The Royal Easter Show

Sydney’s Royal Easter Show runs for 12 days in (southern hemisphere) Fall, round-about Easter, hence the name. In 2015, 769,000 people attended the show, which lasts 12 days. I went on Easter Sunday with some colleagues from work, as I like the idea of State Fairs (I like the idea much more than I actually like the Fairs themselves).

My main point of comparison is the Minnesota State Fair, reportedly one of the three largest and best fairs in the US (vs. Iowa and Texas), though I have only been to fairs in a few others places (Maryland and Arizona, both of which it clearly beats).

Objectively, the Minnesota Fair is larger than the Easter Show, with nearly 2 million attendees over 12 days. It didn’t seem like there were more people at Minnesota’s Fair than Sydney’s, so I suspected the density is the same, and Minnesota’s fair covers more space, and this was just observation bias. This turns out to be the case: Minnesota’s 320 acres (129.5 ha) is three times larger than Sydney 45 hectares (111 acres). In fact, if we hold the 12 days fixed, 1.9M/129 ha = 14,728 persons/ha  vs. 769,000/45=17,089 persons/ha, Sydney’s Show is actually slightly denser, like the city as a whole.

Getting there is surprisingly simple. The Easter Show is well served by direct express trains from the city (and other locations with transfers) to the modern Olympic Park station where it is held. The trains stop right outside the front gate, and are free to showgoers. The frequency was fairly high, and the trains were crowded by the time I left in the afternoon, so that staff was doing crowd control measures. (The crowd probably could have self-regulated at the time I left, but staff was there anticipating large crowds, so probably felt the need to make themselves useful. I suspect later in the day, their measures would be useful).

Olympic Park has many other events (some 5000) throughout the year, notably sports (ANZ Stadium, the Olympic Stadium hosts four forms of professional football: Rugby League, Rugby Union, Association Football (soccer), and Australian Rules Football, as well as cricket) and much of the Olympic Park grounds are not part of the Showgrounds.

The entry fee is a high $41 for a single adult, though there are small discounts if you purchase in advance. To be clear this is Australian dollars, but this is still far more expensive than Minnesota, even with paid parking.

The Easter Show had the usual gamut of Fair Food ranging from corn dogs on a stick (which were better than Poncho or Pronto Pups), to a decent gelato, and a truly awful pot pie about which the only nice thing I can say is that it did not make me ill. There were fewer food vendors overall than Minnesota, yet more higher end and ethnic food at the Royal Easter Show. The logic perhaps being ‘in for a dime in for a dollar.’  And they foods were more expensive for comparables (while in general, restaurants in Sydney are not especially more expensive than Minnesota after controlling for the dollar, quality, and quantity). I was disappointed not to see more authentic Australian country food, it seemed a lot more American style than I expected. Of course to the Australian, perhaps the American is more exotic. A bottle of water was $3.50 from the vending machine, but $4.00 from the vendors themselves. Note: bring your own water.

There were also the same types of fun fair amusements and rides, but many fewer of them. And they were more expensive.

There were the animal barns, of which the emphasis on Alpaca was the most notably different from what one sees in Minnesota. They were bigger on Equestrian Events as well.

We watched Wood-chopping competition. Basically how much wood could a wood-chopper chop if a wood-chopper could chop wood? Can they split the tree-trunk section in 22 chops, beating the previous chopper? It’s better than it sounds, and it has its own arena, and is crowded, and has contestants from 6 countries (AU, NZ, US, CA, ES, and Wales).

Sydney is big on the “Show Bags”, an expensive bag with an assortment of related things, most typically cheap children’s toys with some cartoon character brand, a $10 value for the low low price of $24. It’s basically a shake-down of the parents.

I also enjoyed the fishing lure display (selling another Show Bag), where the fisherman/promoter was on top of the tractor of the tractor-trailer, and the trailer was a giant glass aquarium filled with water and fish. He would demonstrate his lures by casting his line into the water, and you could see the (undoubtedly hungry) fish follow the lure. He didn’t have a hook on his line, so he wouldn’t injure his co-stars.

