When UQ graduate Jackie Ryan wanted to learn more about Expo 88, the book she desperately wanted to read didn’t exist. So, she decided to write it. Contact caught up with the Brisbane author to discuss how her book We’ll Show the World: Expo 88 came together, and how her childhood love of writing and pop culture shaped her career.
Author Jackie Ryan was just a kid when the city of Brisbane came of age during Expo 88.
To her, it was “like walking around inside a kaleidoscope” – a blur of colours and so many different things to see.
In fact, she was most excited about seeing KITT, the iconic talking and thinking car from the hit television show Knight Rider.
But for Ryan’s parents, Brisbane residents, and the rest of Australia, it was more than that. The prevailing emotion was of happiness and optimism, and a sense that everything was about to change after a number of trying years.
Those memories have stuck with Ryan ever since and, 30 years later, the UQ graduate (Doctor of Philosophy (History and Political Science) ’16) has been praised for her honest yet amusing account of Brisbane’s most significant event.
“The book that didn’t exist – but does now, because I wrote it – examines the good, the bad, and the eighties to properly interrogate the significance of this event to Brisbane,” Ryan said.
“It was a time when a lot of mainstream Brisbane hadn’t travelled.
“There weren’t a lot of cultural activities on offer when compared with the sophisticated cities of the world. Then suddenly, for six months from 10am to 10pm, we had world-class cultural activities right on our doorstep.
“But people didn’t know what this rumoured $625 million event was all about and had a lot of reasons for mistrust.
“There was also a lot of suspicion about what Expo was really for. Who was it really helping? Was it for the people of Brisbane or was it only going to benefit the business community?
“In the end it was marketed as ‘your event to show the world’, and people came to believe it.”
We'll Show the World: Expo 88 has received rave reviews, and Ryan was awarded the Queensland Premier’s Award for a Work of State Significance, as well as the University of Southern Queensland History Book Award, at the 2018 Queensland Literary Awards, which also recognised fellow UQP authors Peter Carnavas and Laura Elvery.
Ryan was also awarded a 2018 Queensland Writers Fellowship at the event to advance her latest writing project titled Alfred Russel Wallace: Optimist and Dissenter.
Despite her own fond memories of Expo 88, Ryan was well aware of the controversies surrounding the event and the government at the time of its conception.
“I wanted to read more about it – something that critically weighed the highs and lows of Expo. But that didn’t exist, which was odd because so much had been written about Expo.
“So I thought, ‘Oh well, I’d better write it’.”
Ryan said that completing her PhD at UQ was critical to the research process and the eventual success of her book.
“I chose to complete my thesis first because I wanted this book to be researched properly and I wanted want my work to be examined by history experts,” Ryan said.
“There was a fair amount of pressure. It’s hard to explain to people who weren’t living in Brisbane at the time just how loved Expo was, and still is.
“Trust me, you do not want to write a book about Expo and get it wrong."
“The next step in the chain was rewriting my thesis to make it more accessible and going through the motions of getting it published.”
Coincidentally launched on 30 April 2018 – the 30th anniversary of the official opening of Expo 88 – We’ll Show the World: Expo 88 combines Ryan’s love for writing and pop culture, interest in Queensland history, and her childhood memories.
She said she discovered her love for writing in primary school, when her creative writing teacher asked the class to write their own stories.
“I was like, ‘Really? We’re allowed? That’s legal? You can write your own story?’!”
Ryan’s love for pop culture shines through in her many projects, which include design, short films, music videos, essays, short stories, and a comic book.
Her Aurealis Award-winning comic book Burger Force features real people and locations that had been “comified” through a combination of software and hand retouching.
“Parts of the comic were shot at UQ between 2008 and 2009,” Ryan said.
“One of the stars actually had a part in Crazy Rich Asians and is about to be in the new Spider-Man movie.”
But despite her long list of achievements, Ryan said she still ranks the time she was fist-bumped by original Batman Adam West as one of her greatest moments.
Ryan has contributed to cataloguing Brisbane’s history in such a way that We’ll Show the World: Expo 88 has been recognised as a work of state significance.
“So many Queensland institutions were involved in the production of the book, so it means it practically comes with a ‘Queensland made’ tag on it," Ryan said.
"Publishing the book through UQP was a dream experience. Alexandra Payne was the non-fiction publisher and she had a lot of faith in the book, and championed it quite early on.
“There was a lot of care and consideration shown towards my work, which I really appreciated."
“Expo was such a significant event and it’s nice that my book has been recognised in this way. It feels like the circle is complete.”
Expo in pictures: view images of UQ exhibits and graduation ceremonies during Expo 88.
Main image: The University of Queensland archives