Dark pathways at the Brisbane Ecca

15 Aug

 Sideshow Alley, Brisbane Ecca, c.1940 (State Library of Queensland)

Sideshow alley, Brisbane Ecca, c. 1940 (State Library of Queensland)

As I wrote in my last post, Lynn Abbott and Doug Seroff have recently written a book on the black bands which played coon songs, jazz and the blues in circus sideshows down south in early twentieth-century America.

This week in Brisbane the ‘Ecca’ is showing: the Brisbane Exhibition, such an institution that the schools give their kiddie two days off to go see it. Flicking through a copy of Showtime: A History of the Brisbane Exhibition (UQP, 2008), I was interested to see the above photograph. It shows that in the 1940s, a waxworks tent in the Ecca sideshow alley advertised its wares with a wax model of a black American playing a banjo, entitled ‘The Singing Coon’.

There isn’t any evidence that black American bands ever played the sideshows of Australian events like the Ecca – not to my knowledge, anyway. (There were bands playing coon songs in the tent-shows of Australian bushranger/American Wild West Show impresario, E I Cole, in Brisbane at the turn of the twentieth century, although they would have been white Australians doing ragtime: obviously not at all the same thing). But this Queenslandish echo of those sideshow bands across the Pacific is intriguing, nonetheless…

References

Lynn Abbott and Doug Seroff, Ragged But Right: Black Traveling Shows, ‘Coon Songs’ , and the Dark Pathways to the Blues and Jazz (University of Mississippi Press, 2007).

Joanne Scott and Ross Laurie, Showtime: A History of the Brisbane Exhibition (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 2008), p 88.

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2 Responses to “Dark pathways at the Brisbane Ecca”

  1. Steve Scamp 17 August 2008 at 11:00 pm #

    Hate to tell you this, but the “Ecca” is actually spelled “Ekka” (see, for instance, http://www.ekka.com.au). Other than that, as a Brisbaneite, it’s great to see you covering one of our local institutions. Thanks.

  2. Melissa Bellanta 18 August 2008 at 12:04 am #

    Ooops. Well, I’m suitably embarrassed – but at least now I’ll sound like a real Brisbaneite when I refer to the Ekka again. Thanks, Steve.

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