The Brisbane Ekka... and pumpkins


The Ekka’s over for another year, and it’s a countdown to the September holidays when the days get long and warm. We had pumpkin soup this week, in honour of the Ekka, because the one tradition we observe when we go along is to see the giant pumpkins.  It’s one of the things I’ve come to love about our annual show and what children can give you if you let them.

We saw pumpkins with the first of the children we took to the Ekka, my then five-year-old niece and her friend. I could lie and say the reason we kept it up when we took other children, and continued after our own son was old enough to recognise a pumpkin, was that it was such a hit. But it wasn’t popular, not even that first time. “Come on, let’s see the pumpkins,” my husband said. The children groaned. I suppose they could see a lesson coming. Children can recognise education from a mile away. And while I know there’s often hand-wringing over the notion that children don’t understand food sources – many children in the US believe spaghetti grows on trees, apparently, although I always thought it was a tinned food – that’s not why we took them to see the pumpkins. As the kids quickly learned, we didn’t have a reason.

Because of the children, we always spend a few moments communing with the biggest pumpkin, on a plinth above its smaller siblings. Although not widely known, it’s the pumpkin that decides the winner of the giant vegetable competition, RNA Councillor Angus Adnam  told me, corn and marrow notwithstanding. We’ve seen pumpkins in drought years and in flood and so we can make comparisons. Last year’s winner, grown by Syd Haag, whose farm near Kalbar southwest of Brisbane has produced winners six years running, was a 100-kilo giant that took out the $2000 Pillow Talk Jackpot Prize for a Giant Pumpkin. One of Syd’s won again this year, although the wet weather has been bad for pumpkins, so no Jackpot.

The interesting thing is this. No matter how loudly they complained beforehand, every one of the children we’ve taken to the Ekka – my son and a long list of buddies, friends’ kids, my nieces – within a minute of being inside the agricultural pavilion, was wide-eyed about the new and different world they were experiencing. And that’s the gift. It’s what I love about taking children to the Ekka. In agriculture, as in all things, there’s room for them to teach me. Although I don’t often given them the opportunity to do that, I know children have been my greatest teachers. I just have to be there enough to learn from them. The Ekka sure helps.

Their amazement at the dyed chickens (Whatever happened to the dyed chickens?), the hours they’re willing to while away with the baby animals, the determination to destroy dodgem cars, the first ferris wheel, even the prize pumpkins, all infused with magic just because children can experience them so fully. 

I remember my niece and her friend’s conversation after the Ekka that first time. One of the highlights for them (other than the pumpkins) had been that they’d sat on ponies which had been led around a small enclosure. Neither had ever ridden a horse before but in the car home, my niece said, “When I ride, I’m not cruel to my horse.” Her friend replied, “Me neither. If you know what you’re doing, you never have to be cruel.” My niece agreed. “So why do the cowboys wear spurs anyway?” Her friend thought for a bit. “I don’t know. I think it’s a fashion statement.”

While much has been written about changes to the Ekka over the last few years, it’s always somehow still the same. Whether it’s the monster trucks we saw one year run over piles of cars or the Merlo coffee that’s saved us the last few years, the Ekka always does the same job. For me, that job is to connect me with the wonder of being a child again. And giant pumpkins. 


Based on the column published in The Courier-Mail Qweekend  on 24 August 2013. I write mainly about writing, education, birth, health and the thrill of parenting. You can Get in touch,  tick the box to receive emails, Like Writer Mary-Rose MacColl on Facebook or follow MaryRoseMacColl on Twitter. Have a great day!