Brookfield Show – My Rural Ramble

My pictorial of the Brookfield Show 2019 is pretty much in the order of how I wandered around this country-style event.  Although the local landowners are on acreage, the suburb of Brookfield, Queensland, is no longer strictly a farming district nor agricultural growing region.

Yet every year the Brookfield Show comes along and every year thousands of residents flock through the old wooden gates, keen to sample what is known as Brisbane’s Biggest Little Country Show.

I will loosely describe my photos by what they do and don’t feature:

  • General store, main entrances and show arena.
  • Inside Brookfield Hall built 1871 housing the Needlework and Craft Sections.
  • Scarecrows on the way to the Cake Pavilion and cupcake winners.
  • Side view of the main arena and medieval-looking food tents.
  • Prize-winning flower displays and trays of prize-winning fruit and vegetables.
  • Sideshow alley with a ride pumped up and down at a frightening pace.
  • This year I didn’t photograph the sweet hand-spun pink fairy floss on a stick.
  • Inside Pioneer Cottage museum; outside (not shown) log hand-sawing demo.
  • Side view of the traditional Country Women’s Association tea room.
  • Woodwork Pavilion (not shown) to racing pigs having a break between gigs.
  • I purchased a framed mixed media artwork (shown below) from Art Pavilion.
  • Detoured the snake handling demonstration (not shown!)
  • Had a rest in the ‘grandstand’ before heading home.
  • The newspapers which highlight features of the show.

Evening events included live music in the Members’ Bar (aka pub) and ringside nighttime spectaculars featured bucking broncos and fireworks.

The Brookfield Show was the forerunner of our State’s grandest show The Royal National Exhibition but this year I didn’t see (or couldn’t find) any farm animals on Sunday except showjumping horses and pig racing.  Perhaps other contenders had already been judged and gone home, taking their ribbons with them.

Nowadays it’s difficult to take photos at events especially where there are children.  I am mindful of safety and privacy standards.  Usually I wait until everyone has gone out-of-frame before I snap an image.  Sometimes this makes it look like the place is empty!

Brookfield Show is held over three days in May and, as the legend goes, it often rains but this year the autumn weather in Brookfield was delightfully warm and sunny.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

‘Falling Slowly’ by Helene Moorhouse © Mixed medium thread fabric 2019

The Ekka: Agricultural Extravaganza

On arrival, I did the obligatory Ekka walk through the Cattle Pavilion, holding my nose but still loving those pretty Ayrshire dairy cows.  I recall turning a corner and stumbling upon a huge Brahman bull standing on a concrete slab while the farmer hosed shampoo off his shiny hide.  However fascinating, I bet it’s out-of-bounds now.  Other memories waft through, of sitting in the Woodchop Arena, the thunk of the axe and the smell of pine as I eat a Chiko roll with hot chips and drink cold lemonade.  Where are the jam doughnuts?  Afterwards, the lengthy queue for the toilets becomes a good opportunity to study the Ekka guide.

Ekka Strawberry IceCream ConeApart from retaining the obvious things like farm livestock, sideshow alley and wood-chopping events, the Ekka has changed greatly over the years.  It shrunk in size yet the slide expanded and just when the drought-stricken man on the land needs the most support he takes a back seat to fashion parades, Fine Art and strawberry sundae ice-cream cones.  Time to reflect…

A Brisbane institution since 1876, the Ekka (a slang term for Exhibition) is officially known as Royal Queensland Show run by RNA The Royal National Agricultural and Industrial Association of Queensland.  It is held in Brisbane for ten days each year at the beginning of August.  Dates at the time of writing are 10-19 August 2018.  The permanent Brisbane Showgrounds venue is situated in Bowen Hills and the State Library of Queensland holds an extensive collection of materials from past exhibitions which show many changes around the old grandstand building.  Still, it does hold a special place in the hearts of Brisbanites.

  I make no apologies for the length of this retrospective, my stream-of-consciousness dictated the terms, I’m satisfied with what I have written and I hope you understand my sentiments.

