What do you remember most about Expo 88?
What we remember most is how privileged we felt to have the opportunity to be a supplier for this amazing event. Expo 88 was a once in a lifetime opportunity and as a Brisbane sign maker it was a very proud feeling to be chosen to produce the colourful building letters for the Australian pavilion. The design of this architectural signage was by Australian artist Ken Done who was internationally renowned for his simple brightly coloured Australian images.
The ‘AUSTRALIA’ building signs were initially designed to be manufactured in aluminium, however the work was considered only to be required for a short term life expectancy so the material changed to steel. The traditional sign manufacturer skills and craftsmanship that our company was built on, enabled us to hand fabricate to the full size form. Manufacturing involved hand cutting and shaping the individual graphics, whereby in today’s environment the steel components would be computer cut by CAD CAM.
Each letter was carefully prepped and treated for the most important visual of Ken Done’s work, the very bright multi-coloured paint. Under Ken Done’s guidance, each letter was individually marked up to his unique design. The challenge was to achieve clean colours to showcase the brightness and brilliance of his specified colour palette.
One of our biggest challenges was the logistics on how to safely transport such large outdoor signs from our manufacturing plant to Southbank. Due to the large height and width of each letter it required night time transportation with one letter per truck load, and included road closures and a police escort. Throughout the night the individual letters were fixed to the steel supporting structures, a mammoth feat by our team of installers.
The ‘AUSTRALIA’ building letters positioned at the exit and entrance of the Australian Pavilion are remembered today as one of the most outstanding icons of Expo 88. They were one of the most photographed art works at Expo. Visitors formed lengthy queues to have their photographs taken with them. The Pavilion Entrance letters were 2 metres high each ‘stacked’ vertically in groups of three letters. The letters at the VIP Entrance/Pavilion Exit were much larger at a massive 5.3 metres high installed side by side.
These themed letters were a highlight of Expo 88. Their bright rendition of the Australian sun, indigenous Australians, tropical palms and the Southern Cross represented a new proud Australia at the height of our Bicentennial Celebrations.
After Expo the ‘AUSTRALIA’ building letters found a new home at the Shaftesbury Citizenship Campus for disadvantaged youth at Burpengary, thanks to the Reverend Allan Male. The project was unique with the slogan, “It’s better to build a boy than mend a man”. The Expo 88 letters languished there in a paddock and unfortunately did not weather well over the next 30 years.
The two weather-beaten building signs attracted the interest of Arethusa College pupil Kurt Jones; “In 2016 I started at the college and every day I would walk past the signs. I fell in love with the history and I loved that the world came together at Southbank.” Kurt made it his mission to save them, and placed appeals on social media to find them a new home. “We were told the signs were going to a scrap heap and I couldn’t let the history go. I knew they needed to be saved.” “There was a lot of interest but when we went on a school visit to the historical village I knew it had to go there.”
Then two mystery buyers come to the rescue. They purchased the Australia signs from the school and donated them to the Caboolture Historical Village.
Areas at the Village were earmarked for the restoration work and visitors to the Village were able to see the restoration taking place. Caboolture Historical Village volunteers and a group of 10 trainees working under the Queensland Government’s ‘Skilling Queenslanders for Work’ cleaned, sanded, painted, and refurbished to bring the EXPO 88 AUSTRALIA LETTERS BACK TO LIFE!