The Ekka is the nickname for the Queensland Exhibition which is an annual agricultural fair with a midway of games and rides held in Brisbane. The Ekka is a big event for a lot country people (known locally as “cow cockies”) who don’t get to come to the big city very often.
The two guys were deep in conversation and I took the shot without asking for permission (which I used to do lot back then) and the smaller guy, who heard the click and noticed what I was doing, got quite angry with me. Fortunately I was with my cousin Andrew who’s bigger than I am (I’m 6ft) and who’s love of fighting (he worked as a bouncer) is obvious to anyone who rubs him the wrong way. When the guy who was getting stroppy saw that Andrew was up for some action, he backed off. Which was a good thing because after I bought them some drinks as a way to apologise for my rudeness, we got to know them and they were good guys.
When I was younger I used to love the sort of photography that used to be seen in Life magazine as practiced by the likes of Cartier Bresson and Alfred Eistenstadt. I loved the way they captured on film, people unaware they were being observed and I used to try and do the same. Now that I’m older, I don’t think it’s right to just take people’s photos without asking them. Sure, it doesn’t lead to the same sort of photography but I think that it can lead to equally interesting images of people engaging with the viewer rather than just being observed.
I took the shot with an 18mm lens which I absolutely loved using. I particually like the way how such a wide angle lens puts the subject into a context rather that isolating them like a telephoto lens does.
One of the reasons why I wanted to take the photo was because of the the fellow on the right with the bushy beard. He has a look that would be familiar to any Australian who’s ever seen a picture of Ned Kelly.
I found that as I was looking at him I was reminded of the famous old Banjo Paterson poem, “The man from Ironbark”.
It was the man from Ironbark who struck the Sydney town,
He wandered over street and park, he wandered up and down.
He loitered here, he loitered there, till he was like to drop,
Until at last in sheer despair he sought a barber’s shop.
“‘Ere! shave my beard and whiskers off, I’ll be a man of mark,
I’ll go and do the Sydney toff up home in Ironbark.”
The barber man was small and flash, as barbers mostly are,
He wore a strike-your-fancy sash, he smoked a huge cigar;
He was a humorist of note and keen at repartee,
He laid the odds and kept a “tote”, whatever that may be,
And when he saw our friend arrive, he whispered, “Here’s a lark!
Just watch me catch him all alive, this man from Ironbark.”
There were some gilded youths that sat along the barber’s wall.
Their eyes were dull, their heads were flat, they had no brains at all;
To them the barber passed the wink, his dexter eyelid shut,
“I’ll make this bloomin’ yokel think his bloomin’ throat is cut.”
And as he soaped and rubbed it in he made a rude remark:
“I s’pose the flats is pretty green up there in Ironbark.”
A grunt was all reply he got; he shaved the bushman’s chin,
Then made the water boiling hot and dipped the razor in.
He raised his hand, his brow grew black, he paused awhile to gloat,
Then slashed the red-hot razor-back across his victim’s throat:
Upon the newly-shaven skin it made a livid mark -
No doubt it fairly took him in – the man from Ironbark.
He fetched a wild up-country yell might wake the dead to hear,
And though his throat, he knew full well, was cut from ear to ear,
He struggled gamely to his feet, and faced the murd’rous foe:
“You’ve done for me! you dog, I’m beat! one hit before I go!
I only wish I had a knife, you blessed murdering shark!
But you’ll remember all your life the man from Ironbark.”
He lifted up his hairy paw, with one tremendous clout
He landed on the barber’s jaw, and knocked the barber out.
He set to work with nail and tooth, he made the place a wreck;
He grabbed the nearest gilded youth, and tried to break his neck.
And all the while his throat he held to save his vital spark,
And “Murder! Bloody murder!” yelled the man from Ironbark.
A peeler man who heard the din came in to see the show;
He tried to run the bushman in, but he refused to go.
And when at last the barber spoke, and said “‘Twas all in fun—
‘Twas just a little harmless joke, a trifle overdone.”
“A joke!” he cried, “By George, that’s fine; a lively sort of lark;
I’d like to catch that murdering swine some night in Ironbark.”
And now while round the shearing floor the list’ning shearers gape,
He tells the story o’er and o’er, and brags of his escape.
“Them barber chaps what keeps a tote, By George, I’ve had enough,
One tried to cut my bloomin’ throat, but thank the Lord it’s tough.”
And whether he’s believed or no, there’s one thing to remark,
That flowing beards are all the go way up in Ironbark.
THE MAN FROM IRONBARK by A.B. “Banjo” Paterson
Published in the The Bulletin, 17 December 1892.