The return of the freak show
In this day and age, a few fine old entertainments of the past border on taboo. The travelling freak show has long since been consigned to history; we’re encouraged to display sympathy towards the excessively tall, fat or hairy rather than point and coo. The bearded ladies of the 21st century will just shave it off, while the money-spinning grotesques can simply go under the surgeon’s knife.
However, there are a few last outposts of this bygone era still hanging on in there which haven’t been overrun by people pointing out that gawking at giants is a bit wrong, and, surprisingly, one of them can be found in the main shopping mall in Surfers Paradise, Australia.
Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Museum
The Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! Museum in Cavill Mall is packed with the weird, wonderful and downright bizarre. It’s got shrunken heads found in Ecuador, pictures of a woman who could insert a hubcap in her lip and a scale model of the tallest man who ever lived, complete with his size 37AA shoes.
Unfortunately, these discoveries were those of a rampant egomaniac. Robert Ripley was the man behind the antiquated newspaper column which the museum is based on, and you’re not allowed to forget it.
Despite him being a complete irrelevance to 99% of the people looking round, a disturbing percentage of the museum is dedicated to photos of him and his life story, complete with some truly clunky, nasty Americanised branding.
It’s a shame, because once beyond the ridiculous self-indulgence, there are some quite fascinating things to take in.
Whilst full of seemingly random artefacts, the cabinets also have some intriguing bits of information. For example, amongst a selection of Napoleon’s signatures (all completely different, which no doubt caused havoc at the bank) is the titbit that the French battle fanatic invented the modern house numbering system. Never knew that…
And, while we’re on it, did you know that the human tongue doesn’t age? Well, that’s the sort of useless, but brilliant, information to expect.
17 inch dwarf
But it’s not facts that you come for; it’s freaks, and there are plenty of them. A Cyclops goat, a headless hen, a man with a wooden rail through his chest, and a 17 inch dwarf imprisoned in a parrot cage for treason. Ah, just like the good old days…
Getting to Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum on the Gold Coast, Queensland
Nearest international airport: A close run thing between Brisbane International Airport and the Gold Coast airport at Coolangatta. Budget Airlines are beginning to run cheap international flights from there.
Using public transport: Take any bus going into the centre of Surfers Paradise.
More information: Ripley’s