The Ekka Chemist

Delahunty's A Show Legend 1971 – 2000

In 1971 a young James "Dela” Delahunty returned from a brief period of pharmaceutical service in New Guinea Highlands where he observed the annual Mount Hagan Show and the peaks in the graphs of the business he ran for 3 months. This "mad” young "medicine man,” who had already decided to follow in the footsteps of his father, began to look around for ways to increase his "Empire.” He saw an untapped market in the annual Brisbane Exhibition. Here were literally thousands of people – visitors, exhibitors and workers who gathered yearly for 10 days without the caring concern of their local pharmacist.

He approached the RNA Council, who at that time had as members, two prominent pharmacists, the legendary "Big Bill” Edwards of Tennis fame and ringmaster at the Ekka and Sir Walter Burnett the then Association's President. With their help James was able to obtain the necessary permission and was allocated a "spot”. It was the former Provincial Traders "Pig and Chook Pen!” opposite the present day RNA workshop. The shed was a lean to constructed of an asbestos roof enclosed with fence wire. He kept in this spot for 21 years, where he built it into a rough but fully fledged Pharmacy that at its peak had 15 old-fashioned cash registers and 20 staff; which was big for those times. In the latter years, it was moved up the stairs in the corner of the show bag pavilion (ex. ANZ Bank) and then in a small 3-man shop next to the old time keepers office.

So the shape of the shop changed and so did the merchandise, as he moved with the times. In the end falling show patrons and the balance between rent and profit, forced him to abandon the shop at the end of the 2000 Show.

Looking back over those 29 years, Dela is quicker to give credit for much of his success to the 3 major wholesalers (Queensland Druggist Ltd (now Sigma), Australian Pharmacies Industries (A.P.I.)and F.H. Fauldings (now Symbion). Without their 100% backing the show's Pharmacy would have been a disastrous flop. He has nothing but praise for the many companies' representatives whether they were the Australian manager or the local rep. who always managed to process in time his orders for samples and stock in the huge numbers he required. He will always be eternally grateful for their help and for the promotions and advertising they provided with their products.

He has received incredible backing from Kodak. The number of photographs taken each year at the Show is uncountable. He introduced a mini lab in 1990 which was an instant success. Patrons could now obtain their photographs within the hour. Dela believes that the mini lab was successful because if show patrons were not satisfied with their photographs they were able to, in most cases, take more before they left the show.

Probably the most controversial promotion he ever ran was for Abbotts Selsun shampoo. He built a mock jail with an early TV/video within its confines which showed an "abbott” in trouble. Most thought the promotion was magnificent but unfortunately two nuns took a different approach, complained to the RNA, claiming it was in bad taste and it was quietly shut down. Dela believes the client is always number one and is always right.

During Dela's 29 years, some promotions like Christopher Deans' Thursday Plantation Tea Tree Oil have clicked, while a small group of others like Goanna Salve have not. The trend Dela says is towards natural products and claims that this year, will see the rise of Eucalyptus Oil. There has been an incredible change in the products sold over the years, as well as their prices. The expensive glass round shouldered codrals are now in cardboard flip top packs. The Strepsil tins have gone, screw top shampoos have been replaced by flip tops etc. Prices have also unfortunately increased. Dela remembers the days when Codral Cold tablets were 76 cents, now they are around $8.00, while Roche Berocca have gone from 96 cents to $5.00.

Dela has also produced his own products. These are used for a variety of ailments such as sore feet, blisters, hay fever and sore eyes. His "Footcare Lotion” has a regular following.

Now show would be a show without competitions. Dela's first venture into this field was done with mixed feelings. Dela, a bachelor at the time, was asked to run a "Miss Natural Wonder” contest for Revlon. However, a good choice of compare, the then up and coming Brisbane advertising executive with the then top radio station 4IP, Mr David Greenwood , saw it become a runaway success. Young girls everywhere which to bachelor Dela was the closest thing to heaven on earth. For the RNA 100th year, 1976, Dela asked the public to name a perfume. The competition was won by "Century of Dreams.”

In the early years 1973-76 (4 years), Dela had a go at a "Show Bag” in the Industrial Pavilion. Unfortunately this venture was not as successful as many thought. Dela had hopes that the show would give a wider recognition to his range of perfumes as well as to his shops in the city. But this had not eventuated.

For the first year or so everything in "the shop” was behind glass. However, modern method of selling, with goods openly displayed on tables and in dump bins, has also lead to one of Dela's main worries for this period of the year – shoplifting. Many a time he has had to confront, what he feels are the "low life,” the parasites, who take his livelihood from him. The shout of "thief, thief” and a chase from the pharmacy is not an uncommon occurrence. Some have been caught and prosecuted. Dela would like to thank his honest customers and ever watchful staff for protecting his stock.

This stock amounts to over 20,000 items. Every need must be met. If he hasn't got it then he will swiftly obtain the asked for product. His shop is a fully equipped pharmacy.

As well as catering for human needs, he also looks after animals. Dogs, birds, cattle, horses etc. are all customers of Dela's. Their loving owners are always after the latest hair gloss or colour so that their particular pride and joy will have an advantage over the rest of the competition.

Weather is no concern! For the 10 days he keeps his own rain insurance – umbrellas.

For the young and the not so young or injured, Dela's Pharmacy has a fleet of 80 strollers and wheelchairs. They have been part of the show for nearly 21 years. He has lately upgraded his wheelchairs by adding electric wheelchairs for the greater comfort and convenience of show customers.

A good "Spruiker” is an essential member of any Ekka staff. In 1971, Tommy Carter, the legendary "Show Bag Man” wandered around to the Pharmacy and showed Dela how it was done. Dela was so impressed by the instant public response, as the tills can hot to this gifted "Spruiker,” that the Spruiker has always been at the top of his list of necessary show employees. Darryl Johnsonhas been his spruiker for the past 12 years, although Dela himself is not afraid to grab the microphone and have a go himself.

He has made many wonderful friends over the past 12 years, and met many outstanding show personalities – showmen. Some of these are Mr & Mrs Bill and Celia Howard, Jack Marshall, Doug & Pat Roberts, "Diamond” Jim & Elaine McLauchlin, Brenton Philips, Graham Carrick, Jack & Margarite Howard, to name but a few.

Dela is proud to be associated for so long with the Royal Brisbane Show. It is recognised as the top crowd puller in Queensland for a single event and is the biggest Royal Show per capita population in Australia. Much of the credit for this can be given to two people, Mr Neil Morton and Mr John Mundy. Under their leadership, the show has gone from strength to strength as it is recognised as good value for money. The comfort of the patron has been their main concern. The old tin sheds have been replaced with brick and steel. Once must realise that Queensland has 55% of its population outside the South East Corner. This is the one chance each year for people from all walks and places of life to meet on an equal footing. There is really nothing like it in Queensland, if not in Australia. The "City” does meet the "Country.”

The 21 years at the RNA Show has taught Dela at least one lesson. "Promote” or "Perish.” He has seen many come and many go. But the RNA didn't get an aloof white coated pharmacist in James Delahunty, but a Brisbane worker. A man prepared to go out and give professional care and advice whenever it was needed. This is why his little shed has been so successful. James "Dela” Delahunty a caring person – a man for all people.