‘I loved dressing up in my Sunday best to go to the royal agricultural show’

Aug 14, 2019
Sideshow Alley at the Royal Agricultural Show, Brisbane circa 1982. Source: Queensland State Archives/Flickr

Every year since the late 19th century in Australia, most capital cities have welcomed our country folk into the ‘big smoke’ to exhibit their wares, accomplishments and livestock. These agricultural shows have many different names but in Brisbane, Queensland, it’s called the Royal Exhibition Show, locally nick-named Ekka, and it’s an August institution.

Remember when we used to ‘dress up’ to go to the agricultural show?

This is my mum (back left), my aunty, my sister (11) and me (aged 10, front left) excitedly ready to start our day at the Ekka, 1962. Source: Robyn McCoy

Check out the clothes in that photo above; no matter that we were quite covered in dust before long. Mum and Aunty sporting the latest in hats, my sister and I complete with pleated skirts, angora tops, shoes and (white) socks; even clutch purses. And the hair, complete with headbands. I remember mum painstakingly curling our hair the night before with those damn bobby pins; gosh how her poor fingers must have ached.

First stop was always the cloak room. As we usually arrived mid-afternoon, but always stayed for the late afternoon and early evening ‘ring events’ and fireworks, we needed to deposit our jumpers, blankets and Aunty’s thermos; her tea always smelled funny. Then we were off to side show alley.

The merry-go-round was usually the first ride, followed by the ferris wheel. If our stomachs were okay, we would be allowed fairy floss and/or a toffee apple, while sitting at a picnic table. My favourite was next; the clown heads. As they moved side-to-side I delighted in trying to roll the ball down its neck to achieve the score that would win a prize. A dare-devil child I was not!

Robyn loved playing the clowns at the Brisbane Ekka. Source: Commons/Wikimedia

We would then go to the animal pavilion to see the newborns before heading over to the produce, cakes and sewing displays that Mum and Aunty enjoyed so much.

Many companies produced ‘show bags’ with lots and lots of sample goodies inside. Favourites in our family were Freddo, Cherry Ripe, Life Savers, Golden Honeycomb and Bertie Beetle; we were allowed three bags each. Mum loved The Rosella bag (soups, jams, pickles) and, for Aunty, a liquorice or peanut bag.

Then it was back to the cloak room to collect our belongings because the evening festivities were about to begin. Climbing those steep stairs in the Grand Pavilion always gave me butterfly-stomach, I was so excited. Jumpers on, blanket spread, it was time to pretend we were watching the wood chopping, the cows and bulls. Actually we were exploring our show bags in great detail as the ‘swapsies bargaining’ began. Just one more precious item was to be had from the man walking up and down, laden with our last sparkled prized treasure — our yearly purchase of a kewpie doll on a stick. My sister and I thought they were just beautiful.

Biting into a dagwood dog (sav deep fried in batter on a stick) with tomato sauce dripping everywhere while watching the fireworks, remains a precious memory. Yelling out a favourite colour ensured your particular firework display went the highest — this I truly believed.

The ferris wheel at the Brisbane Ekka still turned while the fireworks at the Grandstand Arena were going off. Source: Simon Forsyth/Flickr

So it’s August again in Brisbane. Our strong westerly winds will come and so will our Ekka but, now that I’m 67 years old, I’m content to watch it all on television, albeit with my blanket wrapped around my knees and my memories to keep me warm. Plus, the officials frown upon whiskey in your tea thermos these days; naughty Aunty.

Do you have memories like this from your local show or fair? What are the things you loved most?

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