Australia was approaching its bicentennial celebrations, and after Brisbane’s success hosting the 1982 Commonwealth Games, Brisbane City Council and the Queensland State Government were confident they could win the bid to hold the next World Exhibition.
Brisbane won the right to hold the event and Expo 88 was officially opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on 30 April 1988. By the time it closed, it had changed the way the world saw Brisbane and helped shaped the city as we know it today.
Starting with an estimated budget of $645 million, the Queensland State Government developed a World Expo that would recoup and support its own costs and promote international investment in Queensland, both during and after the event. South Bank, badly damaged in the 1973–74 floods, was chosen and the site acquired for $150 million. Developers completed construction on time and within budget. The targets set for ticket sales were reached 11 weeks before Expo 88 had even opened. It was off to a smashing start.
Celebrating ‘Leisure in the age of technology’, there was an incredible range of pavilions, performances, parades, comedy and artwork on show. Guests could experience over 50 restaurants filled with flavours from around the globe. Hosted over six months, it drew more than 18 million people to the renewed South Bank parklands district. An average of 100,000 people a day entered the gates.
An influx of royalty, celebrities and international visitors came to Brisbane for the exhibition, but it was Queensland residents who attended the most often, purchasing 500,000 season tickets. Expo 88 provided something the city needed: an easy-to-access recreational facility with exciting things to do, see and experience. Brisbanites returned again and again to socialise and enjoy the festival atmosphere.
The monorail was one of the most popular attractions. Giving travelers a view of the entertainment from above, it operated along a 2.3-kilometre track during Expo 88, taking up to 44,000 visitors a day from one side of Expo to the other, along the Brisbane River. Built by Swedish manufacturer Von Roll, the monorail cost $12 million and comprised four MkII trains with nine carriages each. The idea of keeping the monorail operating after Expo and extending it into the Brisbane CBD was discussed. Ultimately, the existing monorail wasn’t a feasible long-term people-moving solution and it was disbursed. Three trains were sold back to Von Roll and were used in Germany’s Europa-Park. The remaining train and some tracks were incorporated into the Sea World theme park on the Gold Coast.
Where are they now?
Significant installations, exhibitions and artworks from Expo 88 were relocated and continue to be enjoyed today. Ken Done AM, a prominent Australian artist and designer, was commissioned to produce the entry and exit statement art pieces for the Australia Pavilion. Using the word ‘Australia’, Done produced a sign nearly six metres tall that could not be missed. The letters have since been restored and are on display at the Caboolture Heritage Village.
The Nepal Peace Pagoda was the only international pavilion that remained on-site. It was saved by a petition that attracted about 70,000 signatures. Built over two years by more than 160 Nepalese families, the 80 tonnes of hand-carved timer was brought to Brisbane specifically for the event. You can discover the Nepalese Pagoda nestled in the heart of the Southbank Parklands, one of the only peace pagodas in the world located outside of Nepal.
The Japanese Garden and Pond, designed by the late Kenzo Ogata, was gifted to the city of Brisbane after Expo 88. In 1989 it was moved to the Botanic Gardens at Mt Coot-Tha. The garden contains plants suitable for Brisbane’s climate, both native and exotic.
Famously the 88 metre tall Skyneedle, built specifically for Expo 88, still lives in Brisbane. Designed by Charles Sutherland from a sculpture by Robert Owen, it was considered the largest art commission in Australia when it was produced. Originally planned to be installed at Disneyland Tokyo after the event, Stefan Ackerie purchased the Skyneedle. It was relocated to Stefan corporate headquarters in South Brisbane. In 2015 the location surrounding of The Skyneedle, as well as the structure, was sold to Pradella group who incorporated it into a residential development. An undeniable landmark of Expo 88, The Skyneedle was granted heritage listing in 2002.
The buzz of activity, the investment in South Bank’s infrastructure and the spotlight on Brisbane transformed the city. The physical legacy left by Expo 88 turned South Bank into a thriving social space and prominent cultural hotspot: 42 hectares was dedicated to the construction of the South Bank Parklands.
🥳 Relive Expo 88 in our album here 🥳