Looking back at the Ekka
Since the first Exhibition of 1876 held at Bowen Park with an estimated attendance of 15,000-17,000 when Brisbane’s total non indigenous population was only 27,000, Brisbane’s RNA Exhibition has been an annual event. Initially a grand affair, with men attending in their suits and ladies in their finest garments, food was served on long tables and the first show bag was not full of chocolate or chips but was a free bag of coal.
At the 1911 Brisbane Coronation Exhibition the 36th annual show, which ran from the 7 – 12 August there were 42 display sections. Attendance for the principal day, Wednesday, was estimated at 54,000 although there was some skepticism as to the accuracy of the final numbers. On people’s day, footpaths were black with pedestrians, all good-naturedly elbowing their way along. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union had the catering rights for meals. The show was opened by the Queensland Governor Sir William MacGregor who declared it “one of the most important national institutions in the corporate life of our great and progressive country".
Visitors came from all over Australia and included the Governor of South Australia, Sir Day Bosanquet and his wife. On one day, 800 excursionists travelled from Tweed Heads to Brisbane on a special train and reportedly anyone who hadn’t planned ahead had trouble getting accommodation in the city. In celebration during the festival, the principal streets of Brisbane were decorated with flags and businesses decorated their shop windows. The Richmond Examiner said "one cannot help but be impressed with the magnificent exhibits and the diversity of climate. Taken all through, the show is a splendid advertisement for the state”.
As well as being a great exhibition of all things Queensland, competition is an integral part of the show. According to the book Showtime “the opportunity to vie for prizes and the precision of the regulations that govern competition have been constant feature”. P31. Now advertised as Queensland's premier competition judging event, the Royal Queensland Show, now receives around 24,000 entries across 20 major categories each year.
The RNA recruits nationally and internationally recognised experts for each competition area to ensure the highest standard of judging. Some exhibits have been around since the very first exhibition. The first sheepdog trials were held in 1889 and the wood chop dates from 1899. Some competitions have enviable prizes such as the Quilts across Queensland competition with a prize pool of $14,000. There is a constant revision of the exhibition schedules.
State Library of Queensland has some significant Exhibition Records including Royal National Agricultural and Industrial Association Records 1875-1948, Prize schedules for various years, ring programmes, art exhibition catalogues, OM74-23 National Agricultural and Industrial Association of Queensland Records 1909, various posters including 10 days in August : memories of the Ekka, How to win at the Ekka : Queensland College of Art, Department of Education Stand, The Frank Nicklin Pavilion and a range of illustrated newspaper front pages especially of Queenslander, hundreds of photographs including API-44 Brisbane Show Photograph Album 1912, ephemera items including advertisements and badges, also Arthur J Hingston Cartoons 1899-1910.
Browse Ekka materials in One Search, the library catalogue
A set of photographs of the Ekka from times past is also available on Flickr Commons
The Ekka website has been archived by the State Library for a number of years. You can view the site over time on PANDORA, the web archive.
SLQ’s new digital volunteer program Pitch In! is looking for volunteers to contribute their own memories of the Ekka to Historypin. You don’t have to have been at the Ekka in 1940s to get involved, we’re looking for stories young and old. Any stories relating to the iconic images are welcomed. Explore the Ekka images on Historypin via the map. Click on the image and contribute your own story in the comments section.
Karen Hind - Librarian, State Library of Queensland