Growing up in Perth, one of my favourite times of year was when the Royal Show came to town. Traditionally a time for farmers to meet and sell their wares and animals, the Show has since evolved into a week-long carnival where city-folk can pat farm animals, watch a wood-chopping competition, sample fresh ice-cream, ride roller-coasters, and take home as many Showbags as they can carry.
My favourite part of the Show was always Sideshow Alley – a 2km stretch of screaming lights and flashing sounds; a cacophonous wonder of bustling bodies, terrifying rides, and rigged carnival games. Every year there was a new ride to discover. It was here that I tried my first roller-coaster, here that I learned ghost trains aren’t scary, here that I fell in love with the simplistic terror of the chair swing and chair drop. And it was here, in Sideshow Alley at the Perth Royal Show, that I learned that “Dodgem Cars” is a very misleading name for a game where one must actually hit things.
I had never heard of Dodgem Cars before, but there it suddenly was in sparkling red letters in front of me – a new addition to the Alley’s collection. On a level platform below the dazzling sign, chunky black cars stood ready to ride. It was new, and it looked fun, so, pocket money in-hand, I walked over to the ticket window.
Being a rather well-read but still quite literal child, I believed that I had grasped the object of the game from the name itself. Dodgem Cars: obviously one was meant to drive the car around the platform without bumping into anything. Clearly the difficulty – and the fun – of the game lay in the fact that the car was so big, this would be a near impossible feat to achieve.
So I jumped into my very own Dodgem and, smug in my inferred understanding, released my competitive spirit: I would be the very best Dodger there. An alarm sounded and the cars whirred to life. We were off!
I did a few laps of the platform, sharply twisting the wheel on a few occasions when I came too close to another vehicle.
And then, all of a sudden, something rammed into the back of my Dodgem and threw me against the rubber-enforced perimeter. It was amazing to me that another driver could have been so lax in their driving that they hit me that hard. Somewhat startled, I turned behind me to see a Dodgem driven by a basket-ball capped teenage boy. I gesticulated my confusion at him: ‘How did you not see me there?’ I demanded. He smirked to himself and then drove off.
Unperturbed, I continued my exquisite dodging, wondering if there was a prize for the driver who hit the least number of obstacles – most of the other drivers seemed to be having difficulty with their steering wheels.
But then it happened again! I was hit by two cars – one from either side! It was that same boy again, but this time he had a friend with him and they had come at me from opposite sides. Obviously they had been watching each other rather than where they were going.
Then they reversed and rammed into me again!
‘Hello!’ I yelled at them, confused why they had not noticed me.
One of them manoeuvred his Dodgem in front of mine, and between them they pushed my Dodgem – bumping all the way – into the wall at the other end of the platform. I tried explaining to them that they weren’t meant to be hitting the car, but they couldn’t hear me over their cackling.
Suddenly, the ride was stopped and two of the operators walked onto the platform to remove the two boys. I shrugged at them sympathetically – sad for them that they hadn’t understood the game and had thus been disqualified. The ride started again, and off I drove in my obstacle-less circles.
At the end of the ride I walked triumphantly down the stairs to where mum stood.
‘Those boys were horrible.’ She said to me, ‘You did well to not let their bullying get to you.’
I looked at her in confusion, then looked back to where a new round of Dodgem Cars had begun behind me. Everyone was bashing into each other.
And then I realised.
The object of the game was to hit as many people as you could! The boys had been ejected not because they misunderstood the rules, but because they had ganged up together to bully me. The humiliation was too much to bare. I spent the rest of the day moping trough Sideshow Alley, tears streaming down my face.