Standing between the famous South Brisbane milk factory and a collection of cars crossing the Brisbane River, Dan Brock admires the latest collection of colour to adorn the Merivale rail bridge: a 65m2 mural by acclaimed Australian artist Claire Foxton depicting long-serving factory worker Andy Birgan.
“For me, this is as South Brisbane as it gets. You’ve got a mural of Andy who’s worked at the milk factory for 30 years on a bridge that’s been around for 40 years,” Dan says.
Dan is the man who has commissioned the artwork, which features an intricate portrait of the second generation Parmalat worker together with striking blues, reds and notes of teal, through Queensland Rail’s Pillars Project, a program aimed at revitalising the Merivale rail bridge’s pillars through art.
The Pillars Project commenced in 2014 when nine artists painted eight pillars underneath the Merivale Bridge starting on Montague Road and snaking through down to the Go Between Bridge and the Brisbane River.
With a new mural now being painted each year, artists to feature as part of the project include Fintan Magee, Simon DeGroot, Guido van Helton, Drapl, Rone, Jonathan Beer aka Gimiks Born, Mik Shida, Adnate and now Claire Foxton.
Claire was tapped on the shoulder to create a special mural prior to the Merivale Bridge’s 40th anniversary on 18 November.
“This year we wanted to celebrate the 40th birthday of the Merivale Bridge and do something that really embodied South Brisbane as much as Merivale does,” Dan notes.
“So when Claire came through with the idea to put Andy, a huge supporter of the Pillars Project, on the next mural, we were thrilled.”
With a signature style centred around photorealism, Claire has painted murals at the Adelaide Fringe Festival, the Wonderwalls festivals at Wollongong and Port Adelaide, and Seawalls project in Cairns.
“When I got the news from Dan that I’d be doing the next mural, I was very excited to put paint to brush and to create a piece that celebrates Brisbane’s one-of-a-kind story and its people. It was a huge canvas with plenty of potential,” Ms Foxton says.
Claire commenced works a week prior the 40th anniversary and met Andy to capture his portrait.
“Andy is truly one of those genuine characters and someone who has been a long-time supporter of the Pillars Project. These are the kinds of people I like to bring to the surface - the people behind the scenes, with big hearts and even bigger personalities.
“Here’s a great bloke who’s worked at the Parmalat milk factory for 30 years. For me both he and the mural are symbols of the workers who have lived through the social and cultural changes in the South Brisbane area.”
An artist himself, Dan says he is very happy with the outcome.
“It didn’t take long after Claire finished for people to start snapping pics of the new work,” Dan says.
“Or for all of Andy’s workmates to start ribbing him about being the face of the mural,” he jokes.
“I honestly encourage everyone to check it out, though. And to see the talented artists that are telling our story in a creative and engaging way.”
For more information on the Pillars Project, head to instagram.com/theipillarsproject
Plenty of history
For rail historian and enthusiast Greg Hallam, 1978 was significant for two reasons: watching the first-ever Star Wars film at the old Albert Street cinema, and witnessing the opening of Merivale Bridge, the $13.6 million build that finally connected Brisbane’s southern train lines with those north of the river.
“It’s hard for many to imagine the Brisbane CBD without a rail bridge, but before 1978 there was literally no way for trains to cross from modern-day South Bank to Brisbane’s business district and northern suburbs,” Mr Hallam said.
“That’s why like many other people at the time, Merivale was such a big deal: it was the missing piece of the puzzle for Brisbane’s suburban rail system.
On Sunday, 18 November, Brisbane will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the 130 metre Merivale Bridge, which today remains Queensland Rail’s longest single span bridge.
“It was a project a century in the making. While the idea of a cross river bridge was first mooted in the 1880s, it wasn’t until the 1970s when trams were abandoned that works began on linking Brisbane’s northern and southern networks.
“Prior to Merivale, customers had to disembark at either Roma Street or South Brisbane (which was then known as Melbourne Street) and either walk or board a tram across the Victoria Bridge to inner Brisbane.
“Surveys were conducted in 1889 and again in 1913 for a cross river rail bridge, but approval wasn’t granted for another 43 years until 1956, and only in 1971 did design works commence.
Engineering firm Cameron, McNamara and Partners Pty Ltd was awarded the contract to deliver the design while Transfield (Q) Pty Ltd started construction on the bridge in 1974 and McDougall Ireland built the associated tunnel.
In total, construction cost $13.6 million with funding from both the state and federal governments.
“It was opened to much fanfare – in fact I remember attending the opening where media, politicians and members of the public eagerly awaited the first train trip across the bridge.
“Straight away it became a signature piece of Brisbane’s landscape. It featured what was at the time a modern design with a shallow steel-frame structure and suspended steel wire and it was named the Merivale Bridge because of its alignment with Merivale Street.
Mr Hallam said the Merivale Bridge was upgraded in 1984 to connect long distance services with the newly completed Roma Street Transit Centre and again in 2016 to give it a new lease of life.
“Four decades on, and the Merivale Bridge remains an important component of our city’s rail system, carrying more than 420 services between north and south Brisbane each day.”
Brisbane’s next major rail project
As the city celebrates the 40th anniversary of Merivale, another project connecting Brisbane’s north and south, the $5.4 billion Cross River Rail, is underway.
The new 10.2-kilometre project, which includes 5.9 kilometres of tunnel under the Brisbane River and CBD, from Dutton Park to Bowen Hills, will deliver new underground stations at Boggo Road, Woolloongabba, Albert Street and Roma Street along with upgrades to Dutton Park and Exhibition stations.
Transport and Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey said Cross River Rail would unlock the bottleneck at the core of the rail network, allowing more trains to run more often across the entire South East Queensland network and integrating with new roads and new bus services to to enable a ‘turn-up-and-go’ public transport system
“In 1978, the Merivale modernised Brisbane’s rail network and has shouldered the load for the last forty years, but as the network nears capacity and our population continues to grow, we need a second rail crossing,” Mr Bailey said.
“Once complete in 2024, Cross River Rail will provide access by rail for the first time to Albert Street in the CBD, as well as The Gabba stadium, and year-round access to the RNA Showgrounds precinct. At Roma Street, a new underground station will be the catalyst for significant revitalisation of an underutilised area, including plans for Brisbane Live, a new 18,000 seat entertainment arena.
“The project allows more trains, to run more often across the entire SEQ rail network and provides the capacity needed to support other rail network growth projects.
“Cross River Rail will also help to keep the economy growing by activating urban development across the region and generating thousands of jobs during and after construction.”