Sheep­dogs, show­bags, trac­tors and trams

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Some­times the past reaches out and lays a hand on you, its touch trig­ger­ing mem­o­ries. It touched me last week when I came across a yel­lowed, ragged-edged sheet of newsprint buried among some pa­pers. It was a col­umn I wrote years ago and, as the Bris­bane Ekka con­cludes this week­end, it struck a chord. This is what I wrote:

“It was gen­er­ally agreed among my ex­tended fam­ily that when the time came for me to make my way in the world, it would be to farm­ing that I would turn. As there had never been a farmer in the long and glo­ri­ous his­tory of the O'Con­nors, this devel­op­ment caused much de­bate. How­ever, given my ob­ses­sion with trac­tors, which man­i­fested it­self at the show­grounds ev­ery Au­gust, it seemed in­evitable, for once through the gates, I hauled my par­ents un­err­ingly to­wards the gleam­ing ranks of Massey Fer­gu­son trac­tors.

“I would then climb and clam­ber over ev­ery one of these red mon­sters, wrestling with ev­ery steer­ing wheel, run­ning to one and then the other, at joy­ful peace in my child­hood heaven. This caused some dis­tress for the rest of the fam­ily, which drew no great joy from stand­ing on the same spot for an hour as I tilled hectare af­ter KHFWDUH RI LPDJLQDU\ ¿HOGV DQG KDUYHVWHG VXI¿FLHQW ZKHDW WR IHHG WKH QDWLRQ. ,W ZDV WR every­one's con­sid­er­able relief when my love af­fair with the tractor even­tu­ally waned … ”

Dust. If there is another en­dur­ing mem­ory of the Show, then it is dust, swirling clouds of it whipped up by the west­erly winds that would re­serve their great­est fury for that day on which the fam­ily headed for the show­grounds.

And sheep­dogs. As I grew older I would ac­com­pany to the Show my grand­mother, a corseted, kind-hearted woman in stout shoes whose great de­light it was to sit by the main ring and watch the sheep­dog tri­als. I can still taste the home­made ham sand­wiches cut and packed that morn­ing in a time when trams still rat­tled through Bris­bane's streets and the City Hall clock tow­ered above the sky­line.

Like pen­cil marks on a wall, mem­o­ries of the Ekka chron­i­cle the pas­sage of youth. There was only one show­bag to be had for my money – which was not my money at all but my par­ents' – and it was the Gi­ant Licorice Bag with its gleam­ing coils of jet black licorice, each strand laid out on the kitchen ta­ble and sali­vated over once at home. Then cars be­came my Show fo­cus, Fords and Hold­ens and Chryslers and the shin­ing prod­ucts of the long-gone houses of Hill­man, Tri­umph and Austin. From cars it was but a few sum­mers to girls and from then, the days of the Ekka as one of the high­lights of my year were num­bered. But I still re­call the nights when as a fam­ily we would sit and wait pa­tiently on the cold, un­yield­ing wooden


gold, scar­let and emerald balls soared sky­wards.

(YHU\RQH SRVVHVVHV RQH GH¿QLWLYH PHPRU\ of the Ekka, and mine is of the night we trudged from the main ring, home an hour and two tram rides away. I was slumped, al­most asleep, across my fa­ther's shoul­der. It is my last mem­ory of


child­hood will be linked for­ever with the Ekka.

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