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Freedom to geek: Canberra’s Geek Markets

The Canberra Geek Markets are an event held once or twice a year at Canberra’s Exhibition Park. They are an opportunity to immerse yourself in the worlds of fandom, cosplay, gaming, characters, art and more.

Banner for the Geek Markets in pop art style
Promo artwork for the Geek Markets

I was looking forward to the Geek markets. In spite of the fact I’ve never been a gamer, I love the art and the characters and the quirkiness of collectables and cosplay.

Cosplay is the combination of the words “costume” and “play”, where participants act out fantasy themes and compete to create the best costumes.

Surprisingly, the EPIC centre was very crowded when I arrived and I had to negotiate thousands of people and cars.

Turns out, the Geek markets were held on the same day as the Handmade Markets, a much bigger event.

A large, bearded man wearing a T-shirt with a Tardis on it (from the TV show Dr Who) proved to be a perfect candidate to ask for directions and he gave me instructions for a very long walk.

A panel of four large TV screens with different games on each one
UCX from the University of Canberra demonstrating their ESports Lounge

As I got close, I overheard someone explain: “all the normies don’t go here,” and he was right. The tone changed from well-to-do Canberrans and stall holders from Victoria, to a more motley and disparate crowd. People wearing costumes, or unique fashion gathered in clusters, a few Storm Troopers, a boy with a chainsaw through his head, and lots of swords.  

Three people wearing costumes act out a violent scene. A man is holding a sword to a woman's throat while another man looks on smiling.
Members of Wargrounds Canberra, a medieval battleground reenactment group act out a scene in costume

Inside I encountered a surging crowd. The venue was just a large shed, and jam-packed with people. People, stalls, flashing lights and brightly coloured products.

A young woman in bright and dark clothing with a flame motif an. Her bag is full of shopping.
Rhiannon, dressed to make the most of the day, had filled her shopping bag with goodies

I had expected to find a stage or an entertainment room for acts and performers. There was none of that. As fantasy writer Brendan Wright explained, a cosplay con (or convention) was a much loftier affair, where there is a charge for entry. A convention is where you’ll find professional performers and entertainment. Canberra’s Geek Markets is just a market, entry is free and there are no barriers for people to join in the fun.

A group of adults and children standing around a table, holding game controllers.
Gaming on UCX’s Esports machines holding the attention of visitors

I made a circumnavigation around the hall to get an idea of all that was on offer. There was a lot of variety — comic stands, collectables, fantasy props, physical game players, board game players and so much more.  

Many different comics laid out on a table
The Geek Markets were the place to go find that rare collectable comic, or stumble into something new

The Southern Cross Garrison, of the International 501st  Legion, had a strong presence. This is because most of the members were in full costumes as Star Wars fighters. The idea is the group helps build screen accurate Star Wars costumes. There are contingents in the ACT and NSW.

Three armoured military fighters from Star Wars
Members of the Southern Cross Garrison pose for photos

Not long after, I met a group dressed in flamboyant costumes with characterised hairstyles. These were the “JoJos” from the manga series JoJo’s bizarre adventure. The variety of costumes was astounding and they gathered into a group of about eight or nine, before breaking up to tour the markets. “They were all friends”, a couple of the JoJo’s told me, meeting through social media fan groups.

A group of young women in a variety of costumes
The JoJos delighted in showing off their costumes

I spoke with digital artist, Kwagzombie about his work. He had used a backdrop with bright colour against a dark background to stand out. This, he explained, was the style of his digital art, which he based on 16th Century Italian artist,  Caravaggio. Zwagzombie told me he is influenced by video games, anime, manga, or whatever show he was watching. He said he had a great circle of friends who all bounced off each other with new ideas, or challenged each other’s work.

A man sits at a table, posing with a skeleton as a prop and a bright purple sign above his head
Zwagzombie was once a conventional artist, but now he is sharing his digital art

The sport of Jugger didn’t look like a sport at first glance. On the table were an assortment of padded weapons, however you could see from videos, it looks like a fabulous game. It’s a five aside game played on a field with players equipped with padded spars, shields and some sort of chained ball – not at all mainstream. Kieran, manning the stall for the day, told me Covid has decimated the local Jugger numbers, and the group is hoping to attract more fans.

The game is a blend of touch footy and fencing, Kieran explains. To me it looks like Quidditch – as played in the Harry Potter series – albeit without the flying. You can join the Canberra Jugger League for the Sunday games at Glebe Park (2:00 – 4:00 pm). I’d love to play it – if only my fitness would stand up to the challenge.

A man in a sports short stands in front of a table. He is holding a padded staff or "spar".
Kieran manned the jugger stall all day, encouraging people to get involved in his sport

Luke McWilliams and Tim Styles are fundraising to produce a short film. Both are experienced actors, with writing and directing in their film and theatre credentials, and renowned cinematographer Marissa Martin on their team, Ironically the film is about the psychological pain of serial office work to pay the bills. It will be interesting to see this film in its final form.

Two men sit at a desk, with fake blood on their shirts. One is holding a blood splattered meat cleaver. There are row of flyers in front of them
Luke and Tim are on a mission to produce a short film

Then there are the board game players. The StarsSZ Stronghold offered the opportunity to try out different role playing games. The tables were packed with people playing dice games such as Dungeons and Dragons, but the large boards and the physical action figures are the most fascinating.

Groups of people sitting around tables playing games
Role playing board games were popular
Miniature of ugly looking trolls
Troll miniatures from tabletop game

For would be readers and writers, visitors venturing to one of the far corners can find a cache of authors. This is a thriving community, the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild held prominence, supporting new writers with enthusiasm, and building a community. Not all the authors were associated with the group.

Some authors were at the markets to build their own readership platforms. Readers of new Australian fiction could find a treasure trove of self-published books to explore.

A table with lots of books with cartoon style covers.
These books are bright and colourful, but they come with a warning

The Geek Markets are connected to the main exhibition centre by a short walk. Conveniently, the food hall is the very first pavilion you will encounter. Compared to the few food offerings at the Geeks, the main hall is where you’ll find all the food selections you can wish for. You just might want to check the weather though, the rain set in and the ground and carparks became very muddy. Walking between the two buildings in the rain is an outdoor experience.

To sum up, the Geek Markets are all things Geek. Go along to admire the costumes, follow your fan fiction, accessorise, meet people and find niche communities. It’s free, it’s fun and if you could always just pretend you were really there for the Handmade Markets. If you do have sensory issues, early morning might be better for you.

Photos by Jenna Gray