For those who don’t know, the Ekka is the annual agricultural show held in Brisbane, Queensland. It has been held for 138 years and in that time Queenslanders, and the show, have seen a lot of changes. I had a big chuckle at this story in the Brisbane Times today, about shocked reactions to a ‘bikini babe’ portrayed on a ride. It’s a good job those folks weren’t around when the Ekka was in its heyday, as they would have had a lot more to be offended about!
The Ekka in 1965
You don’t see a lot of sideshows at the Ekka these days. The picture above was taken by my father in 1965, when sideshows (or tent shows as the showmen called them) were at their peak. The show in the picture starred some very well know pop stars of the day, and was situated in an area known as the ‘bottleneck’ where sideshow alley twisted sharply to the right and the crowd found itself wedged, unable to move – unless it was into the tent shows! Very clever planning.
Most of the tent shows were family friendly, like the one above. But many more were ‘adults only’. We called them ‘leg shows’ because the line up boards showed a lot of shapely leg – and much more besides. These shows left little to the imagination, either on the line up, or on the colourful banners that advertised what you could see inside. Some of those painted ladies made the ‘bikini babes’ of today look anorexic! Even some of the more sedate shows might have a sexy banner showing legs and boobs, such as the ‘Indian Show’ seen below.
It’s not a great photo but I think you can make out that the ‘indian princess’ is wearing a very big war bonnet and a very small costume. Cultural appropriation was not an issue in the 60s. Nor were skimpy bikini outfits. – at least, not inside the tent and on the banners. Inside the tent, late at night, even skimpy outfits weren’t an issue, unless the punters paid to see them come off and they didn’t.
Back in those days, just a glimpse of Jean Shrimpton’s bony knees at the races caused a sensation – but somehow, on the showgrounds, it was anything goes. There was no political correctness in evidence, you could still see ‘freak shows’, the half man half woman show, and all those curiosities that were shown in HBO’s Carnivale series.