Buskers of Brisbane

The stories of the performers who bring Brisbane to life

Man entertaining child with balloon animals

Every day, multiple buskers perform amongst the bustling crowd in Brisbane City. They hope to catch the attention of those passing by, and maybe even make a dollar or two.

They're the familiar strangers of Brisbane city. You see them on your way to work or on a casual stroll around the city. Some of them you’ve been noticing for years, while others are only just emerging.

Our goal was to put a face and name to the talents that perform in Queen Street Mall and its surrounding areas, and showcase their personal stories to the wider Brisbane community.

We were lucky enough to speak to four performers, each telling their own story in their own words. We hope that their stories will encourage you to reconsider your perceptions of the buskers of Brisbane.  

"We, the street performers have been around for a thousand years and...deserve a place in society. It's a fabric of society"
Wayne Bloomfield- Balloon Artist

A map of where you can find our street performers

A map of where you can find our street performers

Suiki Hamamato

Japanese Calligrapher


From: Osaka, Japan

Favourite spots: King George Square & outside the Apple store

Permit : No permit required

Instagram: @uricco39

Stand out quality: Charges in a “whatever you can afford” manner, extremely friendly.

Suiki's materials are laid out in front of her

"I’m from Osaka, Japan. I like Australia, it’s very comfortable here. I’ve been to Sydney, Melbourne and Perth and I hadn’t been in Brisbane before that, so I decided to come here. I think the weather is nice and warm, especially in winter. I like Brisbane, the people are very kind. I have many friends here. Sometimes they visit me just to say hello.

I have done calligraphy for over 28 years. I started to learn when I was a child and I am still learning. I enjoy it but it’s not easy to make money through it. It’s not only for money but also for my own enjoyment. I want to show people how interesting and beautiful calligraphy is.

I study English at TAFE. I have class in the morning. After that, I come to King George Station. It depends on the day, but the minimum I work is one hour and the maximum is five or six hours.  I usually sit here, at King George Square. Sometimes, I sit in front of the Apple store. But today, it’s very sunny so I just decided to sit under the shade. The council doesn’t give permits to artists to perform in the mall or Southbank. Here, outside the mall we don’t need permits, so I have no choice.

Suiki holds a sign stating her motto: "words make people happy"

Suiki holds a sign stating her motto: "words make people happy"

Suiki holds a sign stating her motto: "words make people happy"

It’s always pleasant when customers are surprised or happy with my work. Sometimes they’ll bring back photos of my work and show me.
Suiki Hamamoto, Calligrapher

I charge my customers according to their willingness to pay, so it’s entirely up to them. Some people pay a few dollars, others pay up to 15 dollars. Sometimes they don’t have cash so they just go to the bank and get some."

Aaron Thomas

Magician

From: Cairns

Favourite spots : Next to Queen Street McDonald's, Outside H & M

Permit: Obtained through audition

Instagram : @aaronthomasmagic

Website: www.aaronthomasmagic.com

Stand out quality : Uni student, self taught, only been busking for one year in Brisbane

"I'm from Cairns. The very first time I came here was for study. I’ve been back and forth since then but I’ve come back for study recently and I’m sticking around. I'm a magician. I learned through mostly DVDs and some books. Just a lot of trial and error which you never really stop doing, along with watching the good people and a lot of failing.

I started performing just last year. I liked magic when I was a kid but I never thought of it as something I wanted to perform professionally. It was just more of a hobby. I don't know what made me decide to get into it again and try to do it as a street thing and make it my source of income. I suppose life was getting a bit boring just studying languages over and over again. This is my second day out in like 3 weeks. But I try to get out here almost every day, as long as I don't have class. On a good day,  I'm out here for several hours, if it's a bad day only a couple, but when we're out here with other people it makes it a lot easier just to relax and have a good time.

I guess the biggest thing is you [the performer]. You can do as many tricks as you want but people could just walk past. A lot of people don't do a trick until people come up and stop. You just try to be you. Be funny if you're funny. I guess be interesting, try to continue that through the transitions as well as trying not to have a dull moment which is difficult sometimes. It's not always about being ridiculously quick but it's the pacing as well. Sometimes you do need the slow moments to build tension and stuff. If you rush through, that has a negative effect. If you’re really anxious and you just try to finish the whole show, do all your choreography, you're holding no one's attention.

During the day we tend to hang around here (outside Queens Plaza). If I want to perform at night time, I go to where Strandbags used to be (next to Queen Street McDonald's). At night times, especially, it's a different crowd. They want to have fun. People are out to spend money a bit as well so it's really nice and the crowds are much more tight. You make new friends without even trying. You often see a lot of the same faces.

There's an idea of using a slightly similar platform to Patreon (Online Payment System) for busking. Some people use Paypal, some people use EFTPOS. It doesn't feel safe right though, to swipe your card in front of some random guy's machine. So I guess that can be a bit tricky. I can't really tell yet because as I said, I've been out here for a year. But we are  becoming more cashless for sure so I've got to keep that in mind."

