Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'The show' must go on for the kid in each of us

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BRISBANE -- Fair, carnival, exhibition -- call it what you will. In Australia it's often just called "the Show" and it's on this week in the Queensland capital of Brisbane.

If you're getting old and your sense of wonder is fading, try going back to a fairground.

True you might become mildly bored before contracting a virulent strain of swine flu. Or you might find yourself in a dreamscape where a carousel barker in a striped hat guides you through a world of rotating clown heads, while giants on stilts stroll by with barber shop poles for legs.

With a child for a companion you may get lost in a literal hall of mirrors or step aboard a Lilliputian railway carriage and chug your way into the supernatural on the Haunted House Express.

The Brisbane Exhibition (the Ekka) is the biggest show in the state, drawing thousands of country folk from isolated corners of this sprawling northern enclave, many merrily making a home in the front of their horse trailer to spend two weeks watching their cows walk around a stadium.

They've done it for more than a century and there's every chance they'll do it for another because, in a world built on shifting sands, fairgrounds have sunk their foundations deep in our collective consciousness.

From the enchantment of E.B. White's Charlotte's Web to Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel, they've provided both a stage and an unflagging cast of supporting actors for human dramas over the centuries.

Before theatre, movies or TV, the fairground was a staple of entertainment all the way back to ancient Rome.

And those key amusements remain constant.

On Wednesday -- Brisbane's official show holiday -- more than 70,000 formed a buoyantly cheerful crowd at the Ekka, all breathing in that unique fragrance that somehow inoffensively combines fried food and cow dung.

It's in sideshow alley (you might call it a midway), where our deep-seated fairground DNA awakens, the Ferris wheel appears as oddly familiar as an ancient windmill.

The thrill of soaring 25 metres skyward was long ago made redundant by the advent of airplanes, but soon you're lining up with the rest, staring wistfully at the clouds, waiting your turn to ride on up and meet them.

And after an enthralling five minutes of playing "I can see your house from here," it's impossible not to give yourself over to the magic.

At the fair the aged become youthful, the youthful become kids and the kids become genuinely child-like.

The terrifying little Midwich Cuckoo, the swaggering eight-year-old tech-head who has mastered the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, is transformed into a charming little innocent, laughing delightedly at a flotilla of yellow plastic ducks on a toy pond.

Kids may now routinely use space satellites to communicate, but at the fairground they still think it's cool to put rings of coloured balloons on their heads, or caps with rotating helicopter blades.

They still eat fairy floss (cotton candy) and hot dogs and plead with parents for $5 to play the laughing clowns in the endearing hope of winning a $2 prize.

And the rides still operate on the same principles they have for generations -- fear and mayhem.

The Hangover flings howling youths 20 metres skyward and rotates them swiftly before leaving them hanging upside down.

It also produces the same result as its namesake -- regurgitation -- but still lures long lines of twitching, giggling youths anxious to experience four minutes of acute discomfort.

And at the end of the day after the hot dogs and fairy floss and gooey, chocolate-smeared remains of the lolly sample bags have taken their toll, there's the fireworks.

You'll know you've suffered some form of emotional lobotomy when you don't feel a tingle as you sit in the grandstand to watch that brave little point of light gallantly struggling upwards.

If you don't cheer when it explodes in chromatic splendour, clawing at the black velvet of the night sky with those spidery, diamond-coloured fingers, do please seek counselling.

Michael Madigan is the Winnipeg Free Press correspondent in Australia. He writes mostly about politics for the Brisbane-based Courier Mail.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 17, 2012 A13

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