The Next Big Things: Developments redefining Queensland

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CHANGES can be fleeting, like a pop-up performance at a bus shelter, or substantial, like a giant crater dug deep into the heart of a city. But as each year ticks over, they add to the shape of our lives, even if it takes time to really notice.

The changing face of Queensland will be marked this year not only by big projects that alter our landscape but cultural and educational events that build the heart, the vibe, of a place. Whether it’s the coup of hosting a world-­renowned conference on robots or the glitz and glamour of rolling out the red carpet for the Logies, 2018 will be filled with milestones in the evolution of the state.

It is remarkable – whether we like to admit it or not – that next month, history will be made when the Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, and Opposition Leader, Deb Frecklington, face off in Queensland Parliament. For the first time, two women will lead the state’s political and legislative agenda. Just like the men before them, they’ll have triumphs and failures and, over time, the fact that women hold the reins of power won’t be remarkable at all.

Leave Parliament and meander up George Street, however, and it will be hard to suppress a “wow” at the scale of work going on as the Queen’s Wharf project digs deep into the city.

Twenty-six metres deep, in fact, into bedrock in what Destination Brisbane Consortium’s project director, Simon Crooks, says will be the CBD’s biggest ever excavation. “It will be an amazing sight,” Crooks says. Over 18 months, ­starting in the first quarter of this year, more than 450,000 cubic metres of rock and dirt will be removed to ready the vast inner-city site for the construction of the $3 billion ­casino and resort due to open in 2022. Crooks reckons the best view will be from the Riverside Expressway – as a ­passenger – and says traffic disruption will be no greater than that experienced during demolition work.

It’s part of a huge transformation of the face of Brisbane. Gone is the Executive Building, which opened in 1971 at 100 George St, stripping away a physical reminder of the Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen era, which, ironically, had its share of inner-city demolitions.

With the Executive Building went 80 George St and the Neville Bonner Building at 75 ­William St, home to thousands of public servants through the decades. Further along George St, more ­history has ­disappeared with the demolition of the old law courts as the $1 billion Brisbane Quarter takes shape. The W Hotel, the first of three towers, is due to open in March, swapping barristers for swanky bars.

By year’s end, Brisbanites will get a taste of things to come at the Queen’s Wharf project, with the Waterline Park and Mangrove Walk on the banks of the Brisbane River opening to the public. “(We want) to give the people of Brisbane a bit of a feel about how the riverfront is going to be activated,” says Crooks. The long-neglected space under the expressway will be rejuvenated with gym equipment, a climbing wall and other recreational toys, while the boardwalk will follow the mangroves, with landings to enjoy the view, an indigenous message trail and artworks.

The sprucing up of Brisbane’s serpentine river continues further up the reach with the once-derelict Howard Smith Wharves under the Story Bridge set to open late this year as a foodie haven. Chefs such as Jonathan Barthelmess, Kym Machin and Matt Yazbek will give us Greek, Chinese and Japanese food with a view, while champagne will flow at the octagon-shaped Overwater Bar. Or, buy some tempting morsels from the planned farmers’ markets and find your slab of grass for a picnic in the 2.7ha of waterside parkland.

And that seemingly mythical beast, Cross River Rail, will start to come to life following the demolition of the Goprint building at inner-east Woolloongabba and the ­announcement of the top three bids for the tunnel and rail components of the $5.4 billion project in the coming weeks.

WATCH THIS space: as a 2017 state election commitment, the project was tied to the revitalisation of the Roma Street ­railyards through AEG Ogden’s Brisbane Live plan for a $2 billion entertainment precinct of cinemas, clubs and a 17,000-seat arena to stage superstar concerts and major sporting events.

North Queensland is already on its way to seeing its much-anticipated stadium rise above Ross Creek in Townsville, with construction to start in the next few months. The $250 million, 25,000-seat arena will not only give the NRL’s North Queensland Cowboys a home when it’s completed in 2020, but also a venue for concerts and other big events. It’s more than a stadium – built in the heart of the city, it will be a centrepiece of the rejuvenation of a big sector of the CBD and riverfront.

Come September, Townsville’s northern cousin will open the doors of the $66.5 million Cairns Performing Arts Centre, a haven for the arts set opposite the tropical ­splendour of the redeveloped Munro Martin Parklands. Along with hosting the unique events of the north, the 400-seat studio theatre and 940-capacity auditorium will ­become a satellite space for some of the shows presented by Brisbane’s Queensland Performing Arts Centre.

The north and west of Queensland have front-row seats to one of the major transformations in the state economy ramping up this year – renewable energy. The $200 million Sun Metals Corporation solar farm in Townsville is due to be providing energy to its zinc refinery by April.

With 1.3 million solar panels, the 125 megawatt project will create 210 solar-powered jobs, while further west, near Hughenden, at the $160 million Kennedy Energy Park, a wind, solar and storage hybrid generator is under construction by Windlab Limited, with plans to open late this year. On the Atherton Tableland, MSF Sugar’s $75 million green energy power plant, a high-pressure boiler, is being built to turn ­bagasse – the fibre from sugarcane – into power. It should be completed in July, producing 24 megawatts of electricity, enough to power all the houses on the Tableland.

Coal mining remains a big part of Queensland’s economy, however, and while the future of Adani’s Carmichael coal mine remains unclear, QCoal is full steam ahead with the Byerwen project. The open-cut mine in the Bowen Basin near Glenden, inland from Mackay, is expected to produce up to 10 million tonnes of coking coal. The first load should be shipped out of Abbot Point Coal Terminal in the first half of this year.

