Australia's Exhibition buildings

1876- Brisbane’s First Intercolonial Exhibition

Brisbane's first exhibition, known then as the Intercolonial Exhibition of 1876, was held in a timber building called the Main Pavilion.

According to RNA archives, more than 17,000 people attended the opening day, which was deemed a success as Brisbane's population at the time was only 22,000.

Each visitor received the state's very first showbag — a bag of coal.

The Main Pavilion burnt down in 1887, opening the way for the New Exhibition structure to be built in 1891.

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1879- Sydney’s Garden Palace

The Macquarie Street entrance to the Royal Botanic Gardens is marked by the gates to the long gone Garden Palace Exhibition Building. The Garden Palace was a huge building, similar in size and style to Melbourne's Exhibition Building, it was erected by a team of over 2,000 men to house Sydney's first international exhibition in 1879. Large international exhibitions were popular in the late 19th Century and when Sydney was host in 1879 the massive Garden Palace Exhibition Building was built to house it.

The Victorian era equivalent of a world expo, exhibitions and world fairs were at the height of fashion at the time. The International Exhibition was ground-breaking in so far as it was the first of its kind to be held in the southern hemisphere. It was responsible for bringing the world to Sydney at a time when the colony was prosperous and growing and full of potential. It boosted the economy and encouraged authorities to improve the city's services and facilities.

After the exhibition, the palace continued to play a central role in Sydney's social life. Balls, lectures, exhibitions and entertainments were hosted in its auditorium; an art gallery and the first technological museum, the forerunner to the Powerhouse, were established. Government departments also set up office and important records were stored in the basement, the wisdom of which would later be questioned. Unlike Barnet's other sturdy designs such as the GPO, the Colonial Secretary's Office and the Lands Department building which still stand today, the palace was primarily made of timber, which ensured its complete destruction on the night of 22nd September 1882, in a spectacular fire the likes of which Sydney had never seen before. The wind carried hot ash and cinders far into the suburbs; a house in Potts Point even caught fire.

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1880 - Melbourne’s Royal Exhibition building

In 1879 the somewhat unkempt Carlton Gardens were redeveloped with grand avenues, decorative fountains and parterre garden beds, creating an ornamental pleasure garden for the new Exhibition Building. Designed by Joseph Reed and built by David Mitchell for the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition, the Exhibition Building epitomised the wealth, opulence, excitement, energy and spirit of Marvellous Melbourne. Together the 1880 and 1888 International Exhibitions attracted over three million visitors, brought cultures, technology and ideas from across the world to Melbourne, and were a place to see and be seen.

The Exhibition Building cemented its status Melbourne’s leading event venue and a tourist icon on 9th May 1901, hosting the opening of Australia’s Federal Parliament. Since that time baby shows, home shows, motor shows, bicycle races and pole sitting competitions are just some of the events that have found a home in the Exhibition Building.


1887 - Adelaide’s Jubilee Exhibition building

To celebrate 50 years since the colony's founding in 1836, the South Australian government planned a jubilee exhibition. Architects Latham Withall and Alfred Wells won a competition to design an exhibition building. Construction began on North Terrace in 1885. A special railway line was laid from the site to the Adelaide Railway Station to transport building materials. The building was completed in time for the celebrations in 1887.

Inside visitors could find ballrooms, theatres, and more than 2,200 displays of objects and materials from 26 different countries. From the exhibition’s opening to its conclusion on 7 January 1888, nearly 790,000 people visited the site.

In 1925 the Royal Show moved to Wayville, and the once busy Exhibition Building became largely neglected. In 1929 the land and building were transferred to the University of Adelaide. In 1962, the Jubilee Exhibition Building was demolished to make way for the Napier building.



1894 - Hobart International Exhibition

It took one million feet of hardwood to build and it sprawled across 11 acres, yet today there is no sign of Hobart's Exhibition Building.

Taking up most of the area where the Cenotaph now stands, it was impossible to miss the giant building on Hobart's skyline between 1893 and 1896.

But it wasn't built to last.

The Exhibition Building was constructed for the Hobart International Exhibition which was held during 1894 and 1895.

Historian Suzanne Smythe told ABC Radio Hobart a competition was held for its design.

"The building could not cost more than £10,000 because that was all the money they basically had," she said.

The colonies had eight exhibitions between 1879 and 1899.

"Exhibitions were all the rage at that time, and it started with the Crystal Palace Exhibition in London in 1851 which three million people went to see," Ms Smythe said.

"It was a way for countries to show off their industrial developments as well as their cultural heritage."

Launceston held an exhibition earlier than Hobart at the Albert Hall, which is still in use today.

The exhibition made a profit, and in true parochial fashion, Hobart decided it also had to hold an event because Launceston's had been successful.


1891- Launceston - Albert Hall Exhibition building

The Albert Hall was built by J.T Farmils at a cost of 14,000 pounds in 1891 to house the Tasmanian Industrial Exhibition of 1891-92. The exhibition ran for four months and attracted over 260,000 people. The exhibition itself was designed to ease the social misery caused by the depression of the 1880’s.

The Albert Hall is one of Launceston’s most significant heritage buildings due to its high degree of heritage value that is attributed to the Classical Victorian style of monumental public architecture. The Hall covers an area of 14,000 square feet and was recognised at the time as the worlds 11th largest building.

The Brindley Air Organ, situated in the Great Hall and is Australia’s largest surviving organ pre-dating 1860. Built of local timbers including blackwood and huon pine, the organ’s bellows are lined with original kangaroo skin; believed to be the only one of its type in the world when installed in 1892.


1897 - Brisbane’s Exhibition Building- now The Old Museum

The Old Museum Building was originally built for the National Agricultural Association as an exhibition hall and opened in 1892. The design also included a concert hall—the best concert venue in Brisbane until the City Hall was built. Unfortunately, the construction coincided with the severe depression of the early 1890s, and the association could not afford to service their loans. The government stepped in and bought the building, and converted the exhibition hall to house the Queensland Museum. After the City Hall was opened in 1930, the concert hall was con­verted to accommodate the Queens­land Art Gallery which remained there until 1974.

Originally built as an exhibition hall and concert hall in 1891, the building sits on the site of an earlier building that burned down in 1888. In the late 1890s the exhibition hall was converted to accommodate the Queensland Museum which transferred to the building in 1899. The concert hall continued as the venue for performances and meetings until 1930 when it was modified to house the Queensland Art Gallery. In 1973 the Art Gallery moved away and the museum took over the whole building. In 1986 the museum moved to new purpose-built accommodation in the Queensland Cultural Centre on the south bank of the Brisbane River opposite the city centre.