The Sydney Royal Easter Show brings Australia’s country smack dab to the heart of its largest city. For two weeks of every year since 1823, cows, trucks, crafts, rides, food, and people have converged on the showgrounds at Sydney’s Olympic Park for a finger-lickin’ good time.
And I was one of them, except I wasn’t there for a good time.
I was there to work.
More specifically, I was there to reprise my role as a carny.
Sike! There was no interview. Through some contacts I’d made while working at the Coffs Christmas Carnival, I was told that I had a job for the Royal Easter Show. I turned up with five other backpackers/ex-carnies two days before the show kicked off, and they put us to work immediately.
As the only two girls, my friend Alexa and I were assigned to set up the stock (that’s carny-speak for prizes) in the joint (stall). We were annoyed to find ourselves speaking fluent carny, referring to the prizes as ‘giants’ and ‘larges’, not ‘unicorns’ or ‘parrots.’ Within half an hour we developed an intense hatred for fluffy pink ponies, which refused to hang correctly, and the obnoxious blue seahorses that kept leaping off the wire mesh walls.
I had come to Australia to laze around on beaches. Instead, I was up on a ladder under a red-and-yellow striped tent, sweating bullets and shouting obscenities to stuffed toys as I beat them with my fists and stabbed them with hooks.
The joint was called ‘Showday Cricket.’ It was comprised of four tables, two on each side. A softball swung from a chain over each table, suspended from a metal bar. The goal was to swing the softball and knock over a coke bottle.
Due to a little bit of of physics and a lot of crafty cheating, it was nearly impossible to do unless you knew the trick (a carny never tells. And this carny can’t remember.). It also had nothing to do with cricket, unless you counted the posters of Shane Warne and Donald Bradman plastered on the walls. And our outfits, which resembled the Australian cricket team’s.
I guess the name ‘Showday Softball’ doesn’t really bring in the punters.
It was boring as hell, calling out to every person who passed and trying to convince them to play this ridiculous game. Our main prize was a giant stuffed bulldog, which really drew the crowds because it was the same blue and white as the Bulldogs Rugby League team.
It remained in place for ten days, until a small boy approached my table with a Ziploc bag full of coins.
“This is twenty dollars,” he said, heaving the money onto the table. “It’s everything I’ve got. I want to win that bulldog.”
I let him win it on the first try.
This job came with accommodation, which was part of the reason I agreed to do it. What I wasn’t told until the end of our first day of work is that the ‘accommodation’ was a truck.
Yes. A truck.
The same truck that we’d been unloading all day.
The same truck that was still filled with dirt, grass, steel poles, random tools, and stuffed animals.
Alexa and I were crestfallen.
It gets better – this truck was for all six of us. Two girls, four smelly boys, six backpacks, and assorted junk. Sleeping in the truck. For two weeks.
Once we’d moved in, the smell was atrocious. Wet, unwashed socks, dry food, and damp towels hung from the walls all day. The truck was locked up and parked at the Flemington Caravan Park, where everything inside was left to fester in the heat. We spread the toys on the ground and covered them with sheets, using our backpacks as pillows.
To this day, it was the most budget accommodation I’ve ever had.
On that first afternoon, our boss Lisa drove the six of us to a grocery store. Her brother sat in the front, so we all climbed into the back, pressed against the walls. It was pitch black and there was nothing to hold on to. Alexa and I were convinced that we were being taken somewhere to die, but that wasn’t the case.
At the grocery store, we could only buy what didn’t need to be refrigerated. I decided to live off of canned stew and peanut butter, banana, and honey sandwiches.
It got old real fast.
The guy responsible for the roller coaster let me ride it for free. After I got out, he told me that it was held together by a single pin, which, if pulled out, would cause the whole structure to collapse. Whether or not this is true, I didn’t take him up on a second ride.
That was pretty much the only perk.
This was sketchy from the beginning. At the Coffs Carnival, I’d made ten dollars an hour, but at the Royal Easter Show I was under new management. They told us we’d earn a percentage of our total takings, and it was quietly understood that we were working tax-free.
At the end of 14 consecutive working days, some of which were 12-hour shifts, I found myself with just over $1000.
“Sorry,” Lisa said. “They had to take some out for tax.”
I don’t know who ‘they’ were, but I have a sneaking feeling it was not the tax office.
The Sydney Royal Easter Show – there’s no place like it.