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Friday 7 to Sunday 16 August 2015

Our History

Our History

Share your memories of The Ekka

State Library of Queensland is looking for stories and memories of the Ekka. They have uploaded iconic images of rides, animals and food to Historypin to inspire you. Hark back to the days when you had your first dagwood dog, a date at Ekka, or the first time you were allowed to go unaccompanied by a parent! Whatever the story, this is your chance to tell it. Find out how to contribute your story via SLQ's digital volunteer project Pitch In!

The Royal National Association

On 13 August 1875 a group of colonists met at the Brisbane Town Hall to form the National Agricultural and Industrial Association of Queensland. The association's charter, with Governor Sir William Cairns as its president, was to promote and encourage the agricultural and industrial development of Queensland; as well as provide a unique opportunity for country and urban residents to come together in a celebration of Queensland lifestyle.

The First Show

Bowen Park was chosen in January 1876 as the site for the first Show. The park covered 6.8 hectares bordered by Bowen Bridge Road, Gregory Terrace and a creek which ran through the middle of what is now Main Arena.

The 'Intercolonial Exhibition of 1876' was held from 22 - 26 August. A public holiday was declared and on opening day 17,000 people attended - a colossal success, given that the total population of Brisbane at the time was only 22,000.

Men attended in their suits and ladies in their finest garments. Food was served on long tables and the first showbag - a bag of coal - was free for all visitors.

The Origin of 'Ekka'

The first 'Royal' Show was held in 1921, when the Association was granted the prefix under warrant from His Majesty King George V.

Since then, the shortened name "Ekka" has replaced "Exhibition" in the Queensland vernacular, indicating locals' affection for the Show.

Ekka has since been held every year with only two exceptions. In 1919, Brisbane suffered a Spanish influenza epidemic, and in 1942 during wartime the Showgrounds were used as a staging depot for troops moving north.

The modern Ekka

Today, Ekka runs for ten days and attracts about half a million visitors every August. Ekka is famous for its mix of entertainment, agriculture and education. From Champion Rooster of Show to the glamorous fashion parades, Ekka has always celebrated the rural and the urban; the traditional and the innovative, and it's for this reason the event holds a special place in the hearts of Queenslanders - as it has for generations.

Learn more about the History of the RNA.

Spirit of Ekka

Embrace Ekka's rich history and its unique role in the life of Queenslanders across all generations. It's Ekka time, and the spirit of Ekka belongs to you. Watch the Spirit of Ekka video.


Who's behind the show?

The Royal National Agricultural and Industrial Association of Queensland (RNA) is a member based organisation governed by 21 RNA Councillors. An executive team of seven, including the RNA President, is responsible for overseeing the operations of the association which owns and operates the Brisbane Showgrounds, situated 1.5 kilometres from Brisbane's central business district.

The organisation's charter is to celebrate and champion the essential role agriculture plays in the everyday lives of Queenslanders. The RNA aims to provide a vibrant destination at the Brisbane Showgrounds with leading educational and event facilities and activities that capture the hearts and minds of all Queenslanders, from the country to the city.

The RNA runs the Royal Queensland Show (Ekka), Queensland's largest event, on behalf of the community for 10 days each year in August. Staged at its original birthplace, the Brisbane Showgrounds, the Ekka showcases its unique tradition and heritage by bringing the city and country together for a once a year get-together. More than 400,000 people on average gather to see thousands of exhibits, 10,000 animals, world-class entertainment and taste award-winning food and wine. Along with this, the organisation runs the Royal Queensland Food and Wine Show-a series of seven individual competitions unearthing the best produce in Australia. Outside of the annual Ekka, the Brisbane Showgrounds is a venue business which hosts more than 200 events each year and is home to the Royal International Convention Centre.

How it started

The RNA has a rich history stemming back to 1875 when a group of colonists joined together to encourage the development of Queensland's primary industries. Leading members of colonial society formed the first RNA Council, under the presidency of Governor Sir William Cairns, with most of the 35 members pastoralists and merchants.

The RNA Council immediately committed themselves to organising the very first exhibition for Brisbane-from calling for tenders for the initial building to meeting with the Premier of Queensland to establish a public holiday on opening day. The result was the Intercolonial Exhibition of 1876-the largest event to be held in the state up to that point. The RNA, along with the exhibition, continued to expand and grow in popularity and in 1921, the association was granted the prefix 'Royal' under warrant from His Majesty King George V. Since then, the shortened name 'Ekka' has replaced 'Exhibition' in the Queensland vernacular.

The early shows

On August 22, 1876, a crowd of more than 15,000 people made their way by horse, foot or carriage to experience the very first Ekka, at what is now known as the Brisbane Showgrounds.

Some of today's traditions stem back to this first exhibition. Competitions were a cornerstone of the Ekka right from the beginning with 1,700 entries across 600 classes competing for trophies, cash prizes and medals.

Visitors were treated to more than 1,000 exhibits and charged an entry fee of a half-crown, or one shilling if they waited until after the official opening. The first show depended heavily on the voluntary efforts of

RNA Council members, judges and stewards as the RNA did not yet have its own staff, apart from employing nightwatchmen. Celebrating the colony's achievements, the Intercolonial Exhibition of 1876 was praised as the most significant event in Queensland since its separation from New South Wales.

