Together we’ll show the world: Telecom Expo Info

Monday, 22 February 2021

Running from April to October 1988, Expo 88 was an international exposition occupying a 40-hectare site on the south bank of the Brisbane River.

Expo’s official slogan was ‘Together, we’ll show the world’. Taking place between the 1987 stock market crash and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the event captured all the optimism of a country (and world) looking towards a bright, high-tech future.

Visitors to Expo 88 could ride three different rollercoasters in the amusement park, catch a 2.3 km monorail around the site, watch an array of local and international performers and explore around 100 pavilions showcasing the highlights of Australia and the world. Artist Ken Done provided colourful signage for the Australia Pavilion, while the Swiss pavilion had its own 40-metre indoor ski slope.

Expo 88 attracted a whopping 100,000 visitors a day. To help all those people find what they were looking for, government-owned company Telecom (now known as Telstra) provided a cutting-edge digital solution.  

State-of-the-art technology

Telecom Expo Info was a touchscreen system that let visitors find information about the event. It was based on a similar system used at the 1986 expo in Vancouver, Canada.

56 rather chunky computer terminals were installed in 8 kiosks around the site. The kiosks were easy to find thanks to their golf tee–like roofs and large yellow balloons featuring the Telecom logo.

As well as a touchscreen, each Sony Videotex Workstation boasted a videodisc player, speakers and an impressive 20 MB hard drive. The database of visitor information was updated and transferred remotely to the terminals every night.

‘Don’t be afraid to touch me!’

Screenshots from Telecom’s Expo Info system are held in the National Archives as part of our Queensland postal and telegraphic services series. The images are a fascinating snapshot of late-1980s computer interfaces and graphics.

On one screen, Expo 88’s official platypus mascot introduced visitors to the unfamiliar technology with the words ‘This is a touch screen. Don’t be afraid to touch me!’

Low-resolution maps and lists of attractions showed users what they could find in the area surrounding the info booth. Meanwhile, a glamorous (but pixelated) lady in an evening dress enticed them to find out ‘What’s on’ at Expo that month.  

Screens about the amusement park used the inbuilt videodisc player to give visitors a sneak preview of rides. Videos also played when the terminals were idle to attract the attention of people wandering by.  

Health and safety was a feature of the info booths, with the iconic ‘Slip, Slop, Slap’ seagull reminding people to beware of the harsh Queensland sun.

And as a reflection of our largest international tourist market in the 80s, each screen was presented in both English and Japanese.

See all of our Expo Info screenshots on Flickr

While the blocky graphics and limited colours might seem primitive today, Expo Info was an important early example of the touchscreen technology we now take for granted. It was a step along the way to the interactive interfaces we see in almost every museum, shopping mall and office building, not to mention on our tablets and mobile phones.