20th anniversary of the opening of the South Bank Parklands

Balloons released above the crowd at the opening of the South Bank Parklands, Brisbane, 1992. State Library of Queensland. Image number: sbp00157

“Expo was for 182 days, this is forever” – Ron Paul, Chairman of South Bank (1992)

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the opening of the South Bank Parklands in Brisbane. Following the end of World Expo 88 the site was cleared and the Queensland Government intended to sell the land to commercial developers, however the public successfully lobbied for the site to be developed into public parkland.

People walking across the forecourt of South Bank Parklands during its opening celebrations, Brisbane, 1992. State Library of Queensland. Image number: sbp00271

Pavers and grass were still being laid the night before the grand opening. The Courier Mail stated “the smell of fresh earth in which shrubs had been planted right up to the last minute mingled with the fairground whiffs of frying onions and chips”.

The South Bank Parklands were officially opened on Saturday 20 June 1992 with an estimated 70,000 visitors on the first day. Visitors found a number of facilities including  a man-made beach and lagoon with CBD views, garden and rainforest walks, picnic and barbeque areas, restaurants and cafes, pedestrian walkways and a canal with rail-driven ferries.

Boats travelling along the canal during opening celebrations at South Bank Parklands, Brisbane, 1992. State Library of Queensland. Image number: sbp00260


On the opening day there were long queues to enter one of the main attractions, the Butterfly House. A delay in the completion of another attraction, the Gondwana Rainforest Sanctuary, meant it was unavailable on opening day.

Since 1992 the layout of the South Bank Parklands has changed; both Butterfly House and Gondwana Rainforest Sanctuary were decommissioned after several years and the canals and bridges were also removed. Several important institutions have established themselves in the precinct including the Brisbane headquarters for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and the Queensland Conservatorium of Music.

In 2008 a 60 metre tall ferris wheel named Wheel of Brisbane was installed for the 20th anniversary of World Expo 88 and is now a prominent feature of Brisbane’s skyline.

In 2011 the South Bank Parklands were badly affected when the Brisbane River flooded.

The State Library of Queensland hold a number of items in its historical collections related to the history of South Bank Parklands, including newspaper cuttings, photographs, maps as well as the original  South Bank official souvenir programme from the 1992 opening.

Northern end of the Southbank Parklands inundated by flood water in Brisbane, 2011. State Library of Queensland. Negative number: 27803-0001-0217

Myles Sinnamon – Project Coordinator, State Library of Queensland