Expo 1988 Brisbane was a runaway success and a game changer for the City of Brisbane. Attracting more than 18 million visitors - more than the total population of Australia at the time - and visited by numerous Heads of State and opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the Expo, with its friendly furry platypus mascot "Expo Oz" and theme song "Together, We'll Show the World" was 1788-1988 Bicentennial Australia's largest and most successful event, proudly presenting a modern and brash Brisbane to the world stage.
But what about what happened after Expo, and its "Post-Expo" legacy?
Let's peek back to those immediate November 1988 post-Expo days and months, and look further towards what Celebrate 88 has done and is doing for our next most significant Expo 1988 anniversary - the 30th Anniversary in 2018...and beyond!
Once the official closing ceremony had passed, crews arrived early for the next stage in the Expo's development - it's demolition! Due to duty tax, many of the imported items for the Exposition could not be re-sold - and had to be destroyed or donated. The common pre-fabricated shells of the Expo Pavilions came down as quickly as they came up. The Expo sun-sails were pulled down and rolled up. The monorail and track was sold and re-installed elsewhere. The Expo Night Companion Sky Tower was saved from going to Tokyo Disneyland by local entrepreneur Stefan Ackerie - and moved to his hairdressing empire mecca HQ just a few hundred metres away from the Expo site. The River Stage got packed up and sailed away down the river. Most pavilions were gone in a day - and the destruction was relentless.
Yet, a few powerful memories of the Expo remained - due to some hard work - and much good will.
One of the few Pavilion structures made by the participant - the beautiful handcrafted wood-work of the three-tiered Nepalese Peace Pagoda - was retained. And, the popular tranquil synthesis harmony of the Australian trees, shrubs and flowers and Japanese garden design of the Japanese Pond and Garden of the Japan Pavilion - was moved to another part of the city, to the Mt Coot- the Botanic Gardens - both permanent reminders of the ties that bind country and country together in an International Expo.
Numerous works of art from the Expo were also purchased and re-located to other parts of the city. And some, missing their favourite Pavilion Restaurant or evening at the Munich Festhaus, continued to walk through the City streets in half-a-daze - occupying the best seats in Jimmy's on the Mall - hoping that by surveying the passing shoppers and pedestrians, Expo '88 might come alive one more time...
Brisbane did change, however, and its sleepy town image was invigorated into one of a cosmopolitan and sophisticated metropolis with greater expectations. Whereas pre-Expo Brisbane closed its doors at noon on Saturday and didn't open them again until 9am on Monday, Brisbane residents - now used to shops, restaurants and cafes open every day of the week from 10am to 10pm - came to expect that department stores in the City follow suit. They largely did - not only for the hours during the Expo - but also after the Expo as well, resulting in Brisbane City having one of the most liberal retail trading hours systems in all of Australia. Now, Saturday and Sunday trading, on the whole, follow weekday trading regulations. A legacy we still enjoy in Brisbane today.
The six-month party now over, the Brisbane Expo and South Bank Redevelopment Authority looked towards the redevelopment of the South Bank Expo site, engaging the public at many levels - with an Information Centre on the former site, and also numerous 'in-the-suburbs' community consultations, where several proposals were aired. One such proposal included turning the site into a 'mirror' CBD site (a false island in the River, with 50-story international hotel, and World Trade Centre), and another suggested splitting the Expo site into several time-themed zones of gardens and facades, where in 30-year segments Bicentennial Australia was celebrated - in a permanent fashion - including two extra zones 'for the future'.
Both these proposals - despite initial approval of the World Trade Centre proposal - were popularly knocked back as the general consensus was that the South Brisbane side of the river need not be as developed as it's North Brisbane counterpart, and that as much of the residential charm of South Brisbane and West End's character be preserved. The result was that the most popular solution was a model for a large parkland, with fountains, walkways, a tropical rainforest, an artificial sand salt-water beach and pool, numerous rockpools, restaurants, cafes and waterways, and tiered low-medium impact residential and office space towards the rear of the site.
Thus, South Bank Mark I - to much fanfare - was opened in 1992, just four years after the Expo last shut its gates.