A long-held tradition is a visit to the Showbag Pavilion which is always packed to capacity and resembles an apocalyptic movie set.  Staring eyes seeking Valhalla, the perfect showbag, the one packed with the most goodies at the lowest price.  Showbags are half-full of sample merchandise in small packets, mainly chocolate and unhealthy food, with a plastic kids game, latest movie trivia or blow-up hammer to whack your friend over the head with every two minutes until he agrees to go on a ride.  In Sideshow Alley, instead of dodgem cars you choose a huge twisty, jerky ride.  Ultimately it’s not a good idea because he vomits over the side of the ride, down onto a girl trying to score a prize with a wonky tennis ball.

Ekka Poultry Bird PavilionVarious outbuildings to explore; one overheated and smelling of sawdust accommodates Poultry, aisles of chickens and fancy birds in wire cages, biding their time until they are awarded a ribbon or packed off home to the henhouse.  Outside there are flocks of people from all walks of life, all ages and every nationality clutching the latest silly novelty.  Or wearing the latest silly hat, the ultimate in fast fashion, only ever worn once––thank goodness.

Babies in prams sleep through the pushing and shoving and manoeuvring to get into the Animal Nursery and, rudely awakened by a squealing piglet, find themselves eye to eye with a billy goat.  The pedigree dog and cat judging is amazing, especially the cats because they actually like being groomed within an inch of their lives and they fluff up like puffer fish.  I seem to remember sheep shearing rivalry, big blokes welding buzzing clippers, denuding a sheep in a couple of well-placed blows.  The sheep is pushed outside and its woolly coat is flung onto a pile of other woolly oily off-white fleece.

If you can’t wrangle a seat in the Fashion Pavilion or would prefer not to ride a swaying gondola on the Ferris Wheel, there’s usually adequate seating on wooden benches around the Main Arena.  Animals are good at ignoring schedules so this is where most of the unscripted action takes place.  There’s high-speed chariot races, tent pegging, beef cattle judging, showjumping, Clydesdale draught horses and children with Shetland ponies––a recipe for disaster every Ekka and always good for a shocked squeal or belly laugh.  A disgruntled animal can pull away, chariots have scraped walls and riders have fallen off their horses.  Alternatively, breakaway sheep from the sheep dog trials have been known to bolt for the exit.

Ekka JetPack ManYears ago, with the space race wasting trillions of dollars, another venture wasted trillions of dollars; the Jet Pack.  A man dressed like an astronaut strapped on a jet backpack with handles (not actual image) revved it and rose into the air.  He cruised from one side of the arena to the other and then slowly landed.  The noise was horrendous!  The sound decibels of a jet engine taking off.  Unfortunately the power was nothing like it.  The hype wasn’t worth the wait and I can understand why jet packs never became a form of transport for the daily commute.  It guzzled more fuel than V8 Utes and monster trucks arena race.

Ekka Fireworks

The nightly fireworks spectacular creates a photographer’s paradise and teenagers cuddle in the grandstands, saying ooh and aah at each burst of light but feeling queasy from all the Caramello Koalas they’ve consumed.  Behind them sits giggling siblings who always want to tag along.  The announcer’s comments jar, hardly necessary and often distorted, until the music takes over and tries to conquer the exploding light show.  I feel a pang for the beasties trying to get comfortable in a strange stall so far from home.

Ekka People's Day CrowdThe Wednesday in the middle of Ekka week is an official public holiday known as ‘People’s Day’.  It is best to avoid Wednesday if you hate crowds.  School children are granted alternate days off in the vain attempt to stop truancy although, more often than not, families take a long weekend.  The side pavilions are busy on Wednesday, 550 exhibitor stands, and they house agricultural equipment and all manner of things like the latest farmhouse gadgets, trucks, harvesters, even fish tanks.  Displays change with trends, one year healing crystals, next year heat packs and another organic drinks.  Face-painting is perennial yet the children cannot see the artwork on themselves.

Horticultural garden displays are magnificent, themed and fragrant, and it’s taken for granted everyone haggles over which one should have won the Grand Prize.  Actually, all blue ribbons throughout the Ekka are haggled over by crowd upon crowd of weary viewers with their own ideas of a prize-winner.  In search of a favourite, people used to trudge passed stalls, either declining a leaflet or, in the case of the beekeeping section, taking a free honey sample.  Then they would head to the Dairy Hall and the Butcher’s sausage-making display for a bit more sampling.  Is that still going?

