Welcome to this blog, the story of a great big Australian adventure. It documents my travels, life in Australia, and a subject close to my heart – environmental conservation. 

The Ekka

The Ekka's a big deal in Queensland, especially in the South East, where you get a day off work in order to visit the Show – the Royal Queensland Show. It's been held every August since 1876, with the exception of two years: in 1919, when there was a Spanish flu pandemic, and in 1942, because of the Second World War. The first one followed the trend for exhibitions set by that of Crystal Palace in 1851. The Ekka – from Brisbane Exhibition, its original name – was first and foremost an agricultural show, intended to show off new agricultural machinery and practices. Farm animals are still a big attraction – from new-born lambs and chicks to hefty great bullocks and carthorses – but, of course, there's so much more today, including a fairground, wine tasting, food halls, equestrian events, the Ekka's own Crufts, scary snakes and crocs, showbags and the 'iconic strawberry sundae'.

We started with Animal Boulevard. The noise of a thousand chooks is what strikes you first. They're all in extremely confining cages, of course, but I tried not to think too much about that as I marveled at their striking wattles and combs and furry feet and spectacularly beautiful plummage. (Did you know there are as many as 16 small bones in a chicken's foot?) Much to our surprise, there were Dorking cocks among the exhibits.

Fairly inevitably I suppose, there were wild birds bred and kept in captivity. Whereas this can aid and abet the survival of some species, such as the never-dull Gouldian finches...

...there can be no excuse for a Sulphur-crested Cockatoo in a cage. I moved quickly on.

Soon there were distractions such as roly-poly puppies, a cat in a bag, likkle lambs and hoity-toity llamas.

To one side of the chill-out zone where we went next for a coffee was a scary reptile corner. An anxious-looking Sand Goanna (Monitor) was rather too close for comfort to a highly venomous (9th in the world) Common Death Adder and an equally dangerous Black-headed python. The large Yellow-spotted Goanna remained calm, while the Carpet Python looked dangerous but isn't, in fact (except to unsuspecting cute little furry animals). And the difference between a goanna and a monitor lizard? The showman in charge explained that, since more than half of all these lizards are found on this continent, Australians can call them what they like.

It was nearly time for the Grand Parade of champion animals adorned with their ribbons. This was certainly not a sight to be missed and we took our seats in the Community Arena as the animals waited patiently outside with their handlers. Once they were all inside and doing a circuit, you really didn't know where to look next; all were calm and steady and there was hardly a hoof out of line. Quite impressive.

Later, after I'd eaten my first Australian pie, for lunch, the Brisbane Markets Agricultural Hall
provided colour and fine design, as well as the chance to see the dreaded Red Fire Ants* (in a jar handcuffed to a Biosecurity Queensland official).

The Showdog Pavilion was strangely addictive; Lindeman's Open Garden surprisingly relaxing; the Fresh Food Pavilion a living hell; the Meat Hall rather perplexing; and the funfair, well, like funfairs the world over – raucous and hastening of a speedy exit.

But a better representation of life in Queensland you ne'er did see than at the Ekka. The intense pride in rural life and its produce was palpable in the parade of horses, carts and cattle; the bizarre attire, and not only of exhibitors, was eye boggling; and the sheer joy of Aussies on a day out, clutching their showbags and oblivious of the first seriously grey day in weeks, was never more self-evident. If you get the chance, don't pass it up; go visit the Ekka and observe.

* Red Imported Fire Ants (RIFAs) arrived in Brisbane in 2001. They are extremely invasive, forming super colonies, and eat plants as well as invertebrates and vertebrates. They can devastate ecosystems and there are stringent measures in place to prevent their spread and to eradicate infestations. The ants have a nasty bite that can cause huge irritation and pain

Art on the beach

Stripes and the city