Go located only a few blocks away and that also was burnt to the ground as a result of Brisbane gang turf wars. Tragically, fifteen people died in the Whiskey fire that instigated the Fitzgerald Inquiry, which, in turn, exposed profound levels of corruption in Queensland politics and the police force. It is said the illegal gambling activity moved between Whiskey au Go Go and World by Night.
The partial demolition of that studio exposed layers of use that until then had been private, such as the mirrored walls and pseudo Gothic wallpaper of the private “gentlemen’s” rooms upstairs. I noticed the similarity in appearance of the studio site and the post-earthquake buildings in Newcastle. There was that strange, quiet beauty emerging as a result of the layers being stripped away and exposed, but without the drama and tragedy of loss of life. It was very ironic that a huge billboard advertising the ever-watchful presence of the police was later erected on the site.
I was also aware that although the loss of my studio was of great consequence to me, it had a completely different significance to the developers, and virtually no significance for the majority of the population of Brisbane: it became a site of development potential for most.10
Princess Street studio. My next studio was demolished a few years later to make way for sixteen bedsit
apartments. This building was typical post-war timber construction as opposed to the predominantly stone and concrete buildings seen in Newcastle and the Queen Street premises.
The buildings had that time of being reduced to their bare bones. With only their skeletal remains left standing, their internal spaces were entirely exposed to the elements.
In documenting the demise of this studio I noticed the difference in the look of the partially demolished building compared with my previous observations of the quiet dignity of the stripped-out brick-and-stone Queen Street building. But I felt that same sense of sad, expectant waiting after the machines had left for the day. The buildings were not demolished overnight; the recyclers came and stripped them of their cladding. They stripped out the pipes and any ornamental features, so the buildings had that time of being reduced to their bare bones. With only their skeletal remains left standing, their internal spaces were entirely exposed to the elements.
I still walk by the site of the Princess Street studio, and fragmented memories come flooding back. I remember the studio’s “painty” smell that had always brought a sense of
continuum in my work, now contrasted with the variety of unfamiliar cooking smells that emanate from the building. I admit to being sentimental about these studios, and liken them to a time-ravaged beauty on display for the last time. In my mind I was seeing the image of John Everett Millais’ Ophelia as an allegory for what I was feeling.11
Freeway. It was also a time when a large residential demolition program was in progress to make way for a new freeway close to my house. Brisbane in the late ’80s and early ’90s was in the throes of a “building boom”. The corrupt state government of Sir Johannes (“Joh”) Bjelke-Petersen stood on the economic growth generated by the rapid rebuilding of the city. The tempo of demolition had sped up to a frenetic pace and overnight demolitions became commonplace. The old was making way for the new at an alarming rate.
Within a block of my house a dozen or so houses were removed for the freeway development, which lasted more than a year. There was the familiar disturbance and rearrangement of layers but this time not making way for a building – but for the transient space of cars. It seemed paramount to have evidence of that fleeting time between usages, or of identity that held elements of both usages. There was no time of abandonment, or time to make an emotional distance between occupancy and the first steps of purposing. I noted the similarity between the look of demolition needed to make an area
safe, and of controlled demolition for the sake of “progress” – including the cutting of a swathe through a row of houses to make way for a road.
I named the series D9, which is the code applied to a structure awaiting demolition be it as a result of a disaster such as an earthquake, or for planned urban development. The eventual culminating exhibition was sold out within the first hour and it became evident to me that there needn’t be a personal attachment to place to experience an emotional reaction to its dissolution.
Brisbane in the late ’80s and early ’90s was in the throes of
a ‘building boom’. The corrupt state government of Sir Johannes Bjelke-Petersen stood on the economic growth generated by the rapid rebuilding of the city.
As we moved into 2000 I was seeing evidence that not only the old was making way for the new – the new was also making way as well. I was becoming more and more interested in the idea of the city as our primary environment, and as my work evolved I wanted to see if I could portray the city environment in the same way as I would a traditional landscape.