One of my favourite displays, and possibly the most spectacular, was the Produce section of fruit and vegetable art.  Stacked high to the ceiling of a huge brick and corrugated iron shed sat row upon row of themed green-grocery: fruit ‘n’ veg in pictorial format.  From the front to the back, bleachers sloped up and away, loaded with colourful mosaics of farm produce, patterns featuring a banana grower, a town or shire, an historic area or rural landscape in Queensland where produce is grown.  Not all regions were represented and some were mixed goods, like pineapples and cotton and ubiquitous Bundaberg Rum sugar cane.

Throughout this kaleidoscope of colour, items of interest had been planted to explain a viewpoint, a nod to the growers or transporters of fresh food.  It wasn’t all that fresh by the end of ten days but it was auctioned off or given away.  I recollect struggling home on the train with a weighty pumpkin.  Silly really…however, I will mention my Pumpkin Fruit Cake

Last century, people ate things like plain fruit cake, a solid dried-fruit filled affair which makes a great base for wedding cake white icing.  Alternatively, fruit cake was popular baked loaf-style in a bread tin with glacé cherries and almonds on top.  A rich dark slice of home-made fruit cake was enough to sustain you throughout the afternoon or hiking for hours in the mountains.  Baking runs in my family, I tried my hand at a dense fruit cake moistened with mashed pumpkin.  It was a huge round thing, placed in a glass cabinet with an Entry Number plaque, surrounded by other Ekka cooking exhibits until heat and bright lighting eventually dried them out.  It earned me a ‘Commended’ and I was proud of its success.  Some cakes were sunken in the middle and I wondered why they were even entered.

Competition is fierce in the ‘domestic’ Craft exhibitions; patchwork quilting, floral arranging, cake decorating, painting and drawing.  There’s also a Children’s Section with displays of school-made arts, crafts and beautifully hand-penned documents.

The Photography section always captured my imagination, so much so that I entered a Kodak Ektachrome slide (a small cardboard-framed transparency) taken while on holiday in England.  It appeared in slideshow format on a huge screen in a darkened room and I was so pleased.  In any photography competition, it was always disappointing when a perfect photo won First Prize.  Deep down I knew it was taken by either a professional photographer or someone with heaps of money and expensive darkroom equipment.  Digital has certainly altered that scene.

When gawping at human endeavour grew tiring, or you had ten showbags in each hand and had to catch the train, there was an overhead chair lift which transported you from one side of the Ekka to the other.  This was scary fun, swinging way above the crowd; tempting too.  A good time to forage in showbags for Bertie Beetles, fairy floss and toffee apples, and I guess many a sticky glob was accidentally dropped.  Due to safety issues, or perhaps an uncool image, the chair lift was recently dismantled and removed.  I’ve got to admit I was disappointed but I never liked walking underneath it.

Umbrella The Adelaide Show BagsAugust is the end of winter in Brisbane and during the daytime the Ekka weather is warm and mainly dry, often with westerly winds, but at night the temperature drops considerably.  A hat, a jacket and a water bottle are necessary items.  If you’re so inclined, you can chill out at the Stockmen’s Bar and Grill, but parents and caregivers are usually seen overloaded with supplies to the point of distraction.  I found a ladies wallet left behind on a low wall and handed it over to the police Lost Property room.  It’s one of those things you later hope had been claimed.  At the time I didn’t give it a second thought––nearby was the Fire Brigade display with handsome fire fighters selling their latest hot-bod calendar.

A day at the Ekka is tiring yet it leaves you with an exuberant feeling and plenty to chat about next day.

A closing thought:  Is the 21st century bringing improvements as the older generation fades away?  On a new map, I notice a technology precinct, gourmet plaza, music stage and retail store; a bit like a shopping centre.  The Ekka land adjoins the central business district, a situation which makes it a very valuable piece of real estate.  The concept of ‘where the country meets the city’ shrinks each year, overtaken by commercialisation and globalisation, no longer a rare holiday for country families or a slice of wonderment for city children.  Will I be visiting the Ekka this year?  Perhaps the lure of an Ayrshire dairy cow or Caramello Koala showbag will tempt me.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Ekka RNA Show Logo
:  To all my Ekka-loving friends past and present.  Special mention goes to blogging buddy Life After Sixty-Five who also has Ekka memories.