This was not the beginning of the end, however, for South Bank's development - but just the start. A few years into the public operation of the parklands, a review was made of the South Bank redevelopment, and, amongst other prominent features, the waterway boat canal that ran from one end of the site to the other, was replaced with a mauve bougainvillea-covered arbour walkway, the 'Southbank Grand Arbour', with its imaginative steel tendril-shaped clasps several metres high for support. The short-lived 'Gondwana Land' Australian Fauna Zoo was dismantled, along with the prettily designed but low patronage Butterfly House. Other changes included re-development of the former Expo Park site into the Brisbane Convention & Exhibition Centre; converting the IMAX theatre venue (constructed after Expo) into a standard cinema complex; and connecting the southern end of the site with the Brisbane Botanic Gardens and Queensland University of Technology across the Brisbane River with a 'high-tech' pedestrian/footbridge called the 'Goodwill Bridge' after Brisbane's successful hosting of the 2001 Goodwill Games - all of which have been a great success.
Now only two parcels of land are remaining for re-development on the former Expo site - one immediately adjacent to South Brisbane Train Station (or, "Expo North", as it was known) - now slated for a medium-rise apartment complex - and the other for a new "Emporium"-brand boutique hotel and apartments - interestingly advertised as "last piece of South Bank".
So, the never-ceasing work at the former Expo site still continues - in a way - still a present reminder that there is life in change and that the Expo is still with us....and, in the lead-up to the 30th Anniversary, we hope, once more, that Expo '88 will take centre stage at the southern banks of the Brisbane River, where the 'celebration of a lifetime', is celebrated one more time.
The South Bank Re-Development, has been - and is - a complex beast - and whilst having its early critics, it has re-born itself into one of the most popular and most visited parks in all of Queensland, with record numbers of nearly 500,000 visitors per month in the summer months.
As a development so far, it has been a most successful re-development, and one that continues to attract observers from other past and future Expo cities as they themselves decide how to best utilise the heritage given to them by hosting an International Expo.
And as we enter the commencement of the third decade of the arrival of the World Wide Web (and the 12th anniversary of the Celebrate 88 website – formerly at foundationexpo88.org) we are reminded of the importance of local – and in the street – celebrations and commemorations for Brisbane’s successful World Expo ’88 – for past and ‘future’ generations of Expo visitors.
Celebrate 88, The 30th Anniversary Of Expo 88 And The Work Ahead
The 25th Anniversary in 2013 was a watershed year for the celebration and commemoration of Expo '88 - and with a strong grassroots campaign through the 25th Anniversary People's Committee, led by Executive Director Peter Rasey and myself; a robust new addition of some 200 YouTube videos chronicling the art and people from Expo, the new Museum of Brisbane’s stunning Expo 88 retrospective exhibition "Light Fantastic", to which our former body Foundation Expo '88 contributed some 150 items of memorabilia, and numerous events on and around the former Expo site, South Bank Parklands, including on the Kookaburra Queen and at Brisbane's own Eiffel Tower, at Savoir Faire Milton, we were able to achieve more than our wildest dreams.
And yet, there is still much more to be done. Peter Rasey and I are now working on the Expo's next major milestone - the 30th Anniversary in 2018, where hope to at last unveil – with Brisbane City Council support – the landmark Expo 88 art work “Paradigm” by USA sculptor Jon Barlow Hudson.
It is our sincere desire, as we march onwards to the 30th Anniversary in 2018, the 50th anniversary in 2038, and even the Centennial in 2088 with Australia’s "Tricentennial”, that the BIE’s core values of progress, peace, and advancement of humankind remain as true to us then, as it is now.
Thank you for being a part of this journey. We look forward to welcoming you "Down Under" soon to reminisce on fond days past, or make new memories in the sun in Australia's "New World City" - a legacy given to us very much by the successful hosting of our own Expo in 1988.
Cover image: The 32-metre high “Paradigm” by USA sculptor Jon Barlow Hudson erect on the right side of the image – the sunsails and Expo ’88 Riverstage and globe are to the left. “Paradigm” was purchased at the end of Expo 88 by Brisbane City Council, and has been in storage since Expo. Celebrate ’88 hopes to have it re-erected in a prominent City site in time for the 30th Anniversary of Expo 88 in 2018. Image Courtesy State Library of Queensland.
John McGregor worked at Expo 1988 Brisbane, Expo 1992 Seville, and Expo 1993 Daejeon. Following a meeting of Expo cities and regions in Seville in 2002, he launched a commemorative website for Expo 1988 Brisbane in 2004, which he now runs and maintains at celebrate88.com. He currently resides in the Gold Coast, Queensland.