"I'm out here for the fun of it as well. Like, I need the money. The money comes second though, the fun is the first bit."
Aaron Thomas- Magician

Wayne Bloomfield

Balloon Artist

From: Western Australia

Favourite spots: Outside Zara

Permit: Yes

Stand out quality:
Pay as you please, has an EFTPOS machine, well travelled.

I’m from Western Australia. I came to Brisbane on a five day holiday in 1995, and didn’t even get back on the plane. I love Brisbane. It’s the best city in the world. I’ve been to a lot of them, but none better than this one.

I taught myself to become a balloon artist. I found a packet of balloons in a Big W shop in Darwin while I was going through uni in the eighties. I thought it looked like an interesting idea so I started to design. Now I’ve got about 600 of my own designs. All the different knots are my own. There was no way to learn back then so you had to do it yourself. I've done balloon art all over Australia, throughout Southeast Asia, the United States and Europe. If you're a busker you travel a lot, that's how it is.

Wayne makes a balloon hat for a customer

Wayne makes a balloon hat for a customer

Wayne makes a balloon hat for a customer

This hasn't always been my main source of income but it is now and has been for a long period of time. I started out as a policeman and then I got bored with the police force because there was a lot back then that wasn’t very good. I did a lot of acting and play-writing for a while and then I went back to uni in my early thirties. I was studying to be a teacher but when I found this (balloon art) it sort of took over."

It’s hard to pick a pleasant memory, I have tens and thousands of them. I get lots of delighted children every day of the week so it's like an adrenaline pump time and time again. I work when I want: which is a lot. I get paid about every 5 minutes, I have no boss.

I think one of the highlights was this little boy who ran up to me one day and in a very strong Arabic accent he said, “I saw you on TV!”. About a month before that I'd been interviewed on one of the television stations. I told him it must have been NBN In New South Wales, and he said, “No, in Baghdad!" Apparently there was a crew from the Middle East that had come out. So you know, I’m on Baghdad TV which is somewhere I’ve never been. So it's pretty nice.

"I'm gonna do this until I'm 90 and then I'm gonna see if I want to get a job or not.
Wayne Bloomfield, Balloon Artist

Hiroki Serikawa

Juggler


From: Hokkaido, Japan

Favourite spot: Outside H&M, outside Queen Street McDonald's

Permit: Obtained through audition

Instagram: @hirokibrisbane

"I’m from Hokkaido, Japan. My hometown is a very cold place, so it’s difficult to busk outside in winter. My friend recommended Brisbane and I wanted to see what it was like.

I learnt juggling eight years ago. I practiced in my house, my university and my school. And now I practice outside. Six months ago, I auditioned to the City Council for a busking permit in Queen Street Mall. Fortunately I passed it and I got the licence, and I started [busking] then. The audition was just juggling, and a little bit of talking. I’ve also done [busking] at Brisbane’s Eat Street Market, and in Melbourne.

I did have a local job in Brisbane [working in a factory]. It was a very good job and I made good money; But then I passed the audition. Now I only busk.

First, generally we have to get first audience. It’s very difficult and it depends on the day. Weekends are very easy to get an audience. After school holidays, and weekdays, like today, are very hard. But after I get first audience, I’ll start my show.

Hiroki poses with his batons

Hiroki poses with his juggling sticks

Hiroki poses with his juggling sticks

The number of shows I do per day depend on the situation. Today I did three shows, but sometimes I do seven or eight in a day. That’s a good day. My shows are very short, they only go for about 15 to 20 minutes.

Many kids come to my show, they are such fun! After my show they sometimes come up to me and talk to me. They are so cute and they really encourage me. Another one [good memory] is making friends. Actually I went to language school for one month in Brisbane, after that I didn’t go. But, busking was a very good place to study for me. My English grew in Queen Street Mall. Everyone talks to me, and sometimes I make friends. It’s difficult for Japanese people to make friends with people from other countries but I can get friends from lots of diverse backgrounds at Queen Street Mall."

Sandro Abate

Drummer/Thong-O-Phone Player

From: Rome, Italy

Permit: Obtained through audition

Favourite spot: Near Queen Street McDonald's

Stand Out Quality: Plays a self-invented instrument

Sandro Abate is our Mystery Man

We don't know a lot about him, but we do know that his work ethic is strong. He’s usually stationed outside McDonald’s on Queen Street Mall or outside H&M, and plays his thong-o-phone for at least 30 minutes at a time. His most played songs include Seven Nation Army by White Stripes and Shape Of You by Ed Sheeran.

According to his Facebook page, Sandro is from Rome, Italy. His peers have informed us that Sandro didn’t always have a busking permit. He used to perform outside King George Square, but found he was attracting the wrong crowd. You may remember seeing him in front of King George Square with a body-less guitar singing Despacito. When he auditioned for a busking permit with his thong-o-phone, he blew the jury away. Now, he attracts hundreds of city goers as they pass by.

We tried multiple times to reach out to Sandro for an interview, but he was not available. He has been featured in the online section of the ABC multiple times, but has never been seen giving interviews to journalists.

See the ABC's feature on Sandro here: https://www.facebook.com/abcperth/videos/busker-busts-on-beats-on-the-thongophone/444257812762569/