RNA Showgrounds, Bowen Hills
Runs for ten days annually
This is only my second year as a Brisbanite, so 2014 was my second Ekka experience. I can't say there were any major breakthroughs (and the novelty had worn off enough for me to realise how much I was forking over) but places like this have their own kind of magic and excitement.
We decided not to go on the public holiday this year, since the crowds were fairly manic last year. The night time still got pretty cramped and a little pushy, but the daytime wandering was much more relaxed - I'd definitely recommend going outside the public holiday, if you can swing it.
The first hour or two was spent in the pavilions. I grew up attending country shows, where the pavilions are chock-full of your classmates' grandmother's needlework, fruit and veggies grown by the local schoolkids and displays of fingerpainting from the kindergartens. The Ekka pavilions are a whole different story, of course - there are still patchwork quilts and fresh produce, but the halls themselves are cavernous, containing every conceivable thing that Brisbane has to offer.
All sorts of culinary delights are on offer if you're tired of the ol' hot chips and fairy floss, from roasted nuts to funnel cakes (part doughnut, part waffle), baklava to bratwurst, homemade fudge to wood-fired pizza (Earth Oven's vegetarian pizza was, in a word, perfect). There's also fandom merchandise of every shape and size (particular focus on DC/Marvel and anime this year, it seems), and a hall of showbags that you could park a jumbo jet in. If you're an animal lover, there's the baby animal nursery, as well as multiple pavilions dedicated to prize-winning poultry, fish, horses, dogs, cats...
Sideshow Alley is always bustling, with game vendors and ride attendants shouting at you from all sides and towering stacks of stuffed animals bordering your path, interspersed between haunted houses, rollercoasters and dodgem cars. Not to mention the kind of things that take you upside-down-inside-out-and-around. The whole place smells like frying chips and dagwood dogs, and there are children and teenagers dragging their parents and friends all over the place. It's a busy, exciting vibe. The Prince Charles Hospital has several vans, selling their famous Ekka Strawberry Sundaes - definitely worth the wait, and for a good cause.
The Grand Parade is always good to watch, and the nightly entertainment is fantastic too. Sheepdog trials, horse tricks, wood-chop, monster trucks, a clown and his talking car, and bad jokes from everyone involved keep the audiences entertained over the three-hour segment. A spectacular fireworks show, incorporated with music and laser lights, tops off the night.
When it come down to it, the Ekka is just the same as any other show - the food is over-priced and under-nutritious, the games are rigged, the crowds jostle you mercilessly and you have to wait a long time to use (or even find) a bathroom. But that's not why you go. You go for the heart-stopping, stomach-dropping rides, the deep fried food smothered in sauce, the pulsing, infectious excitement of the people around you and the thousands of neon lights swirling around you like a galaxy. Not everyone enjoys it, and that's just fine, but the magic of events like this is the passing atmosphere it creates, bringing people together for the sole purpose of enjoying themselves for an hour, a day, or a week. Maybe I'll see you there next year!