I haven’t been for yonks. My favourite part was the Animal Nursery. I grew up with the Royal Easter Show in Sydney which is of course now the Fox Studio site or whatever it is….I saw David Bowie perform there too so that particular block of land has lots of fond memories for me too. But back to the Ekka….my daughter was born during the Ekka so I will never forget the obstetrician coming in to check on us the day after she was born and then telling me that he was off to see his cows at the Ekka – at the time I felt that there probably wasn’t much difference between me and the cows in his mind 😉 I love watching the Ekka under construction though I miss seeing that now I don’t work in the Valley anymore. Thanks for the memories Pauleen – they are fantastic. I particularly like the silhouette.


    1. Great memories Alex. I’m not sure which was my favourite part -I’d forgotten the animal nursery. I laughed at the Ekka+cows+childbirth connection. You’d have been able to see the top of the Ferris wheel from RWH.


  3. Made me smile Pauleen with many memories flowing back of our Royal Adelaide Show… my childhood experiences, visiting with my children and… especially that it brought back the memory of mum telling me that when they first started with the “show bags” they were called “sample bags” and were handed out FREE as a form of Advertising. Was probably at the end of “the Great Depression”, which may explain it. Thanks for the reminding 🙂 …


    1. Glad you enjoyed the story Catherine – yes I think there’s a similarity no matter where in Oz your show was held. I used to call them sample bags too but I don’t think they were free when I was getting them. Perhaps after the Depression, yes. All up, probably cheaper advertising but only once a year.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.