Giant Wallabies

Wallaby 01

My short story mentions a rural event known as a show.
Alternate names can be exhibition, county fair or agfest.

Looks of disbelief washed across the children’s faces.  Robbo’s face shone with a self-satisfied smile.  Next to his work boots lay Dugger, his Labrador dog, who raised an eyelid then went back to sleep.
A snort came from school teacher, Miss Evelyn, and all eyes turned to her as she gathered up her patchwork squares.
“What a lot of nonsense,” she said as she stuffed sewing material into her carrybag.  “Brookfield Show eve and you’re going to fill their heads with fantasy.”
One of the younger children put his hand up.
“Did it really happened, Robbo?”
Robbo said “Yes” at the same time Evelyn snapped “No” and the young boy retracted his hand in disappointment.
“Can you prove it?” asked Angela, an older girl with jet black hair and thoughtful eyes.  She was one of many third generation Brookfield students whom Miss Evelyn had known from babyhood.
“Hmm,” Robbo said thoughtfully.  If he had a beard, he would have stroked it in contemplation.  “I reckon I can try.”
Robbo was a well-known local figure, a carpenter by trade who could turn his hand to any odd job around the residences in the area.  He and Dugger were a volunteer Story Dog team at the local school.
Today they had veered off topic and instead of the slow readers reading, Robbo had tantalised them with an opening salvo to his tale.
“Start from the beginning,” Miss Evelyn sniffed “so we can get into the right mood.”
The children chuckled nervously and settled themselves back on the kindergarten cushions.  Some of the older boys had objected to being in the kindy room but the seating arrangements were more comfortable than their classroom, currently overflowing with paintings and craft waiting transfer to the Show pavilions.
Miss Evelyn settled herself down again like a kookaburra shuffling her feathers.  A couple of the young ones inched closer to her, hoping for motherly support should the need arise.
“Okay,” Robbo rubbed his hands together.  “Here goes!”  He leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees.  A security thumb or two was popped in, soft toys were hugged and someone let off a smell.
“It wasn’t a dark and stormy night, in fact, it wasn’t dark but there was a rain cloud,” began Robbo, lowering his voice, “and two small brown wallabies grazing in a paddock near the Showgrounds.”  His eyes roved the attentive audience.  “A large crow was sitting high in a nearby gumtree when––”  Robbo clapped his hands and everyone jumped.  “A bolt of lightning struck the gumtree and the crow flew away.  The lightning had ignited the tree and fire was crackling fiercely through it branches before someone in the general store rang the fire brigade.”
Everyone wriggled then settled again, eyes just that bit wider.  “The flames had reached the ground and were burning towards the Brookfield Showgrounds at a furious pace.”  Robbo looked around.  “Where are those two wallabies?”
A hand shot up and the timid voice of Frederick of the smells said “They ran away to safety.”
Robbo shook his head.  “No, they were still there.  And you know what?”  He raised his calloused hands high in the air above his head.  “They had turned into giant wallabies.”  Then, for extra emphasis, he stood up and reached for the ceiling.  His fingers almost dislodged a butterfly mobile but it added to the atmosphere as they fluttered wildly around his uncombed hair.
“These were energised wallabies, they had super powers and were big enough to roll the Ferris wheel away.”
The group froze; Frederick crouched ready to run.
An older boy scoffed “Yeah, but what can they do about the fire?”
Nodding heads inspired him to add “Maybe the crow flew to get help?”
Robbo pulled a face and told them the crow was another story.  Sitting down, he attempted a sage storyteller voice.
“They bounded over a fence to Moggill Creek and began drinking lots and lots of water.  It tasted a bit like dirt and leaves and stuff but they guzzled until they were full.  It was difficult for them to walk so they sort of rolled back towards the outer fence.  It flattened and they put themselves right in the path of the oncoming blaze.  With puffed cheeks and one big blast like a wall of creek water, they hosed over the flames until they went out.”  He cleared his throat.  “Of course, the smoke made them cough and they had to wipe their eyes but all in all they didn’t even get their fur singed.”
