Save the UQ Union Complex

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The first slide shows the buildings under construction in 1959. The second, taken from where Wordsmiths’ Cafe and the news agency are located today, shows the completed buildings in 1960. The third photo, taken from the Duhig Building in 1965, nicely shows the union building, the relaxation block and the refec in the background. Notice that the road travelled right through, forming a section of the ring road around the entire sandstone precinct.  The work next one shows the 1967 forum prior to the famous Civil Liberties march where 126 people were arrested, many of them students and staff of the University. The next one shows orientation week in 1975 and the last one shows Gough Whitlam reopening the Student Council room in 1987 named after himself E.G. Whitlam. Then there is a repeat of the Civil Liberties forum.

forum areaScreen Shot 2018-10-25 at 8.21.50 pm
– Uncle Jack Davis

All we leave are the memories– slogan of Deen brothers demolitions.

Save the UQ Union Complex

Organising Meeting

When: 5.30pm, Thursday 1 November.

Where: Room 09-201 Michie Building, St Lucia campus.


You may have heard about the University of Queensland’s plan to demolish the student union complex at St Lucia and replace it with a shiny ‘student hub’ (read shopping mall). The scope of the plan is not limited to the Schonell cinema, which is already the subject of a petition. The shiny arses in the Chancellery want to bulldoze the lot – the refec, the

Dick Shearman speaks at Vietnam War Moratorium forum at UQ 1970
Dick Shearman speaks at Vietnam War Moratorium forum at University of Qld UQ 1970

forum area, the Relax Block, etc, etc.

I don’t need to point out to any of you the historic importance of this site.
But I will anyway.

As many activists and historians have noted, in Australia UQ and Monash led the radical student upsurge of the late 1960s. The student union area at the St Lucia campus served as the hub of this explosion. It’s where student opposition to the Vietnam War and the Lottery of Death coalesced, where tactics and strategy were debated and decided, where students discussed and critiqued the role of the university and formulated radical demands for student-teacher democracy as part of a wider challenge to an insufferable and authoritarian capitalist order. On 5th September 1967 students massed at the site and resolved to assert their civil liberties by marching to the city without a permit. 126 were arrested.

As the Radical Times Archives points out, that day was ‘a turning point in student and State politics, subsequently leading to mass protests against the Vietnam War and the success of the emerging student movement in the decade to follow.

Joh interviewed by LeftPress at UQ
Joh at UQ refec 1980 (Specal Branch officer Gary Hannigan is behind Joh’s right shoulder).

Throughout this period the refec and the forum area served as a kind of redoubt where progressives could lick their wounds after being hammered by Bjelke Petersen’s cops.

In July 1971 3000 staff and students met in the refec and decided to strike in response to the Springbok tour and the police riot outside the Tower Mill the night before. As Roger Stuart explained, the strikers decided to ‘convert the University into a centre of anti-racist activity and propaganda, as the only reasonable response to the Tour, South African and Australian racism, and the State of Emergency in the face of the denial of even limited rights of protest…’

March from UQ 12 Sept 1977
March from UQ 12 Sept 1977

The site reprised this role later in the 1970s as a new campaign developed to challenge Seqeb worker-1Bjelke Petersen’s street march ban.

And let’s not forget 4ZZZ, Brisbane’s only alternative broadcast service, which went to air from the student union complex in 1975.

Outside the refec, meanwhile, Communist bookseller Bill Sutton could be found on most market days running a stall with selected volumes from the People’s Bookshop. For many students, Bill’s stall was their first encounter with the Marxist classics and the Old Left.

4zzz eviction
4ZZZ eviction from UQ Refec

In my era as an undergraduate, the 80s, the refec and forum area were buzzing again as we held meetings and forums to support the sacked SEQEB workers and organise protests against the raid on the Greenslopes abortion clinic, the university’s decision to award Bjelke Petersen a doctorate of laws, and the presence on campus of Special Branch cop, Barry (Crock-of-Shit) Kroche.

Around that time Vanessa Redgrave spoke in the Schonell Theatre about justice for the Palestinians. And of course, the refec established a commendable reputation as a music venue, playing host to some great independent bands, most notably The Saints.

We’ve lost Cloudland and Festival Hall. Are we to lose the refec too?

Special Branch drags women’s right activist from the front of parliament 1979

This is our political and cultural heritage, one of Brisbane’s few remaining sites where the existing built environment still matches the settings of political and cultural dissent captured in the photographs, films and written accounts. It’s our monument to the many campaigns waged by students in this State for rights and freedoms. It links today’s struggles to those of the past.

trades_hall 2
Old Trades Hall, St Patrick’s Day, 1948

We’ve lost two trades halls and the Wharfies Club, King George Square has been turned into a concrete wasteland, and the buildings in the CBD that were home to The Daily Standard, the Social Democratic Vanguard and the Communist Party have been obliterated or reduced to facades, mere one dimensional backdrops for the sordid theatre of consumer capitalism. We can’t let the student union complex at UQ meet the same fate. If the neoliberals running the university want more private retail opportunities on campus, let them turn the Chancellery into a shopping mall.

I am calling a meeting to gauge interest in a campaign to stop this latest assault on Queensland’s heritage of resistance. I urge you to come along. Current and former UQ students and staff and anyone else wanting to push back are welcome. Spread the word.

When: 5.30pm, Thursday 1 November.

Where: Room 09-201 Michie Building, St Lucia campus.

Tomorrow, I’ll create a Facebook event to promote the meeting.
I can be contacted on 0421 637 172. I won’t respond immediately if I am at work, so leave a message and I will return your call.

Jeff Rickertt

3 thoughts on “Save the UQ Union Complex

  1. Friends,

    The ‘consultation’ period for UQ’s campus development plan closes on Friday 2 November – this week! This is far from the end of the matter, of course, but it is an opportunity to let UQ know what you think about their proposal to demolish the Student Union Complex.

    Have your say and encourage your friends to do the same –

    More importantly, get along to the organising meeting on Thursday –


  2. Hello All,

    I would like to raise with progressive people an important issue namely the UQ Senate’s proposed demolition of the Student Union Complex including the Schonell theatre. The 2018 UQ Masterplan states that the space is to be ‘re-imagined’.

    As you may know, prior to community radio 4ZZZ being expelled from campus by a right wing student union, the station was where the bike shop is now, broadcasting using an antenna on top of the Schonell Theatre.

    Without this beginning 4ZZZ would not exist. It gave the station a foothold and political credibility that enabled then station manager, Jim Beatson, to negotiate with the old CPA to purchase their building in Barry Parade, Fortitude Valley and to continue to flourish in many different ways.

    The local music scene was boosted at 4ZZZ ‘joint efforts’ in the Refec at UQ. Many local bands cut their teeth in that space.

    While such spaces still exist and remain under progressive student union management, they can in future be re-purposed for alternative media, original theatre, world cinema, local music and progressive causes. There was a real connection between 4ZZZ and the anti-war and democratic rights movements that grew up in the old forum area at UQ.

    Once that space is gone and the student union relinquishes control over whatever replaces it, we have lost a significant resource for good.

    That outcome is not in the interests of independent media or any community project in Brisbane.

    We need to hang onto every democratic space we can, campus spaces in particular.

    I therefore encourage those who can to attend an organising meeting this Thursday at 5:30 PM – 7:30 PM at Room 09-201 Michie Building, St Lucia Campus to work out how to save the student Union Complex currently under threat.

    This organising meeting has been called by Jeff Rickertt who works at the Uni and is a published local historian.

    Facebook event is at
    Please let others know.

Please comment down below