Sheepdogs, showbags, tractors and trams
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
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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
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childhood will be linked forever with the Ekka.