FLY/ The Ekka
You will not fall.
This is the promise of your dreams;
That you were born to soar
Awake we again
find ourselves disappointed,
Groaning in Gravity’s grim grip yet,
and yearning always, like the moon,
The Tyranny of the Tides.
Whilst the looming Earth seems like
some vast Titanic Turtle,
Moving with a giants’ grace,
as it goes gravely to devour
with its slowly snapping jaws,
All escaping dreamers,
and the bright pearl it Desires.
All of them
in its ever yawning maw.
CULTURAL REVIEW: BRISBANE EKKA 2010
“and though Carnies may be seedy and ratlike in appearance, they are truly kings among men!”-Homer Simpson.
Farewell skylift..remand yard in the poultry division.. A visit to the petting zoo; killed by kindness and stuffed with straw….return of the black arrow…..i just like the lights.
Ah the Brisbane Exhibition! Or as its known by the locals, “The Ekka”. The thought of your seedy, retro, low-rent delights brings on a warm wave of nostalgia,
like coffee spilled onto my lap from a Styrofoam cup.
Each August, like the Westerly Winds that sweep in from the Darling Downs,
the annual Brisbane Exhibition descends upon the town,
trailing country folk in Akubras & white trash Carnies in its wake.
City folk and Country folk alike partake of their ancient rituals.
The woodchopping competition, the show jumping horses, the Jam & Chutney Awards, the Scone bake off, all have their rightful place. This years winning cake was a classic; coloured & shaped like an archaic 400 million year old ammonite, a sugar fossil in fact.
These humble diversions are all part of the Ekka’s ambiance. Somehow these archaic folk ways have continued into the Twenty First Century. They are a snapshot of our culture. But the old ways are passing, always.
To me the Ekka carries archival memories of deepest sepia–tinged nostalgia, like a faded photo taken with a box brownie. Four generations of my family at least have gone to the Brisbane Show. But alas! Surely the Ekkas days are numbered. The Forces of “Growth” and “Progress” are licking their lips over this valuable inner urban property. Who cares if another part of Brisbane’s Collective Memory is bulldozed into the dust, you think we’d be used to it by now. (Pointing out to my kid on the train there,
where Cloudland used to be and what it used to be
and how they killed it-passing on the tribal grudge)
Sadly the Skylift is no longer part of the fun, killed off by Development apparently. Amongst its other attractions, there was no better place than the chairlift
for having a quiet, uninterrupted joint. High above the teeming Crowd, yet secure in your isolation, sharing a joint with your honey on the chairlift was one of Lifes Little Joys. That the chairlift came down at the Police Drug Exhibit just added a dash of daring naughtiness to the adventure. Down we’d come out of the sky, grinning wildly, stoned to the gills, heading straight for that big blue and white checkered sign,
where we’d calmly survey their captured trophies
with a quietly discerning eye.
Of course the absence of the chairlift is just another example of the Exhibitions death by a thousand changes. The property sharks lie in wait. Another example of UUD.(Ugly Urban Development.)will soon be with us.
Political Correctness & Liability Laws gone mad have spelled the death for many a sideshow attraction. No more is there Jimmy Sharmans Boxing Tent, where young suburban amateurs with too much testosterone could try to last a round with one of Jimmys crew of aging semi-retired pugilists and promising, lanky young Aboriginal lads from out west.
No more the giant goldfish tank either, where they gave you a net and you could fish out your own goldfish and bring it home in a plastic bag. “Cruel,” they said, too many got left on the train and never made it home.
There was even a Flea Circus there once upon a time, complete with little bugs pulling chariots that you watched through a magnifying glass.
And of course, no more the Freak Show. In my parents day you could see attractions like the African Pygmy Queen and the Tattooed Lady. (“Who’d notice her today”, sniffs my mother, in her best Lady Bracknell tones)
In my youth the Freak Show was already on its last legs but still you could go see acts like the spider-woman (head of a woman, body of a spider-she was a Malaysian lass as I recall) and the two-headed foetal pig in a jar. Also for some reason my father was friends with one of the freaks, a chap who billed himself as Young Achilles.
