Leading UQ historian awarded top writing prize

30 October 2018

A researcher from The University of Queensland’s School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry has been honoured by the Queensland Literary Awards – winning the Premier’s Award for a Work of State Significance as well as the History Book of the Year.

Dr Jackie Ryan has received $25,000 award for her book We’ll Show the World: Expo 88 (UQP, 2018).

Published to coincide with the celebration of Expo’s 30th birthday, We’ll Show the World is the story of how, to Brisbane, Expo was personal.

Dr Ryan said that as a teenager, she loved every minute of Expo and was oblivious to the political controversies surrounding it.

“World Expo 88 was the largest, longest, and loudest of Australia’s bicentennial events.

"It was a shiny 1980s amalgam of cultural precinct, shopping mall, theme park, travelogue, and rock concert.

"The Expo 88 behemoth is commonly credited as the catalyst for Brisbane’s ‘coming of age," she said.

As Dr Ryan grew older and her horizons expanded beyond Expo, the Labyrinth movie, and Duran Duran, she began to wonder if she could reconcile her ongoing love of Expo with some of the things she was hearing about its organising government.

We’ll Show the World lifts the curtain on Expo 88. It explores the shifting social and political environment in which Expo 88 was conceived, planned, and executed – an environment shaped as much by Queensland’s controversial premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen as it was by those who reacted against him.

This book considers how an event once mocked as a ‘Joh Show’ became the people’s party, and how something initially greeted with outrage, scepticism, or indifference came to mean so much to so many.

“It was the book that didn’t exist—but that does now, because I wrote it. It examines the good, the bad, and the eighties to properly interrogate the significance of this event to Brisbane," Dr Ryan said.

Dr Ryan won the Queensland Premier’s Award for a work of State Significance, with the judges praising the Brisbane writer’s meticulous and amusing account of the major event that forever shifted perceptions of the sunshine state.

She was also awarded a Queensland Writing Fellowship for her next book.

Dr Ryan’s Expo project started at The University of Queensland as a PhD thesis supervised by Professor Peter Spearritt and Senior Lecturer Dr Geoff Ginn in the School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry.

“It certainly helped that my supervisors had allowed me to write the thesis in a relatively accessible style," she said.

"It also helped that I had a book in mind from the outset and knew to obtain concurrent thesis and publication permissions from my interview subjects."

Dr Ryan wrote the didactic text for the Museum of Brisbane’s ‘Light Fantastic’ exhibition on Expo 88 in 2013, and has devised audio-visual material on Expo for the South Bank Corporation and the Queensland Museum.

She also produces the Aurealis Award-winning Burger Force comic series and founded comedy writing collective the Fanciful Fiction Auxiliary.

Media: Sally Wilson sallyw@uqp.uq.edu.au, +61 7 3365 2606