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June 05, 2018, Australia

Exploring the Ekka

Melissa Anne Tan shares why she often returns to Brisbane just to attend this annual exhibition

Melissa Anne Tan

I love the Ekka. It’s what has taken me back to Brisbane time and again since I graduated from university there. And it is a joy I now share with my son.

This annual agricultural exhibition showcases the best of Queensland with animal competitions, live entertainment, carnival fun, award-winning food and wine, educational activities and more.

Officially known as the Royal Queensland Show, this exhibition (affectionately termed the Ekka by the locals) has been the Australian state’s largest annual event since it was first held in 1876.

Organised by the Royal National Agricultural and Industrial Association of Queensland, the Ekka has 580 exhibitors each year and attracts more than 400,000 visitors for 10 days every August.

Here are some of the highlights: 

Food galore

There is a smorgasbord of food at the Ekka, with stalls scattered all over the showgrounds. Enjoy popular fair favourites such as cheese toasties, dagwood dogs (also known as corn dogs), corn on the cob (in many flavours), and burgers and chips.

The place to go is the Woolworths Fresh Food Pavilion, featuring around 70 stalls with plenty of fresh and delicious local produce. Check out the craft beer alley showcasing world-class beers, craft rum and wine. Learn how to prepare seasonal produce at the five Woolworths Kitchen Theatre Interactive Sessions.

The one treat I never miss is the iconic Ekka Strawberry Sundae — a fundraising initiative by Brisbane’s Prince Charles Hospital Foundation.

These sundaes are hot sellers — more than 140,000 are sold every year. Made from local produce, each consists of two small scoops of vanilla ice cream, a layer of freshly chopped strawberries, a scoop of the specially created strawberry ice cream, topped with clotted cream and a strawberry. Every mouthful is total bliss; of all the Ekka food, I miss this the most.

Amazing animals

There is plenty for animal lovers to enjoy. Watch as the animals are judged in terms 

of breeding, obedience and overall appearance in the Champion Cat Competition, the Canine Competition, Sheep Competition, Beef Cattle and Dairy Cattle competitions, and the Poultry, Birds & Eggs Competition.

Hippophiles can admire the grace of the horses in the equestrian contests.

Visitors can also get up close and personal with cattle and their breeders at the Ekka Cow Paddock. Beef cattle farming is one of Australia’s largest agricultural industries; in fact, the main reason the Ekka was launched was for Queenslanders to show off new agricultural and industrial inventions or techniques.

My favourite section is the Animal Boulevard. Here, you can pat a pig, cradle a chick or milk a cow at the Legendairy Milking Barn.

At the RACQ Animal Nursery, children get to feed and pat over 500 baby farmyard animals, including calves, ducklings, lambs and goats.

The first time my son was there, the city kid he is stared in wonderment at the Animal Nursery.

Apprehensive at first, he gingerly held out his cup of feed to the lamb closest to him. Immediately, four other lambs and a goat trotted towards him.

He lifted the cup above his head to not spill any feed, but dropped it in surprise when another goat stood up on its hind legs behind him to reach for the cup.

While the animals turned their attention to the fallen feed, my son stood bewildered, until a staff member kindly offered him another cup and directed him to a less crowded spot.

Fun rides and games

Being a family fair, the Ekka features many games and rides at Sideshow Alley. There are carnival games, roller-coaster rides and family favourites such as bumper cars, the merry-go-round and the Ferris wheel.

My son and I loved going on kid-friendly roller coasters and bumper cars, ending with a ride on the Ferris wheel, where we enjoyed a bird’s eye view of the Ekka.

Showbags extravaganza

Also at Sideshow Alley is the Show Bag Pavilion, another integral part of the Ekka experience. Companies offer show bags consisting of their merchandise to the public at discounts.

More than 380 types of show bags are on sale, including children’s bags filled with novelty toys featuring cartoon characters from companies like Disney, Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, sweets and chocolates, children’s costumes, ladies’ skincare products, and merchandise from popular franchises like Avengers, Transformers and Star Wars.

Prices often start at as low as A$1 (S$1.02) for sweet bags to A$30 for most of the children and franchise bags.

A popular “cheap” show bag is from Bertie Beetle Bug, an Australian small chocolate bar sold exclusively in show bags.

You might have a hard time deciding which bag to buy, but at such reasonable prices, you could well end up with quite a few.

For more shopping, head to the Ekka Emporium for deals on leather merchandise, home decorations, novelty items and more.

Evening entertainment

The fun continues when the sun goes down. The EkkaNITES at the Main Arena is an entertainment and fireworks extravaganza that families can enjoy after dark.

In the four times that I have visited the Ekka, I have witnessed equestrian tricks, death-defying motocross stunts, cowboys’ whip and horse-riding skills, as well as stunts performed by riders on penny-farthings — an old bicycle with a large front wheel and a small rear wheel.

The highlight of the night is the fireworks display where everyone watches in awe as spectacular pyrotechnics light up the onyx sky.

I like to get comfortable on my picnic mat at the grassy area just outside the arena. There is something appealing about sitting on the grass with a warm roast beef sandwich and a bottle of fresh milk or cider while watching the show in the cool weather.

My son likes EkkaNITES as he loves watching fireworks. He easily makes a friend each time while waiting for the show to start, and they will share what they have done that day, and compare their show bags.

The Ekka occupies a special place in my heart. I make the trip there whenever I can, to bask in the Queensland culture, fill up on good food and breathe in the country air. My son agrees with me wholeheartedly.

 GUIDELINES

■ I flew from Singapore to Brisbane on Singapore Airlines.

■ This year, the Ekka will be held from Aug 10 to 19 at the Brisbane Showgrounds.

■ The special value ticket can be used on TransLink trains, buses and ferries to get to and from Ekka, from anywhere in Brisbane. Last year’s tickets cost A$6 per adult and A$3 per child.

■ Trains arrive and depart from Exhibition Station in the middle of the Brisbane Showgrounds and there are Ekka bus stops close to the entrances.

■ Parking options are at a premium (as high as A$30), so public transport is recommended.

■ Purchase Ekka tickets online at www.ekka.com.au for better discounts — there are family and concession options. Save more when you buy the Ride Cards for Sideshow Alley online.

■ The weather is nice and cool in August, so bring a windbreaker. Wear comfortable shoes, sensible clothes and a hat. Applying sunblock is recommended.

■ Bring a picnic mat and snacks. Bottled water can be costly so bring your own water bottles. Carry a backpack to store the show bags so you can keep your hands free for other activities.

■ There are paid lockers you can use at Sideshow Alley to store your belongings.

■ Only cash is accepted at Ekka. There are ATMs there, but use them only if you really need more money (the bank rates are costly).

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