Property Management Experts

Servicing Brisbane for 10+ years with local knowledge and maximum returns

About Us

Property Management Experts

Servicing Brisbane for 10+ years with local knowledge and maximum returns!

About Us
Brisbane's Old Museum still a stunning monument to Ekka's colourful history

Brisbane's Old Museum still a stunning monument to Ekka's colourful history

30 June, 2022

As the gates swing open for the 142nd Ekka, the history books show there would be no show without Brisbane's Old Museum.

The building, made from 1.3 million red bricks, is bordered by Gregory Terrace and the Exhibition Grounds and has had multiple lives during its 128-year existence.

In the 1980s Sean Randall would ride his bike with his brother from West End to see the Ekka being built and would stop at the Old Museum to rest.

"Back then it was the Queensland Museum, and I recall the old wood staircase at the entrance leading up to the glass-covered top tables," he said.

"There was a plane hanging from the ceiling and you could look over onto the main floor.

"Now that it's back part of the Ekka, I wondered what the origins of the beautiful building."

The first exhibition

Brisbane's first exhibition, known then as the Intercolonial Exhibition of 1876, was held in a timber building called the Main Pavilion.

According to RNA archives, more than 17,000 people attended the opening day, which was deemed a success as Brisbane's population at the time was only 22,000.

Each visitor received the state's very first showbag — a bag of coal.

The Main Pavilion burnt down in 1887, opening the way for the New Exhibition structure to be built in 1891.

Designed by architect George HM Addison, the building was described as "progressive eclecticism" and contained both exhibition space and a concert hall.

It took less than 12 months to build, with more than 300 men working around the clock.

"They built the building in 23 weeks, which is an extraordinary feat at that time," Ekka chief executive Brendan Christou said.

"It was built by the RNA for the exhibition, where it played the role for many years and still plays an amazing role for us."

Mr Christou said many people remembered the New Exhibition building, now known as the Old Museum, as the entrance to the Ekka.

"Everyone comments about it being the front entrance back in the day and it was a stunning building then and still is now."

Coming full circle

The building remained part of the annual show until 1897 when the state government took control due to financial problems.

"It wasn't until 2016 that we took it back for the Ekka again and we've been using it for flower and garden displays, which is one of the most popular sections of the show," Mr Christou said.

"Many people had not been in it until we started to use it again for the Ekka and now it's a huge part of the current show."

Old Museum venue manager Alannah McFadzean said the building had been through a number of changes over the years.

"The exhibition held in 1897 was similar to that of a World Expo, it was a huge event," she said.

"The building has always been a people's building."

She said it was important to note that the entire land from the RNA site from Bowen Park through to the Victoria Park Golf Course was the corroboree grounds for First Nations people of the area, the Turrbal people.

Secret chimneys and large arches

Ms McFadzean said there were many parts of the building the public had not seen.

"There's a sneaky thing about the building and that is that you can't always see the chimney as it's tucked away," she said.

"There was also once a hearth in the basement when it was part of the exhibition, and the dining hall was underneath."

The building's iconic arch windows remain a favourite attribute for visitors, as well as the large pipe organ that once stood there.

In 1899, the Queensland Museum was transferred to the building and opened in 1900 before the concert hall was transformed into the Queensland Art Gallery in 1930.

Preserving for the future

Mr Christou said the building always brought memories back to Ekka visitors.

"Everyone loves the nostalgia of the building, and for my generation we would come here for school excursions when it was the Old Museum and there would be a tank out the front, planes hanging inside and the dinosaurs outside," he said.

"We've tried to preserve the old architecture with the nearby redevelopment.

"We're hoping to continue using it more often than not, but it is a state government building and it's a significant building that does need a little more upkeep."