It’s a crisp Saturday morning in early August. You wake up to an unfamiliar smell of manure. No, your mother-in-law hasn’t dropped by for a surprise visit, it’s that time of year again when the country comes to the city for the Royal Queensland Show, affectionately known as the Ekka.
You wouldn’t know it this year however. Gone are the once prominent banners that adorned city streets for weeks leading up to the show. I remember as a kid the excitement of the bus ride in, knowing the more signs you saw, the closer you were getting. Now, you’d be forgiven for walking straight past the showgrounds and not noticing anything was happening.
I’ll be honest, I went in to the Ekka on Saturday with expectations lower than Donald Trump’s approval ratings. In my opinion the Ekka has been going downhill for years. It all started with the removal of the chairlift in 2010, followed a couple of years later with the removal of the Skymaster Ferris Wheel.
Maybe I’m just getting older and more cynical, but each year the Ekka just seems to get worse and worse. The show bags get smaller, the prices get larger, and the venue itself is shrinking to make way for a hotel, unit complex and more as part of a $3bn development expected to be completed by 2020.
Just to keep everyone on their toes once more, the busses are changing their pickup and drop off location once again. Years ago you would get on and off the bus on Gregory terrace, walking past the windows of the showbag pavilion and getting a good indication of the crowd levels. Then, the busses moved to the other side of the Showgrounds at the O’Connell terrace entrance. 2016 sees the pickup and drop off location to the RBWH busway station. Sure, this is only maybe another 100m or so, but keep in mind the Ekka has been around since 1876, so a hundred extra meters for a 140-year-old is quite a lot. Realistically, there are a lot of elderly people who visit the Ekka each year and there’s quite a lot of walking to do, so that extra 100m or so could be a bit rough on them.
Let’s start with the positives of the show. Now this section could take quite some time to write, not because there’s so much to cover, but because it might take me several hours to think of something good to say. Look, if, like me, you love (or loved) the Ekka, do yourself a favour and just stop reading here. As long as I can remember, I’ve made the trip to the Ekka at least once, but usually three times per year. After tonight, I’m not sure I’ll be back at all.
To be fair, there’s not really much for my age (20-30) group to see (notice I said see, not do – don’t call me out on sideshow alley) until the night events unless you have kids. If you have kids, everything changes a little.
You have more fun seeing your kids enjoying themselves, you appreciate the learning and development the different attractions provide, and you enjoy cry watching your bank balance quickly deplete. I love baby animals. Cute, cuddly, lovable, delicious baby animals. I wasn’t going to stand in line for over an hour though just to pat said baby animals.
There’s a bit of light entertainment around the grounds. If you plan on seeing any of it, you’d best check the show time and arrive early as the crowd usually builds up pretty quickly. Things like pigs jumping into a pool of water, lumberjacks performing a comedy routine, and circus performers on ladders all make an appearance. There’s also countless displays (ok, not countless, I just didn’t count them) ranging from arts and crafts to photography and of course the famous fruit and veg displays. There’s clearly a lot of talent on display, more so by the artists themselves rather than the people responsible for judging first, second and third places. Some of their decisions leave quite a lot to be desired.
Now, it wouldn’t be Ekka without the Strawberry Sundays and showbags. I was going to get the stereotypical Ekka photo of the Sunday, but I figure if you’ve heard anything about the Ekka before, you’ve seen the photo of the Sunday. If you haven’t, there’s always Google. A few years ago, some genius decided it was too expensive to use Paul’s Ice Cream for the Strawberry Sundays and replace it with ice cream supplied by Queensland company “Lick”. Originally I absolutely hated the change to the point I went years without eating a Strawberry Sunday. Last year I decided to give them a try. I’ll admit, they’re not as bad as I expected. In fact, they’re actually pretty good. The $5 price tag for a simple ice cream though is not so good. Sure, some of the money goes to charity, so it’s no too bad I guess.
The showbag pavilion is its usual mess. If you’ve ever tried to board a train in Japan, (I haven’t, but I’ve seen videos) you’ll feel right at home in the pavilion. I didn’t visit until later in the afternoon so yes, the swarm of people would have been smaller in the morning, and yes, the queue wasn’t in use when I went in there. Oh yes, that’s right. When it’s busy, you need to queue so you can get into a pavilion where you can queue to buy some overpriced novelty rubbish you’ll probably break on the way home. Prices, as you’d expect, are 1 liver for a small showbag or 2 kidneys and a left arm for a larger one. There’s a few ATM’s around if you need a bit extra cash.
Were there rides at the Ekka? Of course there were rides at the Ekka.
Were they expensive? Of course they were expensive. Most rides this year cost the usual $8-12 dollars. They don’t miss an opportunity to grab your cash either as some rides now come with on-ride photos available for an additional charge.
I did the math on this a couple of years back for Sea World’s ex-rollercoaster, Taipan (nee Thrillseeker) and found out they needed around 2000 people throughout the course of the show at $10 per ride just to break even on the cost of having the ride there, not counting transport and operating costs. Taking that into consideration, $10 per ride isn’t that much, but knowing there’s theme parks just an hour away offering similar, and in some cases better rides for free, makes it seem a rather expensive day out.
The rides themselves are exactly what you’d expect of any travelling carnival, there’s plenty of stuff for the kids, and for the adults to keep the whole family entertained.
The night program, EkkaNITES, is where the fun really begins. That is, if you’re seated in the right stand. If you, like me, happen to have been seated in the red zone below, you’re going to miss (and I use the term “miss” very lightly) a lot of the singing entertainment. The stage caters for that one section only, leaving everyone else with a mostly obstructed view of the back of the stage. The night program is pretty decent. Only two major issues I can think of with it. One, for the past three or so years, they’ve announced the same event as “the first time it’s been at the show”, and two, yes they have a show to run and a schedule to keep to, but do they really need to stage the entertainment they won’t need for a good 30-40 minutes so early? It just blocks everyone’s views.
I love freestyle motocross and there was plenty of it at the show. There was heaps of horsepower and being an agricultural show, heaps of horse power too. From singing to stunts on horseback, bikes, utes and trophy trucks, the night show appeals to all ages and culminates in the nightly 15 minute fireworks show.
In a nutshell
Overall I’d rate the Ekka a 5.5 out of 10. It’s just getting too small and too repetitive. If you’ve got kids and cash, go for it. If you’re expecting great things, you’ll only be disappointed.
The 2016 Ekka ran from Friday 5 to Sunday 14 August 2016.
Entry was $30 per adult and $19 per child (5-14 years).
Yes, this is OurWorlds, a theme park site, and no, the Royal Queensland Show (or Exhibition, or Ekka, or ‘early to mid-August nightmare’ is not a theme park per se, it is a travelling fair with some theme park elements, and was therefore worthy of a review.