Alicia and Porter, 2, McDonald in the caravan at the Lismore Showgrounds after arriving in preparation to set up rides for the North Coast National.
Alicia and Porter, 2, McDonald in the caravan at the Lismore Showgrounds after arriving in preparation to set up rides for the North Coast National. Marc Stapelberg

The secret luxury life of a carnie

BEHIND the bright lights, twinkling machinery, life-sized stuffed animals and fairy floss stands of a carnival show is a generations-old lifestyle of comradeship and adventure.

Such is the life of "carnies" - the folk behind the scenes of a show and who work in often difficult conditions.

It's not a job, but a lifestyle dedicated to one task - making kids smile.

Shows and life on the road has become an established way of life for Alicia McDonald, who, along with her family of seven (including two sausage dogs) travel around Queensland, NSW and Victoria for shows during their eleven-month season and have this week been working at the North Coast National.

Her husband is a fifth generation carnie, their children the sixth.

The life of a carnival worker is one often shrouded in secrecy, and the people are often stereotyped negatively.

"People think 'Oh the carnies are in little caravans', but when you have a family and you're doing it all year round it needs to be a house on wheels," Mrs McDonald said.

"I've got a flushable toilet, a full sized bath a washing machine and a dryer.

"The most common feedback is 'This is bigger than my house...you've got a dishwasher!'.

"They are very elaborate because they have to be, we are away from home all the time.

"Our home base is in Brisbane but we are probably there for one month of the year."

She said she thought such a style of living for show folk was always there, but has been misconceived.

"Back in the day when they had tent shows the caravanner's had beautiful, smaller caravans. They were the best of the best caravans but I guess from the locals perspective they didn't look beyond the fence and there was always a stigma there, but it's changing and evolving.

"We love going to different towns because each town you go to you meet somebody new and they remember you (the next time).

"The relationships are happening, the stigma is still there though."

Despite the chance at rather glamorous living conditions, life as a carnie has plenty of challenges.

John Short was also setting up at North Coast National and said the families and troupes need the show to be successful for them, so they have the money to carry on to the next places.

"We're a bit like farmers in that we depend on the weather. We're on the road all year."

Mr Short said his family had been in the business since 1906.

"Those were horse and cart days.

"It's all great when the show is happening but sometimes you break down on the way to towns and everything's not in gear. And then it stays wet for too long. That's the down of the business.

"This is home on the road, on the showground. For us to go away from it is an entirely different thing, it's very unusual."



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