The area had been a traditional meeting place for Aboriginals, an important site for early white settlement, and almost became Brisbane’s CBD until the 1893 flood sent businesses fleeing to higher ground on the north shore.
But post-World War II, the mostly industrial and port area had fallen into decline.
The inspired move to host Expo 88 on the rundown 42ha site turned Brisbane from a big country town to a world class city.
The Royal Historical Society of Queensland archive holds a series of photos showing the remarkable transformation.
One photo captured just as the bulldozers were about to move in, shows View World hotel, once one of the roughest South Brisbane dockside pubs.
It began life in the 1890s and quickly gained notoriety for selling watered-down alcohol, illegal trading hours, and being the scene of many drunken brawls.
The pub had several name changes and was known as the Kings Hotel when two Irish sisters took over in 1907.
The word King was offensive to the Irishwomen, so they renamed it the Atlas hotel, and kept the wharfies in check for over 40 years until their death.
In the 1950s it traded as the View World until its demolition in 1986 to make way for Expo, near the site where the Wheel of Brisbane now sits.
The other landmark standing in the way of progress was printers Watson & Ferguson, built in 1910.
The company was one of Brisbane’s oldest, trading in Queen Street from the 1870s, as well-known printers of stationery and novelty items and maps
When they expanded to the Stanley St site, the company’s website says more than 200 printers were employed, and it was regarded as the training ground for master printers in Queensland.
At the start of World War I, the Defence Department took over the building, but then printing resumed until 1985 when the Expo Authority took over the land.
With much of South Brisbane’s history cleared away, Expo was ready to take off.
For six months from April to October 1988, 18 million visitors toured 100 pavilions from all over the world and enjoyed non-stop entertainment.
Brisbane had seen nothing like it, and no-one wanted the party to end.
But Expo was dismantled, and over the next four years the master plan for South Bank parkland evolved.
Today the former Expo site is a vibrant place for both locals and visitors to visit.
It has weathered floods and facelifts and is scheduled to have another revamp with the final plan to be released later this year.
Lynda Scott is a volunteer at the Royal Historical Society of Queensland. Visit queenslandhistory.org