Artist's impression of the new $31.5-million art gallery.
Artist's impression of the new $31.5-million art gallery. Contributed

Vibrant vision: Strelow casts sights to Rockhampton 2025

IT'S July 2025. Rockhampton is always stunning this time of year. While the southern capitals huddle indoors as the temperature drops, the paved expanses of the Quay soak up the delightful winter sun. And yes, even though in July it can still get hot in the middle of the day, the fig trees and greenery provide welcome relief.

There's something about the elegant Victorian facades along Quay St that still speak of the wealth and the hopes and dreams of those who laid out the wide streets of the city many years ago. A few years ago this area underwent a complete transformation.

 

An electrician shared this photo of Quay St from a vantage point above the newly opened development.
An electrician shared this photo of Quay St from a vantage point above the newly opened development.

The whiskered faces of the city's founding fathers staring out from museum frames would almost crack a smile at the city they loved in her new splendour.

And in the middle of this winter haven, of plaza and play, a setting for festivals and markets, for family weekends and for workday leisure, stands the majestic Customs House.

 

Artists impressions of the finished version of the Quay St pier.
Artists impressions of the finished version of the Quay St pier. Rockhampton Regional Council

Oddly, it was almost redundant from the moment it was built, a grand building that took too long to come, too many arguments and too many false starts.

But here it stands - after 120 years the hardened Stanwell sandstone beauty is now the centre of all things technology.

 

Rockhkampton Mayor Margaret Strelow inspects some of the art works in storage at the art gallery because there is not enough gallery space to display them all.
Rockhkampton Mayor Margaret Strelow inspects some of the art works in storage at the art gallery because there is not enough gallery space to display them all. Chris Ison ROK120717cart2

What started out as a 'smart hub' in 2018 in the downstairs portion of the building has developed to become a business hub for local businesses reaching out far beyond the city's borders.

That's rather fitting given the role the fine old building served as the centre for trade and commerce in its original design.

Of course, it still provides all of the basics and supports for start-ups and there are many desks and nooks occupied by permanent and semi-permanent tenants, but its role has expanded to become an essential part of day-to-day commercial life for a much wider group.

The gracious domed Longroom upstairs still hosts elegant weddings and functions but the side gallery is currently playing host to a conference call via multi-media.

 

Quay St redevelopment.
Quay St redevelopment. Katie Webse ROK30717RiverBank1

The Central Queensland community has become much better connected and is finding that most of the skills and resources that are needed to compete on the world market exist somewhere within the regional Queensland community. So collaboration and video links are the region's bread and butter.

The old Bond Store at the back of Customs House is now the university's multi-media department and disruptive technologies think tank, a unit that is part university and part business - as the line between studying and taking product to market has become hard to separate.

 

The early concept designs for level one of the relocated Rockhampton Art Gallery and surrounding cultural precinct in Quay St.
The early concept designs for level one of the relocated Rockhampton Art Gallery and surrounding cultural precinct in Quay St. Contributed

The courtyard between the two buildings plays host to half a dozen conversations over coffee (the gallery cafe makes great coffee).

Many people are taking the shortcut through the new laneway linking straight back into the main commercial centre. East St has taken on a whole new character with coffee shops and smaller pop-up shops hosted inside larger floor spaces. Many of the old names are still there but they don't always need the large stockrooms in these days of just-in-time delivery.

 

The Rockhampton Regional Council seek groups to liven up Quay St in a vibrant six-month calendar of events.
The Rockhampton Regional Council seek groups to liven up Quay St in a vibrant six-month calendar of events.

So many micro businesses are making good use of the spaces, with easy access to free Wi-Fi and great connectivity to the buzzing 'culture and collaboration' precinct.

It's as if as many businesses now face Quay Lane as East Street. Two businesses for the price of one!

The precinct's pride is the stunning new art gallery.

 

At last Rex Pilbeam's art collection has found a home that lets it breathe. Each piece properly hung in context and with enough interpretative material (in every medium) to make the art interesting to even the novice visitor.

Visiting exhibits have plenty of room as well, with the largest touring works able to be accommodated at long last.

And it's not just about the art (although the art is fabulous and certainly worthy of the destination it has become), it is the way in which the gallery sets out to interact with the whole creative precinct and draws students, entrepreneurs and visitors inside.

In fact, it's really hard for the casual observer to determine where each of the players in this precinct begin and end.

An environment without boundaries between art and life and where the marketplace of ideas is part of the air you breathe.

An environment where private sector and public sector collaborate. In short, an ecosystem fitted for the future.



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