PACK YOUR swag and keep heading west for one of the great cultural events of the year with a rip-roaring opening planned for Winton’s Waltzing Matilda Centre in April. After the museum was destroyed by fire in 2015, a superior ­version is rising from the ashes and embracing the landscape like never before. In fact, the $23 million museum “looks as though it’s risen out of the ground”, says Winton Shire Council’s tourism and events manager, John Elliott. “It’s a reflection of the landscape – there are references to the black soil, to the mesa country. People will come to see it just because of the design.”

Such a big event deserves a shindig and why have just an opening day when you can throw a four-day music ­bonanza? From Thursday, April 19 to Sunday, April 22, the Way Out West Festival will ­celebrate the rebirth of a museum dedicated to a song. The timing is no accident. “We timed the opening to be just after the Commonwealth Games,” says Elliott. “We’ve ­already sold tickets to people in New York, from Texas, New Zealand and every State in Australia.”

There’s no hyperbole in claiming that the Commonwealth Games will be the biggest event to hit Queensland this year. Hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world will descend on the Gold Coast (with some sports in Cairns, Townsville and Brisbane) for the 12-day event starting on Wednesday, April 4. The knock-on effects are huge: universities are altering semester times to keep traffic down, state school kids will get an extra day’s holiday to allow buses used at the Games to return to regional areas, and work on the long-awaited Pacific Motorway M1 upgrade from Mudgeeraba to Varsity Lakes will be adjusted to keep lanes open in a hopeful bid to reduce congestion.

It might be bumper-to-bumper on the M1 but going toe-to-toe with the sporting feats will be Festival 2018, the arts and culture program for the Games. Director Yaron ­Lifschitz, of Circa fame, says the aim of the program is to embrace and reflect the energy of the Gold Coast. On the beaches, in transport hubs, in local parks – wherever there are big groups of people – there will be art. “It’s the largest cultural event the Gold Coast will have seen,” says Lifschitz, who has joined forces with the annual Bleach Festival to bolster the celebrations. “No one is going to look at this program (to be released later this month) and think it doesn’t have sufficient bang for its buck. It’s a cornucopia, it has a set of flavours and tastes and ideas for everyone.”

In fact, Lifschitz promises that even if you haven’t snared tickets to any of the sporting competitions, you could spend the 12 days on the Gold Coast being entertained from morning to night. “All free, and you can wear your boardshorts to everything,” he says. The main stage on the beach at Surfers Paradise will showcase big concerts nightly, and there’ll be physical theatre and circus performances, as well as shows and installations with a strong ­Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flavour on various ­stages around Broadbeach.

Even if you’re waiting at a bus stop to head to a sporting stadium, a troupe of artists could pop up with a song or a dance to help pass the time. “Transport and logistics play a huge role in everyone’s experience of the Commonwealth Games, so part of our role is to make some of those ­experiences more pleasant and enjoyable,” says Lifschitz.

The Games will be over in 12 days but Robyn Archer, the strategic adviser for arts and culture to the city and chair of the Arts Centre, says the legacy the event will leave for the Gold Coast’s arts scene will be invaluable. Local artists are being given a world stage to strut their stuff and, as a result, Australia’s sixth-biggest city will blossom.

“It will enrich the cultural landscape, create platforms for local artists,” says Archer.

RED CARPET, anyone? There’ll be bolts of it come July when the Logie Awards are held at Broadbeach’s The Star Gold Coast for the first time.

The awards ceremony for the best of the small screen is not just in a new locale after ditching Melbourne but is also celebrating its 60th birthday, meaning the party will be big, says Thomas Woodgate, editor of TV Week, organiser of the event.

“We want the glitz and glamour to be ramped up a notch or two,” Woodgate says. “The red carpet will have palm trees on one side, so already on the telecast it’s going to have a completely different feel which I think will definitely rejuvenate it, give it a facelift.”

Another case of a new take on an old classic will hit the big screen in March when the World Science Festival Brisbane hosts the world premiere of a multidisciplinary ­artistic event. Steven Spielberg’s 1977 sci-fi classic Close ­Encounters of the Third Kind will be shown at the QPAC Concert Hall on Saturday, March 24 as the 85-piece Queensland Festival Philharmonic and the 60-voice Resonance of Birralee choir plays and sings alongside, in synch. It’s the centrepiece of the festival – now in its third year in Brisbane, the only ­location in the world to host the event outside of New York – which attracts 180,000 visitors. The theme of the five-day event hosted by the Queensland Museum is humanity, and big brains will tackle big issues such as how science can help us live longer and what makes us human.

It’s a question that occupies the minds of roboticists as they endeavour to move closer to an artificial intelligence that “gets” what it is to be human. Brisbane will be the epicentre of this exploration in May when about 2500 of the world’s leading roboticists arrive for the oldest and biggest robotics conference in the world. One of those who lobbied for the International Conference for Robotics and Automation to be held here, Distinguished Professor Peter Corke, Queensland University of Technology’s director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Robotic Vision and the 2017 winner of Australian University Teacher of the Year, says it has never been held outside the northern hemisphere.

Such a coup was unthinkable a decade ago. Be it ­robotics, red carpets, renewables or riverside precincts, Queensland is constantly changing, growing, reinventing. Keep an eye out, 2018 is set to make its mark on the State of Things to Come.