Explore Cairns through Street Arts

My Arty Treasure hunt in the streets

Whether it is Street Art, Sculptures, Wall Paintings, Graffiti or whatever you prefer to call it, they have always fascinated me. When I think back on what I have seen over the years of my travel through many countries, they are commonly found around major cities, mainly in neglected neighbourhoods, industrial areas and streets. I have noticed this trend in some regional cities and towns in many parts of the country. However, they only make up 0.1% of the attraction, apart from the mainstream attraction of sun, sea and theme parks. Most are not easy to see but you have to make an effort to spot them. Street Art shows the expression of someone’s creative skill and imagination, either through visual forms such as painting or sculpture. The work they produced is to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or even emotional power. In many cases, every street art tells a story behind it.

On an early Sunday morning, I found myself almost spending a full-day wandering through the Cairns city streets on foot discovering new and old street art and understanding what is happening on the walls of the city. Just like, my plan was to go shopping on a Sunday as most shops are open to fill my day changed to an adventure in art and hoped to see some nice street art. I had no idea I would be treated to streets to streets of incredible art on almost every street corner, buildings and walls. I was overwhelmed like a kid given free chocolate in a candy store. I believe urban art is something that underlies what my eyes see every day and by learning about it, I will get a more rewarding experience of public space – an experience that is active rather than passive. It has brought me to where I would never think; it shined a spotlight on the most creative areas in the city and unveils some hidden gems only the coolest locals know about.

Florence Street Art

Fire-Making Sticks

I didn’t have to walk too far on this arty treasure hunt. My street art exploration began immediately after I stepped out of my city apartment’s main entrance. Across from the street from the apartments were the sculptures at Cairns Performance Art Centre (CPAC) main entrance. These sculptures are based on the traditional fire-making implements of the Girringun rainforest Aboriginal people. The firesticks are made up of two parts, the Bagu (body) and Jiman (sticks) made from clay, timber, string and other materials to evoke the spirit of the old people and painted with ochres found in deposits along the backs of creeks and rivers.

Embrace Sculpture

I then crossed the road from the Cairns Performance Arts Centre building to Martin Munro Parklands. This Parklands boast a variety of tropical plants, vined-covered pergolas and arbours. It is very welcoming once you entered the parkland and I love the idea of an open-air plaze to encourage passive, casual use of the facilities. Just before the main entrance is the gigantic piece of steel metal standing tall with unusual shapes, designs and colours. This was designed to depicted to withstand the harsh tropical conditions and maintain a ‘timeless’ character. Embrace is a nine-metre-tall sculpture, made from laser-cut, heavy gauge steel. The sculptor drew influences from the patterns, colours and relationships found in nature. Embrace expresses the diverse native flora, fauna and geology of the Cairns tropical region. The sculpture explores the main themes of environment, and connection to a place and being.

Private Residential Building

Right next to my apartment building is this private residential building that has the most incredible art I have seen. The painting covers the whole front building of the house which depicts the colourful reef life and its wonders. I had to stand on the street to have a good close-up look for a few minutes or longer. I was able to get many great shots from the street.

Grafton Street Arts

Side Wall Painting

Along Grafton street towards the city area has two separate eye-catching wall paintings. Just between the Lake street Bus terminal and Grafton street public car parking spot has this colourful painting on the wall featuring reef marine life. The colours make the painting so smooth to see.

Laneway Graffiti

Further up Grafton street towards to the city centre is this laneway art. Cairns is not known for its laneways but this one combines the inspiration of Melbourne. Hidden on Grafton Street, which is the boutique shopping hub for the city, this laneway has a graffiti wall to boot. Yes, it is all about getting fresh and funky in the Cairns laneways.

Sheridan Street Art

Torres Strait Islander

Along Sheridan street, just before the Cairns’ famous fruit and vegetable market known by locals as Rusty’s Market is this painting on the wall, the face of a Torres Strait Islander person. This painting is not visible from the street but you have to look to spot it.

City Mall Art

Symbolic Shields

At the entrance of the city mall from Abott Steet, you’re welcome with these five shields representing different things. These shields are symbolic of indigenous history. In history, many Indigenous ancestors defended their country and their people with these shields. Today, it represents the way to defend their culture with their shields–in their art.’

Storywater Brothers

In the middle of the city mall between Lake and Grafton street on Shield street is the two bright coloured eye-catching sculptures that represent the Storywater Brothers known as Bulurru-nngu nganydjinda Gurrabana yingal. Bulurru-nngu nganydjinda Gurraminya yingal. “These Storywater Brothers were sent by Bulurru, our creator, the ancestors, the spirits. They brought with them the wet and dry seasons, language and law.”