Since 1876 the Ekka has continued to grow in popularity and size, remaining one of the most anticipated yearly events. It has been held annually at the Brisbane Showgrounds since its inception except for two instances- in 1919 at the height of the Spanish influenza epidemic and in 1942 during World War II when the grounds were used as a staging depot for troops.*

Strange but true

  • A key event at the first show in 1876 was a competition for the best sample of 5 tonne of manure,deodorised and prepared in the most economical form of use*
  • The first ever showbag was a bag of coal*
  • In the 1920's a flock of 90 sheep were used to maintain the lawns at the Brisbane Showgrounds
  • At the first show there was a competition for the fastest walking farm horse*
  • Main arena entertainment continued to expand in 1966 with the Zachini family presenting a human cannonball act - with the father coordinating, the mother firing and their children propelled across the ring into a net*
  • During the Great Depression new entertainment was introduced including goat races that attracted some 100 competitors in a single show*

1876 THE FIRST EXHIBITION

  • The Intercolonial Exhibition of 1876 was held at Bowen Park with an estimated 15,000-17,000 people attending out of Brisbane's populations at the time of just 20,600
  • 5,000 people charges the turnstiles - chaos ensued until the mounted troopers were called to drive back the crowd
  • Visitors to the first show were treated to more than 1,000 exhibits
  • The show received 1,700 competition entries in more than 600 entries
  • Entry tickets were large and square for major patrons, circular for subscribers, blue for judges and red for stewards*
  • Staff included a nightwatchman, 40 stewards and more than 30 judges*
  • Entry to the grounds in the morning was a half-crown or visitors could wait until after the official opening when the cost of a ticket fell to one shilling*
  • Competitors were usually charged two shillings and sixpence per entry*
  • The largest prize up for grabs was 25 guineas*
  • The show closed at midnight on Monday 28 August, following a controversial decision to open on the Sunday*
  • Only three breeds of cattle were displayed at the first show - Durham, Hereford and Devon*

1877 FIRST EKKA RIDE

  • Introduction of the first ride in Sideshow Alley - a merry-go-round*
  • The total value of prizes and medals was between £500 and £600*

1879 INTRODUCTION OF QUEENSLAND'S NEWEST TECHNOLOGIES

  • Ekka patrons were amazed by telephones, microphones, electric lights and even an electric thief detector
  • The Ekka's first oyster stall was introduced*

1891 DISTRICT EXHIBITS

  • The first district exhibits contest was held - nine regions competed for a prize pool of £175*

1894 FIRST FIREWORKS

  • The first fireworks display in the Main Arena, beginning another show tradition*

1919 FIRST EKKA CANCELLED DUE TO INFLUENZA EPIDEMIC


1920 EDWARD, PRINCE OF WALES VISITS THE EKKA


1926 SHOW TRADITIONS

  • Queensland Country Women's Association make its first appearance at the Ekka
  • The first night time ring program was held following the introduction of electric lighting*

1942 WORLD WAR II

  • The show was cancelled due to World War II as the grounds were used as a staging depot

1950's EKKA FOOD TRADITIONS

  • The now symbolic Ekka fairy floss, butter board sandwiches, Strawberry Sundaes and dagwood dogs were introduced*

1954 QUEEN ELIZABETH II AND PRINCE PHILLIP VISIT THE EKKA

1959 HRH PRINCESS ALEXANDRIA OF KENT VISITS

1964 ANIMAL NURSERY AT THE EKKA FIRST INTRODUCED

2000 SIDESHOW ALLEY AND WOODCHOP

  • Inner city bypass constructed, Sideshow Alley and the woodchop arena redeveloped

2010 ONE OF THE MOST SUCCESSFUL EKKA'S IN HISTORY HELD

2011 GRAMMY AWARD WINNERS

  • Grammy Award winners Wolfmother close the Ekka's concert series in front of a capacity crowd

2012 AUSTRALIAN FIRST

  • In an Australian first, Ekka fans were able to customise their own fireworks on the show's free interactive fireworks iPhone app
  • 2012 Australian of the Year and Academy Award-winning actor and producer Geoffrey Rush attended the opening day of the Ekka
  • In true Queensland style, a cricket match involving cricketing greats Adam Gilchrist, Glenn McGrath, Ian Healy, Andy Bichel and Jimmy Maher, took place on the Main Arena on the final day of the Ekka

2013 EKKA WINS INTERNATIONAL AWARDS

  • The Royal Queensland Show took home the prestigious Best in Show title, along with 13 other awards, at the 2013 International Association of Fairs & Expositions Awards (IAFE Awards)
  • Over 400,000 guests through the Ekka gates
  • Over 54,521 Ekka Facebook friends - a growth of 75% from 2012

2014 MILLION DOLLAR NIGHT SHOW

  • Australia-first million dollar night show Ekka NITES wows the crowd each night of show
  • Queensland beats New South Wales in the 2014 Ekka Rodeo
  • The Ekka runs over two full weekends for the first time in the show's history
  • British stars from the 'Inbetweeners' and Miss World Australia, Courtney Thorpe, visit Ekka

*Historical information and statistics sourced from 'Showtime - A History of the Brisbane Exhibition' by Joanne Scott and Ross Laurie, 2008; and RNA Archives.