The burgeoning street art scene in Townsville is “on par” with the best in the world, says a public art researcher

It may seem unlikely to some, but this North Queensland city is fast emerging as a hot spot on the international street art map.

Buildings in the Townsville CBD are decorated with eye-catching art that transforms the city into an eye-catching public gallery.

The colorful works form the basis of Griffith University’s investigation of how public art can be used to drive urban renewal and enhance social capital.

Blue and green artwork with a man's face
Dr. Matthews says the quality of street art in Townsville is of international standards.(ABC North Queensland: Zilla Gordon)

Researcher Dr. Tony Matthews evaluated 26 artworks that are part of a public art walking tour.

“They were right with anything you might see internationally in terms of art quality, delivery quality, material quality, and site selection,” he said.

The city was one of three regional sites in Queensland selected for the investigation, which involved researchers interviewing major producers of public art, elected officials, urban planners and public art specialists.

Drawing of a sugar glider on a white brick wall
The street art track features works by internationally renowned artists, including ROA.(ABC North Queensland: Zilla Gordon)

The findings were published in the international journal Cities, which Dr. Matthews believes will propel Townsville onto the international stage.

“The great significance of this research is not that it looks at public art, but also that it looks at regional cities in Australia that are doing really well that are emerging and should get international attention,” he said.

the operation

But this did not happen overnight.

When Townsville artist Garth Jankovic arrived in town in 1992, the scene wasn’t there.

Turtle riding a crocodile on a mural
It took years to develop the scene, says Townsville artist Garth Jankovic.(ABC North Queensland: Zilla Gordon)

“I was pretty much an OG [original gangster],” He said.

“The board came on board in the late 1990s and began to actively participate and nurture the scene.”

Brick wall displaying a picture of a man in a white shirt
Jankovi? is immortalized in the scene he helped create.(ABC North Queensland: Zilla Gordon)

Working alongside his friend Nicky Prior, Jankovic pioneered combining First Nations scenes with Euro street patterns to create the Girroogul mural and the soap tree, which forms part of the street art walking path.

“If you go to Melbourne, it’s a very European mural style,” Jankovic says.

“A little bit more Townsville, you know, you have a little more understanding of demographics [and] If you combine street art, graffiti, and traditional things, you win a lot for people.”

The 48-year-old was very instrumental in the scene, featuring his picture on the art track, painted by learner and close friend Lee Harnden.

“I don’t go there very often because it bothers me,” Jankovic said.

Tourism potential

The Griffith University study identified a variety of figurative and abstract styles and bright colors.

Given the quality of the work, Dr. Matthews said, more could be done to promote the route as a magnet for tourism.

A group of pictures drawn on a blue wall
Townsville City Council says it is looking for opportunities to expand the street art path.(ABC North Queensland: Zilla Gordon)

“I know the city has a walking guide for the public art trail and it’s very popular with tourists and it brought tourists to it,” he said.

It’s an ongoing project, Townsville City Council member Liam Mooney said.

“We are always looking for diverse street artists to work with and for property owners within and outside our CBD to get a canvas for these artists to work on as well,” he said.

Blue wall mural with colorful turtle
The Townsville Street Art Trail includes more than twenty works.(ABC North Queensland: Zilla Gordon)

Chancellor Mooney welcomed the results of the Griffith University study.

“It legitimizes what I believe in – that we should spend our time, efforts and resources in art spaces,” he said.

Jankovi? said the Townsville Street art scene reflects the character of North Queensland.

“It really makes people who come there think it’s not just a remote town or a sea town or a tropical town,” he said.

“It’s kind of a melting pot of all those things coming together and I think street art really epitomizes that.”