“What happened next,” shouted two girls in unison, grabbing each other’s hands.  “Did they get a medal?  Or a free pass to the Show?”
Miss Evelyn pursed her lips and shushed them.
Robbo’s expression sobered.  “Not that simple, I’m afraid.”
Dugger shifted position on the floor and put his bony jaw on his paws, the seams of his orange vest creaking beneath him.
“The two giant wallabies heard a sound,” continued Robbo, “and turned to see that stray sparks had ignited inside the main Showground and were crackling and spitting across the dry leaves, past the arena, towards the agricultural buildings and meeting hall.  Oh no, historical buildings.”
Nobody saw Miss Evelyn trying to swallow a laugh and regain her composure.
“Surely the local fire brigade would have arrived by now?” she said.
“Their siren could be heard in the distance,” said Robbo, “and the general store had put up makeshift road blocks to stop traffic.  The store owner was hosing down the store and the giant wallabies knew if they were seen by him, their cover would be blown.  After one mighty spurt of water, they shrunk and hopped off into the distance, far away, up towards Mount Elphinstone.  There is a cave high on Mount Elphinstone where, legend has it, two wallabies sit and keep watch over the dry land.”
Robbo surveyed his listeners.  “The paint had been blistered off some buildings, and a palm tree was sooty but it survived and a quick paint job fixed the rest.”
“Phew, that’s a relief,” said one of Angela’s younger siblings and everyone laughed.  Apparently they shared similar thoughts – the cake pavilion housing their entries sitting under cling wrap on paper plates.
“And sideshow alley,” thought Miss Evelyn.
“However,” Robbo spoke at full volume, causing several children to squeak, “whenever there is lightening in Brookfield, or a barbecue out of control, you are wise to stay away from the flames because the giant wallabies will activate.”
“But,” said Frederick gravely, “they are our friends and they would protect us.”
“True, true.”  Robbo was momentarily fazed.  Even asleep, Dugger thumped his tail in encouragement.  Robbo rallied “Just don’t get in the way of giant wallabies at work.  Like flood waters, giant wallabies could unleash a wave of water which would wash you off your feet and into Moggill Creek.”
Miss Evelyn puckered her brow.  “Robbo, please.  No more scary stories.”
Robbo avoided her gaze, patting Dugger and adjusting his leather collar.
“Show’s over, kids.”
Determinedly, single-minded Angela spoke up.  “You said you had proof.”
Judging by the looks Miss Evelyn saw on the younger faces, caps nervously twisted between little fingers, they did not want proof.
“Sure,” replied Robbo with an airy wave of his hand. “If you go into the pony club grounds near the Brookfield Cemetery, you’ll spy a bleached eucalyptus tree trunk.  That’s the one which got struck by lightning.”
“Also,” piped a helpful voice from the sidelines, “I’ve seen wallabies.”
The collective chatter was enough to wake Dugger.  He got to his paws, shook his furry head and looked around.  He let out a sharp bark and ran to the open door.  With a slight pause to sniff the air, he bounded out of the room.
The space Dugger left seemed suspended, a motionless void.
“Wallabies,” whispered Frederick.
The electronic school bell sounded, breaking the spell.
“Lunch time, children.”  Miss Evelyn rose and smoothed her tartan skirt.  “After lunch we have choir rehearsal for the opening ceremony.”
As the children helped stack cushions in the corner, Miss Evelyn turned to Robbo.
“Was Dugger motivated by the aroma of tuckshop pies or something bigger?”
Robbo shrugged.  “That dog has a great sense of theatre.”
She wagged her finger.  “Giant wallabies or not, the Show must go on.”

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

Wallabies Ferris Wheel

AUTHOR NOTE:  This short story is dedicated with love and respect to Kookaburra Kat of KR, a long-time friend who supports and encourages my literary endeavours and is a passionate wildlife warrior, nurturing and caring for all creatures.  GBW.