The ‘stacked’ Australia sign repainted and installed at its new home in Caboolture. (ABC Radio Brisbane: Hailey Renault)
The iconic signs painted by artist Ken Done for Brisbane’s Expo ’88 have been unveiled in a new location after an eight-month mission to save and restore them.
The six-metre tall letters have been repainted and placed at the Caboolture Heritage Village, north of Brisbane, in time for the Expo ’88’s 30th anniversary celebrations.
The ‘stacked’ Australia sign has been placed near an Expo building that is also housed on the site, while the ‘long’ Australia sign will be revealed at the historical village on Sunday.
The two weatherbeaten signs had been stored on a plot of land at Deception’s Bay’s Arethusa College and pupil Kurt Jones became intrigued.
“In 2016 I started at the college and everyday I would walk past the signs,” he said.
“I fell in love with the history and I loved that the world came together at South Bank.”
He made it his mission to save them, and placed appeals on social media find them a new home.
Arethusa College student Kurt Jones listed the Expo ’88 signs for sale on social media. (Facebook: Kurt Jones)
“We knew an oval was going where the signs were stored and the school couldn’t find anyone to take them.
“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.”
Kurt called numerous venues and locations including South Bank and the local zoo but no-one was up for the challenge.
“There was a lot of interest but when we came on a school visit to the historical village I knew it had to go here,” he told ABC Radio Brisbane’s Craig Zonca and Rebecca Levingston.
Buyers come to the rescue
Mystery buyers purchased the two Australia signs from the school and gave them to the historical village.
It has since been revealed that Jared Comerford and his partner Storm Marshall donated the two signs.
“I thought I’d lost the war for the signs but he [Jared] rang me and said, ‘I’ve just bought it, it’s all yours’,” Caboolture Historical Village operations manager Greg Raedel said of the surprise gift.
“Up until recently [the donors] didn’t want to be known so I didn’t reveal it but they told me they wanted to give back to the community.
“I don’t know how much he paid for it and he’s never told me, so I don’t know what the figure was.”
The Australia signs will remain at Caboolture, north of Brisbane. (ABC Radio Brisbane: Hailey Renault)
When the idea was first floated to move the signs to the village, Mr Raedal was a little hesitant.
“After a couple of weeks I thought, ‘What am I doing?’. I gave a deadline that many people doubted but here it is,” Mr Raedel said.
“We went down to the wire to get it up, but we made it.”
People from the Multicultural Development Association, a Queensland work skills program, helped paint and stabilise the original sign.
Rebuilding and repainting ‘Australia’
Made from aluminium, the signs were built as a short-term product for Expo and did not weather well while stored outside.
The sign writer who built the letters, Rodney Smith, said they were in a sad state when he saw them five years ago.
“I think they’ve done well to survive as long as they have,” he said.
“It was quite an undertaking at the time because they were all hand built.
“I didn’t consider it was viable to [restore].”
Kurt Jones said he was overwhelmed to see his mission come full circle.
“To see it [the ‘stacked’ Australia sign] up and ready is awesome — it was my mission to save the sign.
“It is amazing and we’re so happy it’s back to its former glory and will be seen so many times.”