Transport for New South Wales had a mockup of their now under construction Metro line, along with a VR display of the tunneling machine breakthrough.

While there was some antique farm machinery around, there was as far as I could tell no equivalent to machinery hill.

The Minnesota State Fairgrounds is located adjacent to the Saint Paul campus of the University of Minnesota, and has been there for decades. The Royal Easter Show is now at the Olympic Park. So it is reusing (or sharing) a number of more modern facilities that opened for the 2000 Olympics (it actually moved in 1998 according to the history). There were fewer specialty buildings than Minnesota, and the buildings likely get used for more non-fair events throughout the year. Yet there were some buildings likely without much alternative uses.

Overall it’s more modernist feel makes it more like a convention than fair. The best architecture at the Minnesota Fair is from the New Deal period. There is nothing old at Sydney. This of course means the air conditioning works.  I have not seen the pre-2000 Showgrounds, so I am not clear the state they were in at the time, and I am sure from a lot of perspectives this is an upgrade, it just has a more urban feel, with so much paved over in concrete, which isn’t quite what I expect from a fair. To be clear there were droppings near the various farm animal and horse exhibits, so nature wills out, and the smell of the fair is ensured.

Richard P. Braun

I am sad to read that: Former MnDOT Commissioner Richard Braun has died at 91. I held the RP Braun/ CTS Chair  in Transportation at the University of Minnesota for 10 years, so in a sense I bore his name, repeating his every time I introduced myself.

Honestly, I didn’t really know him that well at a personal level, we met at CTS events, but the times we met he was both charming and sharp, as well as straight-forward and supportive.  While his demeanor was genial, funny, and good-natured, he was also someone for whom no wool would cover his eyes. He was one of the few people whom everyone that I respected, respected. My sense (and the obituary article reiterates this) is the biggest call of his time leading MnDOT was closing the St. Paul High Bridge for safety reasons. I think too many people are afraid to make hard decisions, and the short-term expediency of keeping each and every road rolling takes too high a priority.

I will note that I was also given the Braun Distinguished Service Award by CTS a few years ago (which is normally given to faculty nearer retirement, so I took it as a hint).


Update May 1, 2017: Bob Benke writes in:


Heartily agree with your comments in response to Dick’s passing and contributions to the the State of Minnesota, and to the broader transportation profession.  
Backstory: I also agree on your targeting the St. Paul High Bridge decision as a premier example of his judgement and commitment to safety and the community. I happened to have just been appointed as the MN/DOT District 9 (at that time) Preliminary Design Engineer responsible for managing the High Bridge replacement project. 
When Commissioner Braun made his decision to close the bridge earlier than anticipated  by the two neighborhood communities most directly impacted, we had to quickly deal with previous agreements after years of discussions with them on the bridge ‘tied arch’ design and how to handle the staging. The sudden closure changed the game.
As part of the sudden ‘Old Bridge Loss” discussions, we suggested a “celebration”. The community responded and organized a ‘funeral procession’ over the  bridge before it was closed and then brought down by explosives with a community watching. I authorized and there is a document some where in the archives a photo essay on the old bridge. My copy got ruined 
We then ran into an FHWA demand that there be an alternative steel/vs concrete design comparison of  design options. We asked for examples of other comparisons. Our analysis of their a examples showed numerous flaws. Turned out that the cost of building concrete was costlier and took longer that the built bridge design option. Sen. Durenburger helped us get expedited approval to proceed with the design and construction of the new bridge. 
I also had the pleasure of working with Dick and Bob Johns from the first days when CTS was a 2 guy office in the CE building. I moved on to the MnDOT Office of Research and, through several mutations, worked with Bob as the $$ link to MnDOT that funded some of your projects. Still think that matching Researchers with Users of Research was our best win!