Ekka's history

Ekka's history

The first show

Bowen Park was chosen in January 1876 as the site for the first ever Royal Queensland 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 the Main Arena.

The Intercolonial Exhibition of 1876 was held from 22 to 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 three exceptions - in 1919 due to the Spanish Flu epidemic, in 1942 when the grounds were used as a World War II staging depot and in 2020 due the the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

History timeline

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

2015 THE YEAR OF THE FLYING PIGS

  • The Racing and Diving Pigs wow the crowds at Ekka, as they fly through the sky and dive into a pool of water
  • Seven-year-old Mater Vandeleur who captivated the audience with his pig training tricks made international news with his special Channel 7 news report
  • Never before seen fireworks light up the Main Arena

2016 THE RETURN OF THE OLD MUSEUM

  • After 119 years, The Old Museum came back home to Ekka, housing the Flower and Garden Exhibition and Quilts Across Queensland
  • A new two day pass and dedicated 2 for 1 ride and food days are introduced, signaling major historic hip pocket savings
  • The world-class night show EkkaNITES showcases incredible female talent, including American FMX superstar Vicki Golden
  • The breathtaking EkkaNITES fireworks finale features a 20 metre high pyrotechnic tower never before seen in Australia, shooting fireworks from 49 positions

2017 CELEBRATING EKKA’S 140TH

  • The Ekka celebrated a remarkable milestone - its 140th anniversary
  • The RNA marked the special occasion by introducing a new half price ticket for entry from 6pm and not one, but two fireworks displays

2018 INVESTING IN AGRICULTURE

  • The RNA invested in its charter of championing and celebrating agriculture, building two new event facilities - The
    Pavilion and Marquee 2. The Pavilion, completed in October, was partially used at the show to house beef and dairy cattle, dairy goats and poultry. Meanwhile Marquee 2 was completed in February and became the new Woodchop Arena, expanding the competition area by 50 per cent.

2019 NEW PARK FOR POOCHES AND THE PUBLIC

  • Alexandria Park was completed in April, offering two acres of additional green and event space, along with a refurbished heritage-listed undercover events pavilion known as Building 8. The park became the new home of the Ekka’s Canine Competition presented by Black Hawk in August.

2020 CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) PANDEMIC

  • The show was cancelled in the best interest of public health due to the global coronavirus pandemic, social distancing measures and public gathering restrictions.

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