1876 The first Ekka in Brisbane

Refreshment Hall at the first Ekka. State Library of Queensland

It wasn’t called the Ekka then, of course. The Intercolonial Exhibition of 1876 was the first exhibition of the National Agricultural and Industrial Association of Queensland, which was formed in 1875. The exhibition took place at Bowen Park. Some 15,000 to 17,000 people attended. There were more than 1500 entries to the competitions amounting to around 18,000 exhibits.

The Sydney Morning Herald published a somewhat patronising report of the first exhibition, stating that in almost every respect the event was copied from similar ones organised by the Agricultural Society of New South Wales. In one respect, the article grudgingly admitted, the Queenslanders had an advantage over their southern peers. A contract with the local Acclimatisation Society had permitted them to erect permanent buildings at the Bowen Park site, while the Sydney society was compelled to erect and dismantle their exhibition sheds each year.

The report, by the Commissioner for New South Wales, Jules Joubert, also admitted that the catering at the Queensland exhibition was excellent.  “It would be unfair to close this report,” he wrote, “without noticing the excellence of the arrangements in the refreshment line. If I envy our Queensland friends anything in particular, it is certainly their caterer. Can we not find in Sydney an enterprising man who will undertake this most important item of our annual shows?”

In 1921 the Association was granted a royal warrant from King George V. They became the Royal National Agricultural and Industrial Association of Queensland (generally known as the RNA). The first ‘Royal’ Show was held in that year. Since that time, Queenslanders have shortened the Exhibition’s title. Everyone now refers to it as Ekka.

Since 1878 the showgrounds have hosted sporting events, royal visits and concerts. They provided the venue for the first manned flight over Brisbane, in 1912, and were the site of Sir Donald Bradman’s international Test debut in 1928. In the year of World Expo 88, an estimated 800,000 people attended Ekka.

It’s primarily an agricultural show, with more than 10,000 animals exhibited. There are competitions, with local and international judges. For 10 days each August, competitions ranging from film to cattle, music, dance, cakes, vegetables, fish, cheese and ducks are judged.

The Dairy Produce Show has a history that reaches back to the first exhibition in 1876, making it one of the RNA’s oldest competitions. It’s now part of the Royal Queensland Food and Wine Show. The eight competitions in this show for 2015 were the Cheese & Dairy Produce Show, Ice-Cream, Gelato and Sorbet Competition, Branded Beef Competition, Branded Lamb Competition, Royal Queensland Wine Show (RQWS), the Beer & Cider Competition, Sausage King, and the Ham, Bacon and Smallgoods Competition.

The State Library of Queensland has a history of the Ekka in pictures from 1876 to 2009.

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