World Expo 88 South Bank Trail - Visit Brisbane


World Expo 88 South Bank Trail

Remember when South Bank Parklands was actually a huge, international exhibition site, lovingly called World Expo ’88? Us too! 

Nepalese Pagoda South Bank

Of course if you were born after 1985, maybe it’s all a bit fuzzy or just a wacky flashback in your family photo albums. But yes, before the beach, before Epicurious Gardens and before the Wheel of Brisbane, the southern banks of the river laid claim to Expo.

2018 marks 30 years since Brisbane was put on the international stage; and while there are remnants of the landmark event scattered all across Brisbane, there actually aren’t that many still here at South Bank.

Here’s a few places you can reminisce about when Brisbane ‘showed the world’.

Nepalese Pagoda

The subject of a massive community campaign to preserve the unique architecture, the Nepalese Pagoda is the largest structure that remains onsite from Expo 88 days. Hand carved by families in the mountains of Nepal, shipped here on boats and assembled on site over many months, the Nepalese Peace Pagoda is one of only seven of its kind all over the world! After Expo, the Pagoda was carefully dis-assembled and moved from the Southpoint towers site, across the to its current location along the river front. 

Plough Inn and Ship Inn

If you have ever had a beer at the Plough, or lunch at the Ship Inn, then you’ve already experienced Expo heritage. Both these iconic pubs operated during Expo 88, in fact, they were here well before the event. The Ship Inn was serving rowdy sailors back in 1864, while the current Plough Inn building was built in 1885 (an earlier premises existed on the same site from 1864) to cater to the busy commercial wharves that lined the southern banks of the river in the late 19th century. Both venues are heritage listed, and serve up traditional gastro pub style fare, just as they did during Expo 88.

Human Factor Sculpture South Bank

Human Factor Sculptures

Some of the most iconic images from Expo 88 involve the Human Factor sculptures, a series of plaster of Paris still-life forms. Some of the tableaux were historical, some modern and others fantastical. South Bank is still home to two circus-themed models, one is forever suspended on his imaginary high-wire unicycle high above Stanley Street Plaza, while the second calmly sips some tea in the foyer of South Bank House, next to the entry to the Visitor Information Centre. They are both very popular photo opportunities in the Parkland.


Just a short walk over the Goodwill Bridge, the City Botanic Gardens is the resting place for the Riverstage – a floating concert venue that kept Expo crowds entertained daily. Many big acts of the day made an appearance – John Farnham, Icehouse, John Denver – and Judith Durham and The Seekers played the closing concert, ending their set with The Carnival is Over, which became an unofficial anthem for the end of the celebrations. Today, Australian as well as international touring artists perform at the Riverstage such as Florence + The Machine, Lauryn Hill and John Butler Trio – and it’s also the location for the annual Lord Mayor’s Christmas Carols concert in December.

Sky Needle

Another structure that lives on thanks to a public rally, the Sky Needle still takes pride of place as an architectural beacon of West End. Though it’s rotating light bulb was eventually removed, and some neon rainbow rings added to the spire to reflect its new owner’s logo – Brisbane hairdresser Stefan – Brisbane residents are very fond of the 88m tall Sky Needle and did not want to see it relocated to Tokyo Disneyland, which was its intended destination after Expo closed. Stefan recently sold the tower after a checkered decade of refurbishments and electrical fires, and the monument will be retained as part of a new residential apartment complex being built in Edmondstone Street.

Man and Matter – Kangaroo Point Cliffs, Lower River Terrace

Another iconic image from Expo days was the Man and Matter steel sculptures that lined the river edge during the exposition. Now moved to the base of the Kangaroo Point Cliffs, along the boardwalk, the iconic red figures are visible as you sail past on the ferry or take a walk along the parkland that runs between the Maritime Museum and Captain Burke Park.

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