Ekka Time in Australia

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The sun sets over Sideshow Alley at the Royal Queensland Show, an event also known as the Ekka, in Brisbane, Australia. Credit: Cozzie 1996 (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

This week in Brisbane, a city in Australia’s northeastern state of Queensland, many thousands of people are crowding into the Queensland Ekka, an event officially known as the Royal Queensland Show. The Ekka (Queensland slang for exhibition) is a carnival-like atmosphere of food, drink, concerts, games, pageants, rides, shopping, and animal and other competitions. The Royal Queensland Show began mainly as an agricultural exhibition in 1876, and it has evolved and grown ever since. Queensland’s largest annual event, the one-of-a-kind Ekka runs this year from August 10 to August 20.

The first Ekka, known then as the Intercolonial Exhibition, was held in August 1876. The exhibition promoted the development of Queensland, a colony then just 17 years old. The event brought together the fast-growing and often-disparate urban and rural populations of Queensland, helping to create a sense of community. Held at Bowen Park (adjacent to the Ekka’s current home at Brisbane Showgrounds), the first exhibition’s attendance nearly equaled the entire population of Brisbane (about 22,000 at the time). The Ekka then grew in size and popularity to the extent that, in 1921, King George V of the United Kingdom allowed the addition of Royal to the exhibition’s name. The Ekka has been held every year since 1876 except in 1919, when it was canceled because of the Spanish flu epidemic, and in 1942, when the showgrounds were packed with troops during World War II.

Queenslanders parade their livestock during the Grand Parade in the main arena of Brisbane’s Ekka in 1948. Credit: State Library of Queensland

Today, the Ekka attracts about 500,000 visitors every August. Ekka is famous for its unusual mix of attractions, including a champion rooster show, a whip-cracking competition, and self-proclaimed “glamorous fashion parades.” Queenslanders have been entering the Ekka gates for generations now, and kids today still get their dagwood dogs (corn dogs) and showbags (themed gift bags), just as their grandparents did. Entertainment has modernized, of course, since the 1876 manurecompetition, as have the contents (and prices and varieties) of showbags. That first year, the lone showbag was a free sack of coal—reason enough for Queenslanders to attend.

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