What ‘heritage’ means?

There is a course at the University of Queensland called Local Planning, Landscape & Heritage where students learn ‘about plans, planning schemes, codes & guidelines currently used in local planning practice’.

Students are expected to ‘have a solid command of writen (sic) and spoken English and that you bring to the course an open mind and a willingness to discuss issues and actively participate in team work.’

However there is another kind of heritage.

Take the strike vote in 1971 in the ‘heritage listed Great Court’ of the University of Queensland where students and staff shut down the University of Queensland for about 4 days and gave it over to discussion on how to fight apartheid both here in Queensland and in South Africa. The Vice-Chancellor, Sir Zelman Cowen, spoke in the great court before the vote was taken to strike. Zelman Cowen opposed the strike and attempted to isolate the radicals from the rest of the University community. Cowan was in contact with Police Commissioner Whitrod. Police surveillance at the University increased and several students were later expelled for their activism on campus during an incident known as the Quang Incident where the special branch were called on campus .

Uncle Sam Watson says that the Smash the Acts campaign (against apartheid in Queensland) was organised from the UQ forum area in the early 1970s

great court voteVote to strike against Apartheid in the Great Court at University of Queensland 1971

Curiously there are currently only two places at University of Qld (UQ) at St Lucia listed as having heritage value … ‘The Great Court‘ and ‘Union College‘.

The elitism of ‘sandstone’ universities is bolstered by the notion that heritage can only be linked to structures and not the lived experience of people who attended them.

The wording of the 2018 Masterplan discloses the UQ Senate’s intentions. It reads:

“Through new development, visual links to the existing sandstone heritage-listed buildings of the Great Court are maintained and enhanced …”

The reason is pretty clear, the University of Queensland Senate, by endorsing its 2018 Masterplan to tear down the UQ Union Complex, believes it can trade in the marketplace on its traditional conservative sandstone structures but not on its troubled past where people decided that the forum area was ‘a university within the University’.

The student union building was designed by Stephen Trotter, one of
Queensland’s most respected architects and an alumnus of UQ’s architecture school.

In 1965 the Australian Institute of Architects awarded the building a bronze medal in the Queensland Architecture Awards. Trotter also designed the Schonell.

It is revealing how buildings with strong associations with elitism (eg
the Great Court sandstones) have heritage status bestowed upon them, but other buildings, despite their architectural significance, are regarded as superfluous.

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Student Union Building at University of Queensland 1965

The next organising meeting for the campaign to Save the UQ Union Complex will be Thursday 22 November at 5.30pm in Room 222 of the Michie Building on St Lucia campus.

Ian Curr
B.Sc. UQ 1975


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