Young Achilles would sometimes visit the family home and would entertain us little ones(to my mothers disapproval) with tricks like pushing a long sewing needle up one nostril and out the other. Somewhere I’ve got a picture of him where he’s tied a rope to a bus and gripping the other end of the rope between his teeth starts towing the bus along the street before a gaggle of gaping yokels.
Technically I guess his gig was mainly as a strong-man, but he filled out his act by doing other things, like eating a bowl of chunks of metal. Alas for Young Achilles, self doubt was never part of his profile and eventually he died in Darwin whilst trying to win a bet that he could eat a whole car if it was ground up fine enough. I believe it was the battery that finally finished him.
Speaking of batteries, thoughts of battery farming assailed me as we wandered through the Remand Wing of the Poultry Division. Many of the inmates seemed to be suffering from stress, some ripping feathers out of their chest or trembling continuously. Much as I like seeing all the different types of chickens & ducks it was fairly depressing. I discover geese have teeth and hiss like snakes. Raspy sharp little teeth. Yes. The children head for the petting zoo. Pity the poor lambs & goats. Killed by Kindness and Stuffed with Straw.
In lieu of the Skylift the smokers in our party eventually detoured for a quick smoke in the Enchanted Garden at sunset. Meeting up with the drinkers for a quick G & T, before regrouping with the designated responsible adults & kids we joined them in a repast of un-savoury sideshow treats like the esteemed Dagwood Dog. (Dip a sausage on a stick into batter. now dip it into tomato sauce. Voila! The Dagwood Dog! The Ekkas sole contribution to the culinary arts.)
Refreshed, we were ready to enter Sideshow Alley just as night fell, as we had previously planned. For Sideshow Alley is the heart of the Ekka, and night-time is the time to be there. Comes the Charming Evening and the shabby side is hid beneath a decent veil. The carnies come alive, well, look slightly less seedy, the coloured lights come on.
Yes night is the time to truly appreciate the multitude of coloured blinking lights!
Ah, all those spinning lights and screams and smoke and laughter and whirrling mad machinery of simulated Doom & Terror & vomit inducing zero-gravity! Call me an old hippy, but I just like to amble along and look at the pretty lights.
Oh yes and at the teenage girls in tight jeans, who also come out at night, in giggling, gaggling flocks and clusters. Tight, black, form-hugging jeans are the de rigeur uniform for the Ekka, and nowhere is there a better selection of shapely young things thusly clad to be found. Except possibly Panyirri, but the Ekka provides a greater multi-cultural range which I for one appreciate. White trash girls and Chinese girls. Elegant Japanese girls and even the occasional middle-eastern looking girls wearing a chador/tight black jeans combination. Goth girls & Greek girls. Sigh. I tell you, culturally speaking, my generation were sadly deprived.(editors note; At his Time of Life the Reverends options are largely voyeuristic so lets not deny an old man his simple pleasures in his few remaining years)
Turning aside, for the moment, from the bevies of teen girls
and their shambling, slack-jawed male compatriots,
we continued our search for genuine Fairy Floss.
Being a staunch traditionalist, I wanted my fairy floss wrapped around a stick
and made in front of me whilst I watched the insanely whirrling machine miraculously
spin sticky silk pink spider-webs into a sugar cloud that melts inside your mouth, activating instantly all the pleasure centres of the brain.
Not some pre-packaged in Korea, Best before July 2009, pastel-coloured, cotton-candy nightmare sugar wad of wool in a vacuum-sealed hermetic plastic bag.
I also wanted to find an old fashioned Kewpie Doll on a stickfor my personel assistant, as a reward for all her hard work this year.
Fortunately we managed to find both eventually, as well as a Nightmare Throne with ten foot long monster bat wings that extended and flapped,
where I could sit and laugh madly whilst whispering japanese tourists
took pictures of me and waited their turn.
We took this as a sign that it was time to visit the House of Horror. In fact, we sampled two of the three Horror Houses available, each similarly dissappointing
excursions into UV lights, painted skeletons and the occasional carnie yelling “boo!” from behind a curtain. There was a third that billed itself as
“Not a Ride but an Interactive Excursion!”
which, according to those coming out, consisted mainly of a carnie with a chainsaw leaping out from behind a curtain. Yawn! Lads, my 10 year old daughter and I have made better Horror Houses at home on rainy weekends. (We once constructed a Horror House in her room, in fact, that was so scary she wouldn’t sleep there for three months. I might upload the video one day.)