Ceramic Mosaic Tiles

Right in the heart of the city mall is 85 square metres of handpainted and fired ceramic mosaic tiles depicting colourful tropical themes of North Queensland. These tiles form a series of 12 bench seats constructed along Shield Street heading from the Lake Street to Cairns Central.

Lake Street Art

Conch Shells

On Lake street, just next to the Cairns main public library and Central Bus Station is these two vertical sculptures erected as the entry statements for Lake Street. The pieces are reminiscent of conch shells found in the Great Barrer Reef, as well as the heliconia, and exotic plant species found in Tropical North Queensland.

Wall Graffiti

This hidden laneway off Lake street is just 100 metres from the Conch Shells towards the city. At first, it looks like an unwanted laneway but as I looked carefully, it had graffiti on the walls that leads to a bar which is hidden at the end of this dark laneway.

Indigenous Face

Further up the streets towards the Southern end of the Lake Street is these two gigantic paintings on walls, on one of Cairns’s tallest building. The painting portrays the face of an Indigenous person. Away from the main busy tourist spot, you can only spot this painting if you head to the Convention Centre. The face of “Henrietta Marrie” is an Aboriginal elder, community leader and activist from the Gimuy Walubara Yindinji tribe of Cairns. She’s passionate about the preservation and promotion of cultural heritage, ancient knowledge systems, and biodiversity and has pushed through barriers and stereotypes to be a voice for her people on a world stage, encouraging young Indigenous people to step up through education and action.

Giant Grouper

Just next to this wall painting of Henrietta Marrie’s face is the Malanar Grouper. The “Malabar Groupers can grow up to 2, or 3 meters, and juvenile golden Trevally often hang around big animals like these for protection. This a visual example of the many ways how different species interact and need each other. A delicate balance where every species has its place and importance. The Malabar Grouper is listed as near threatened. Groupers have a late reproduction age and are facing threats of fishing with animals being caught before they can reproduce. 

Spence Street Art

Radom Arts

This unseen laneway off Spence street lies a tiny bar that can’t be seen from the main Spence street. This bar can only allow less than 10 patrons at a time but opposite the bar are these amazing wall paintings that have been neglected unless you spotted them by accident.

Esplanade Art

Vinyl Wraps

On the Esplanade, you will find these vinyl wraps Ergon and Cairns Regional Council Energy boxes beneath the fig tree and on Shield Street depicts octopus. Very eye-catching and colourful.

The Herd

To the shallow part of the Cairns Lagoon, you will these Herds. These Herds are to resemble a herd heading out to sea. they are individually carved from granite, and the pattern is reminiscent of the mud flats seen along the Esplanade at mid to low tide.

Woven Fish

The Woven Fish on the esplanade is made from stainless steel replicas of the traditional Torres Strait Islander practice of weaving palm leaves into the shape of fish. This created the visual theme of the Esplanade and one of the most memorable pieces of public art in Australia. It is one of the most iconic features that defines Cairns as one of the best Tropical Destination in the country.

Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef

These scultures at the Cairns Lagoon pay homeage to the Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef, a social movement to engage the world in the futures of this important World Heritage area. These sculptures depicts the diversity of the Great Barrier Reef with a wave of marine creatures and birds led by a life-size stingray.

Marlin Marina Boardwalk Art

Black Marlin

This sculpture known as the Black Marlin, Istiompax indica located on the boardwalk is so big and it is hard not to miss it. Many tourists tend to stop to admire this Black Marlin sculpture.


These hybrid scultpural made with stainless and copper forms are drived from both the sea anemone of the reefs and the woven funnel-net fist traps (Baybaru) of the Indigenous people. Interestingly, these sculptures come to life at night with fibre-optic lighting.

Trinity Wharf

Sea Turtle Statue

This beautifully stunning replica of turtle statue located at Trinity Wharf where the cruise-liners dock are just amazing to see. It is not just looking at it but the creative features of how they have done it will blow your mind away. These ancient mariners of the sea will capture your heart and minds of visitors around the globe.

I was totally impressed and amazed by all I saw and learned. I knew I wanted to go back to explore even more. I didn’t get to go further along the Esplanade to see more of the incredible art. This ever changing street art and outdoor creation is changing the way we see and view things by these best artists in the Cairns Region. I was so amazed to see street art on many of the walls. It was beautiful and incredible and learned the story behind some of this street art (a few). The community, many nonprofits, local businesses, artists, Cairns Council and volunteers clearly has come together to improve in beautiful ways.

My street art walking tour was on the back streets and I saw some of the less seen art apart from the street arts that are visible to the tourists and public. The great memories of the day are made more special knowing the story behind the street art of Cairns city. It just goes to show that an adventure can be found anywhere and with a little effort you can find truly magical experiences off the beaten path.

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