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Expo 1988 Brisbane

Category: Specialized

Country: Australia

Opening:April 30, 1988

Closing: October 30, 1988

Participating countries: 121

Visits: 22,049,544

Site Area: 173 ha (427.5 acres)

Image: © 1988. John McGregor.


Expo '88 was a Specialized World Expo held in Brisbane, Australia, from April 30 to October 30, 1988.


The theme of the Expo was "Leisure in the Age of Technology," and it was a celebration of the bicentennial of European settlement in Australia. The event was a significant milestone for Brisbane, marking its emergence as a vibrant, globally connected city.


Over 18 million visitors attended the six-month-long Expo, which featured pavilions from more than 50 countries and numerous corporations.


The Expo site was transformed into a cultural and educational precinct, now known as South Bank Parklands, which includes a mix of rainforest, water, grassed areas, and plazas as well as features such as the Riverwalk and the Streets Beach. The Expo '88 also left a lasting cultural legacy, including the popularization of outdoor dining in Queensland and the introduction of Sunday trading. The event was considered a major success, boosting tourism and the economy, and significantly raising the international profile of Brisbane and Queensland.

For six months in the 1788-1988 Bicentennial of modern Australia, the sun-kissed capital of Queensland - Brisbane - hosted World Expo 88 on the lazy southern banks of the Brisbane River - where a mixture of light industry, warehouses, and boarding houses were reclaimed for the Expo and transformed into the glittering crown of Australia’s bicentennial year. 

Most of the British Commonwealth and nations of the Asia-Pacific participated at this Specialised International Exposition - which had “Leisure in the Age of Technology” as its theme and a stirring “Together, We’ll Show the World” theme song that became a rallying cry for the citizens of Brisbane in the lead-up to the Expo’s official opening by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on 30 April 1988. Other featured VIPs to the Expo were Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and Noboru Takeshita of the UK and Japan; as well as HM King Juan Carlos and HM Queen Sofía of Spain, who were visiting in anticipation of Seville’s Universal Exposition of 1992.


Averaging 100,000 visitors a day (with 5% of these international visitors), the compact 40-hectare site had surprises at every corner - with pavilions, restaurants, and cafes; street buskers and entertainers; and kinetic and bold art works from all over the world - as well as the 88 humorous plaster-cast “Human Factor” series statues capturing day-to-day poses of persons in a variety of professions.

With originally only 7.8 million visitors forecast for the Expo - this target was reached already past the half-way mark - and by the Expo’s final day 30 October 1988 some 18 million visitors - nearly the total population of Australia at the time had visited the Expo.

The Expo had been a resounding success for Brisbane and the Bicentennial - shaking off its northern sleepy town image and transforming it into a cosmopolitan capital with 7-day-a-week retail, restaurants, and a bourgeoning cafe scene.


Today known as Southbank Parklands - and averaging 10 million visitors a year - the former Expo site is now a brilliant combination of hospitality, hotel, office, retail, University and Conservatorium of Music, green space and artificial beach and saltwater pools - all carefully landscaped, with a few calls back to Expo days with several of the art works and Human Factor series sculptures as well as the Nepal Peace Pagoda by the river’s southern banks.


At the first level of the Nepal Peace Pagoda at South Bank there is also a small cabinet that celebrates Expo 88 with a display of maps, mascots, passports and memorabilia from the Expo - the closest thing we can get to for a Museum space for Expo 88 - for the moment!

As the late Sir Llew Edwards, Chair & CEO of World Expo 88 exhorted at the Closing Ceremony - “may the light of Expo 88 never really fade.”


Visitors to Brisbane can get a free Guided Tour of our World Expo 88 legacy by contacting the author John McGregor, at (contact at

Text by John McGregor.

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