Anyhoo, after watching my Personel Assistant blow her wages on Laughing Clowns & Climbing Monkeys, and a blinking Astroboy badge, I decided it was time to face my old enemy, the Carnie at the Archery Stall. Yes, it was time for the return of the Black Arrow!
The Carnie running the Archery Stall was a dishevelled, ageless fat man with one broken tooth, who squinted warily at me as I approached purposively down the broadway.. Perhaps he remembered me from last time. There’d been a scene.
Now no-one expects a game at Sidehow Alley to be fair.
You expect to be cheated a little. But I felt he’d gone too far. For one thing the bow had been chained to the floor so your action was limited. The Lights were aimed in your eyes. The arrows had no feathers and were so flexible that the slightest sideways pressure caused them to bend and wobble. The “point” of the arrows were flat as the head of a pencil and from the sound of the arrow hitting the target, I surmised said target was made out of a sheet of tin, perhaps reinforced at the centre with a backplate of harder metal. My jaw dropped the first time I saw one of my arrows bounce off the target. The Carnie smirked.
I swore revenge and this year practised at home before hand with a crappy plastic bow & lousy arrows. Plus he’d lost the element of suprise.
This year when he waddled over with a handful of blunt arrows I was already deep into the arrow bin selecting my own.
“Here you go mate,” he proferred insistently.
I laughed sarcastically. “Thanks mate, but I’ll pick my own.”
He didn’t go away though. He just kept standing there with a handful of arrows held out towards me while I ignored him and thoughtfully tested the point & straightness of each arrow in turn. Either his brain couldn’t process this new information or it was a vain attempt into intimidating me into taking his dull & dodgy shafts.
Whichever. After selecting a number of arrows that had some sort of tip to the point, I next walked down the row of bows, till I found one with a good tight string to it, and that had a slightly longer chain fixing it to the ground, giving the archer more freedom of movement.
Looking apprehensive, the proprieter thoughtfully ran his tongue over his single tooth.
He gave a nod to his assistant a few feet away, who immediately launched into a loud, discordant and jarrring spiel through a loudspeaker.
Ignoring this I drew my first arrow. With a loud whack it bounced off the sheet-metal target.
Ok. Not hard enough. Drawing the string back to its full extent my second arrow managed to pierce the target. My support team cheered.
My third arrow also pierced the target, edging closer to the centre.
My fourth arrow stuck deep, just clipping the bullseye’s edge.
I paused for my fifth and final shot. The Fat Carnie, forgetting the arrows still clutched in his hand, stood mesmerised. All these years those prizes have been gathering dust on the top shelf, and now..could it be..a winner?
I drew the string back, .. then let the arrow fly, yes, straight to the bullseye!
Where it bounced and fell on the ground. The reinforcing behind the bullseye had held!
The status quo was returned, normal order was resumed. The House had won again. We all breathed a sigh of relief.
“I’ll be back next year,” I assured him. He nodded, no doubt making a mental note to go through his arrows again and make sure they were all properly bluntened.
Clearly it was time to go. Away from the eddying crowds the winter winds nipped at our exposed flesh. As always, we timed our departure to coincide with the first fireworks, as the platform gives a splendid view of the Fireworks & Sideshow Alley simultaneously. So with skyrockrets whizzing & retina’s popping we received an appropriate sendoff as our train pulled away from the station.
Riding a night train always makes me feel like I’m trapped in a scene from Alice Through the Looking Glass anyway; coming back from the Ekka in a compartment filled with crazies wearing fright wigs & propeller hats & eyeballs on springs only accentuates these feelings.
Hurtling away from that vital pulsing cluster of light and heat and noise the darkened suburban streets outside the train seem startlingly silent, cold and lifeless.The windows like Dark Mirrors. The sleeping town glimpsed dimly through the glass, a hibernating beast.
“The people in these towns are all asleep.. we come along and wake them up”–Carnivale