Cows, Coal and Strawberry Sundaes

The Royal Queensland Show, or EKKA as it’s colloquially known, is an annual event held in Brisbane, Queensland. It brings the country and city together to celebrate the agriculture and culture of Queensland’s rural sector, while also presenting new technology and advancements.

By Queensland State Archives

Plan of Show Grounds and buildings, Brisbane. (1936-01-01/1936-12-31) by State Government Insurance OfficeQueensland State Archives

The brainchild of the Royal National Agricultural and Industrial Association (RNA), the first Intercolonial Exhibition was held in 1876 to encourage the development of primary industries in the new state of Queensland.

Queensland's Show

Stockowners and merchants were invited to show agricultural and industrial exhibits from 22–26 August at Bowen Park, off Gregory Terrace. The event was touted as the single most important thing to happen to Queensland since separation from New South Wales in 1859.

The opening of the Royal Exhibition (1908-01-02/1908-12-31) by Premier and Chief Secretary's DepartmentQueensland State Archives

It promised to be a great source of entertainment, so people came from far and wide. Opening day was declared a public holiday and attracted 17,000 people at a time when Brisbane’s population was only around 20,000. 

Plan of Show Grounds and buildings, Brisbane. (1936-01-01/1936-12-31) by State Government Insurance OfficeQueensland State Archives

The excitement levels were high enough that 5,000 spectators charged the entry turnstiles. Chaos ensued and they had to be driven back by mounted troops. 

Aerial view of the side-show area at the Royal National Show, Brisbane. (1958-01-01/1958-12-31) by Premier and Chief Secretary's DepartmentQueensland State Archives

Once inside, visitors were treated to over 1,000 exhibits, with competitions for best livestock, products and food.

Chair lift at the Royal National Show, Brisbane (1972-01-01/1972-12-31) by Premier's Department, State Public Relations Bureau, Photographic UnitQueensland State Archives

Visitors didn’t leave empty-handed. Everyone received a free showbag but instead of toys or chocolate, they contained coal. A practical gift at the time but not as sweet as modern showbags.

Hunter in action at the Royal National Show, Brisbane, Premier and Chief Secretary's Department, 1958-01-01/1958-12-31, From the collection of: Queensland State Archives
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Champion Australian Illawarra Shorthorn cow with Miss J. Griffith, Agriculture and Stock Department, Information Branch, Photography Section, 1938-01-01/1938-12-31, From the collection of: Queensland State Archives
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Sideshow area at the Royal National Show, Brisbane (1972-01-01/1972-12-31) by Premier's Department, State Public Relations Bureau, Photographic UnitQueensland State Archives

The first ride opened in Sideshow Alley in 1877. It was a classic merry-go-round, not quite as fast as the adrenaline-pumping rides of today, but it was a new technology at the time and created a lot of excitement. 

Sideshow Alley ride at the Royal National Show, Brisbane (1990-01-01/1990-12-31) by Department of the Premier, Economic and Trade DevelopmentQueensland State Archives

In the next two years, show-goers would be introduced to telephones, microphones and electric lights. 

Creative fruit display from the Wavell Heights area at the Royal Queenlsland Show, Brisbane (1980-01-01/1990-12-31) by Premier's Department, Public Relations, Public Relations and Media Office, Photographic UnitQueensland State Archives

The official name of the show is the Royal Queensland Show with the prefix ‘Royal’ bestowed in 1921 by His Majesty King George V. Locals referred to it as the exhibition and over the years this has been affectionately shortened to ‘the EKKA’.

Show goers enjoying a snack in sideshow alley , Royal Queensland Show, Brisbane (1982-01-01/1982-12-31) by Premier's Department, State Public Relations Bureau, Photographic UnitQueensland State Archives

The 1950s saw the introduction of an array of culinary delights such as dagwood dogs, fairy floss, Butter Board sandwiches and strawberry sundaes, all of which have become icons of the EKKA. 

A child enjoying the animal nursery at the Royal Queensland Show (1964-01-01/1964-12-31) by Premier's Department, State Public Relations Bureau, Photographic UnitQueensland State Archives

Over the years, the EKKA continued to grow with the introduction of the hugely popular animal nursery, fireworks display, woodchopping, bigger and faster rides and more competitions.

Tree felling contest at the Royal National Show, Brisbane (1969-01-01/1969-12-31) by Premier's Department, State Public Relations Bureau, Photographic UnitQueensland State Archives

This expansion required changes to the showgrounds. The building of the Inner City Bypass in 2000 saw the redevelopment of Sideshow Alley and the woodchopping area, and since 2011 major re-development works have been carried out in the area.

The ferris wheel in sideshow alley at the Royal Queensland Show, Brisbane (1980-01-04/1991-01-03) by Premier's Department, Public Relations, Public Relations and Media Office, Photographic UnitQueensland State Archives

The EKKA has been an annual event for over 140 years and surprisingly, has only ever been cancelled on three occasions. The first was in 1919 when the Spanish influenza epidemic was sweeping the nation and the world. 

Sideshow Alley prizes at the Royal National Show, Brisbane (1982-01-01/1982-12-31) by Premier's Department, Public Relations Branch, Government News and Information Services,Photographic UnitQueensland State Archives

The second was in 1942 during the Second World War when the showgrounds were used as a staging depot for troops. The last and most recent was during another worldwide pandemic: the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in 2020. 

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