Dubai World Expo 2020: Australia unveils World Expo pavilion, but will anyone see it?

It's as big and spectacular as the Olympics, runs for considerably longer, attracts more visitors overall and costs about the same to stage.

Yet it's probably the largest major event of 2021 that you've never heard about, even with Australia's lavish participation now being quietly unveiled.

Just like the troubled 2020 (now 2021) Tokyo Olympics, the pandemic-plagued $US7 billion 2020 Dubai world exposition, or "Expo", was postponed last year due to COVID-19.

Now Australia's federal government-backed pavilion, christened "Blue Sky Dreaming", is ready for a rescheduled October 1 opening and will run until March 31 next year.

Construction of the showcase Australian pavilion, which seeks to highlight Australia's "diversity, ingenuity and contribution through 60,000 years of innovation", was completed on January 31.

Designed by Brisbane-based architectural firm bureau^proberts, the building showcases a dramatic roof structure that appears to hover and is said to be inspired by the cumulus cloud, a "feature of the diverse Australian landscape".

Video: Australia's World Expo pavilion unveiled

However, with international borders closed for the foreseeable future due to the pandemic, a question remains as to whether any ordinary Australians, let alone other international tourists, will be able to see the pavilion in person.


Yet the federal government remains committed to the event, says a spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).

"Australia's participation in Expo 2020 will support economic recovery efforts in those sectors most impacted by the 2019-20 Australian bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic, maximising commercial opportunities for Australia, and showcasing Australian capabilities and ingenuity," the spokesperson said.

Australia is among more than 190 nations participating in the Expo which compares to 206 taking part in the Tokyo Olympics.

DFAT did not respond to questions about the budget for the Australian pavilion, however, as a point of comparison, New Zealand's Dubai Expo equivalent was recently reported to be costing the Kiwi taxpayer $NZ61 million ($A56 million) - $NZ8 million over budget.

Even though the Australia government controversially did not participate in the previous expo held in Milan, Italy, in 2015, the nation has a long involvement in the event. Our association with World Fairs can be traced back to Melbourne's hosting of the event in 1880 with the buildings constructed for it in inner-city Carlton now World Heritage listed by UNESCO.

Expos have also given the world such landmarks as the Eiffel Tower, built specifically for the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris. But la tour Eiffel and the Melbourne Exhibition Buildings were fortunate to have survived: most World Fair buildings and structures are demolished after expos end.

More than a century after Melbourne hosted the event, Australia was back in the Expo spotlight in 1988 with Brisbane successfully hosting a world fair, as expos are also known.

The expo in Dubai, part of United Arab Emirates (UAE), is based on themes for the future of "opportunity, mobility and sustainability" and is being billed as the biggest event ever held in the Arab world.

Even if Australians can't visit Dubai for the expo, the country will be well represented in other ways with DFAT estimating that more than $150 million in contracts have been won by Australian companies to supply goods and services to the pavilion.

Requirements for the VIP venue at the pavilion originally called for 200 kilograms of kangaroo fillets (chilled), 150 kilograms of prawns (frozen) and 200 kilograms of caramalised myrtle figs, among a plethora of other foodstuffs.

Dubai's expo organisers originally predicted that Expo 2020 Dubai would attract 25 million visits over six months though there are now doubts whether it can possibly achieve that figure thanks to COVID-19.

Hope among Emirati for a strong local attendance rests in vaccines being distributed in the UAE where 40 per cent of the 10 million population, many of whom are expatriates, have already received a jab. However Dubai's more recent attempts to reopen itself to international tourism were badly comprised by a surge in COVID-19 cases.