Being idle doesn’t sit well with Elwin Bell. He is a born showman and for most of this year – like everyone else – he’s been waiting for the pandemic to break.
Bell’s Amusements is synonymous with the show circuit in Australia, and this is the longest they haven’t heard the chatter of children and adults inside a showground since World War II.
For Elwin and the Bell family, just driving down the hill from the family property on the NSW/ACT border was a thrill.
“You don’t know how enjoyable and how relieving it was just to drive out of our gate at the top of the hill here at Queanbeyan and drive two or three Ks to the showground,” Elwin told Region Media.
“Getting out of the truck and marking where everything is going to go and just setting it up, even in the rain last week – it’s bloody good to be back.”
Elwin said he has had to “tick a few extra boxes” to get the carnival up and running at Queanbeyan, which opened last weekend and runs until 11 October.
Capacity is limited to 500 people and the carnival will focus on quality over quantity, although there will still be the usual favourites such as the Matterhorn, the Crocodile Rocker roller coaster, the teacups, shooting gallery – and what would a carnival be without dagwood dogs and fairy floss?
Elwin is also unveiling his latest model of dodgem cars that have a drift mode.
“These are the Ferraris of dodgems mate. We’ve just brought them in from Italy and you can drift them around the corners.”
Elwin and the extended family of ‘showies’ have also had plenty of time to put some polish on the rides to make sure they were ready to go.
“I’m fortunate with the block of land we have that we can just walk outside and there are 40 or 50 trucks and rides sitting there, and it kind of feels like a showground.
“I just give myself a job or two every day, so we’ve been tidying the rides up, painting and tinkering.
“We’ve kept the rides clean, that’s for sure. They’ve probably never been cleaner,” he said.
Elwin said one of his colleagues on the show circuit in Melbourne had purchased a new $4 million Ferris wheel in February, but it has been sitting idle in the dockyard.
While the Bell family has stayed busy, they have been determined to give the locals in Queanbeyan and Canberra something to do during the holidays, in what he has called his ‘gap year’.
“We’re showies, you know, and it’s been really hard for us,” Elwin says.
“We’re normally travelling 50 weeks of the year, following the show circuit all through Australia to places like Darwin, Queensland, Victoria; sometimes over to Perth and all around the coastal towns during the Christmas holidays.
“The last time our company and family stopped like this was when my grandfather stopped in World War II.
“All the shows right around Australia have all been cancelled, so getting this up and running is our way showing that we’re still here.
“It will be a smaller carnival and we’ve got the hand sanitiser and all that, but like everyone, we’re just taking small steps so we can start taking some big steps again.”
Elwin said he hopes to be back on the road by Christmas and is looking towards the Royal Canberra Show early next year, ahead of what will probably be a scaled-down version of the Royal Sydney Easter Show.
This week, he has also been putting on a show for the TV cameras, with the morning programs The Today Show, Sunrise and crews from ABC and SBS all wanting to have a chat.
“I guess it shows that Bells is the best in the business. We’ve been doing this for 96 years on my dad’s side of the family and 150 years on my mother’s side.
“We’re fair dinkum, ridgy-didge showman. This is a smaller carnival, but the show must go on.”
Bell’s will be at the Queanbeyan Showgrounds daily from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm until 11 October. For more information, visit their Facebook page.