For city slickers like me, the Ekka – or, more formally, the Royal Queensland Show – is the event that rolls in every August bringing with it whistling winds, rampant influenza, and a free day off.
If you’re from anywhere near Brisbane, one of your fondest memories of childhood is likely of the Ekka. From pouring over the show bag guide, to eating your weight in dagwood dogs (and holding down said dogs on your 5th straight sideshow alley ride), to being burnt, dehydrated, and annoyed to death by those damn monkey whistles, these memories are incredibly happy ones.
But is there more to the Ekka than strawberry cones, fruit displays, and fireworks?
Heading into its 142nd year, the Ekka is a ten-day festival of Queensland culture, including exhibitions of fruit and vegetables, meat production, animal breeding and competing. The annual event now boasts – on average – 400,000 visitors each year, and showcases the best of what Queensland has to offer. With 10,000 animals presented each year, and over 21,000 competition entries across 13,000 classes in 48 sections – from woodchopping, to cake decorating, hand-writing, to dressage – the Ekka really covers all bases.
There is a reason the event is called the Royal Queensland Show, not the Royal Brisbane Show. Contrary to popular belief, the Ekka is more than just a fun event; it is a celebration of Queensland as a whole. More importantly, it is a time for recognising farming communities and the bush spirit. The Ekka is an authentic Queensland experience that brings country and city together like no other. Indeed, the annual ‘City Meets Country’ dinner kicks off proceedings, and sets the tone for what’s to come.
Almost as important as what the Ekka represents, is where the Ekka is held. Every Brisbanite knows the RNA showgrounds, but few would know what the RNA actually stands for (The Royal National Agricultural and Industrial Association of Queensland FYI) or that, outside of a venue, there is any connection to the Ekka at all.
Bringing the Country to the City
Merriam-Webster defines agriculture as “the science, art, or practice of cultivating the soil, producing crops, and raising livestock and in varying degrees the preparation and marketing of the resulting products”. Simply put, it is a big part of the material fabric of life encompassing food, clothing, housing, and land development. You might be as city as they come, but everyone has roots in country.
An Ag-ucational Experience
This is the ‘point’ of the Ekka. The reason the Royal QLD Show was started in the first place was to bring the country to the city, but more than that, to bring the agriculture to the people. Hence, the Ekka is committed to delivering grassroots agricultural experiences. RNA Chief Executive Brendan Christou says it is “vital that people understand where their food and clothing actually comes from”.
In it’s 141st year (2018), the Ekka introduced a new campaign called ‘Meet a Farmer’, specifically designed to increase city-slickers’ understanding and appreciation of where their food and clothes come from. This campaign offers visitors a chance to engage with four QLD farmers each from different sectors; crops, beef, dairy, and flowers.
They’ve got something for the kids too. By offering special school excursion rates, a dedicated day for students, and arranging ag-ucational experiences and learning trails; the RNA works to impart knowledge of, and connect the next generation to the country.
But why is the Queensland show important for agriculture?
The Farmer Needs a Parma
Not just a fun day out, shows like the Ekka foster social opportunities for isolated agricultural workers and farmers:
“Most people do not see each other as they are working on their properties. The show is the one time of year everyone enters in the competitions and makes an effort to come to town to help and visit the show”.
The Ekka “is part of the annual rhythm of the community” for both adults, and children alike. 75% of bush kids report the social interaction and community spirit found at the show boosts their confidence year round.
You might not be aware, but the Royal Queensland Show is one of about 130 agricultural shows that take place around the state, and just one of almost 600 held annually Australia wide. An Economic & Social Impact Study of Australian Agricultural Shows highlighted some incredible facts about agriculture, and the economy:
- The hundreds of volunteers you pass at the Ekka and all other QLD shows represent a combined worth of $84 million.
- Agricultural shows inject almost a billion dollars ($965 million) in revenue per year into the Australian economy
- The Ekka alone adds $220million to the Brisbane economy each year, and creates around 3,500 jobs for locals.
Wide Brown Land
Over half of Australia’s land mass is dedicated to agriculture, with over 420 million hectares of farm and crop lands across the country. This year especially, following the nationwide declaration of drought for rural communities, it is more important than ever to appreciate the primary producers that keep the city and the city folk stocked up.
Following significant increases recently, the agricultural industry in Australia is worth almost $60.8 billion. That’s 3% of the Australian GDP being generated by less than 2% of the population. Just let those figures sink in for a second. That. Is. Incredible!
Aussie farmers are epically hard workers, and deserve their time in the sun [read: show], and honestly; the Ekka is the perfect opportunity for Brisbane to show support and say thank you to the Queensland farmers that hold our state together.
Given the desperately sad drought situation, you can’t help but feel for the agricultural heart of Queensland. The RNA has attributed this empathy to the 20% increase of ticket sales this year from last year, and the highest number of people (415,000) through the gates since 2011.
Attractions v Detractions
Sadly, some seem to have lost the true meaning of the show. Negative press come Ekka time is generally cost and flu focussed, with the media issuing warnings for both your hip pocket and your health.
So is the magic still affordable for the average Aussie?
Show Me the Money
Good news! 2018 saw ticket prices reduced for the first time, and more package deals added for increased value. The average cost to attend the Ekka is $88 per adult, or roughly $300 per family; that’s entry, food, drinks, rides, and showbags all included. In round figures from 2018 data; that’s over $35 million dollars from one 10-day event.
However, rest assured this money is going to a good cause! More than just a healthy injection into local tourism economy, the Ekka has been supporting charitable causes forever.
Those delicious strawberry sundaes everyone raves about? They’ve been fundraising for The Prince Charles Hospital Foundation for more than 30 years. With over 180,000 ice creams sold this year at $6 a pop, that’s around $1 million in much needed funding to tackle chronic illnesses. Similarly, the annual RNA Charity Fundraiser donates tens of thousands of dollars to the education of rural children each year.
Now that’s the sort of ice-cream & fun day out I can get behind!
Flu, Terrible Flu
To be fair, the health warnings are not out of place. Falling smack-bang in the middle of flu season [July – September], and hosting around 60,000 visitors per day, it isn’t difficult to see that 1 [the season] + 1 [confined space] = 2 [possible mass outbreak of the flu]. However, the House Call Doctors came up with a nifty plan: “we’re urging people who don’t feel 100 per cent to stay at home, to stop the spread of flu,”. That’s it. That’s all it takes to ensure a day out at the Ekka doesn’t come with unwanted side-effects.
Who are we kidding?! The Ekka is a super fun, great value, agriculturally, socially, and historically significant event!
Of course I’ll see you there in 2019!
Noting the incredible amount of community spirit that is fostered at the Ekka – not to mention to fundraising, education, and networking – this is a show that still has a place in today’s society, and that will (and should) continue for many years to come.
So as the gates close for another year, and the show rolls out of town, spare a thought for the true meaning of Ekka: to appreciate, understand, and support all things Queensland.
Because that is what the show is all about.
PSA: The Ekka is gone, but the drought continues on. Farmers still need all the help they can get. If you can, please donate to any of the aid organisations set up around Australia – like Buy a Bale – or read more about how to help here. Thank you.