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Saving UQ Union complex

The 4ZZZ event held yesterday at the Schonell to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the station’s eviction from UQ was a success. The panel was excellent and the contributions from audience members, many of whom had been associated with Zed during its campus period, were informative, interesting and often funny.

One of the themes that emerged in the discussion was how the station was sustained on campus by a politicised and active student body, even when relations with the student union executive were strained. This point reminded me that every facet of the site’s history is inter-connected, and the history of the site as a whole is entwined with the broader political events of the time. It confirmed that we are right to push for protecting all the elements of the complex.

4ZZZ was good enough to to allow us to address the audience about the campaign, and hold a stall in the foyer. A special thanks to Desley for helping out. Quite a few people signed the petition and offered to get involved.

The seminal history of postwar Queensland architecture, Hot Modernism (2015), has this to say about the UQ Union Complex:

‘Architects were charged with the re-conceptualisation of the university from a place for elite formation to a site that could express egalitarian values, engender a sense of community and – above all – cater for mass education. The first new building constructed on UQ’s St Lucia campus was the Student Union complex, designed by Fulton Collin and Partners in 1960 … It was specifically designed to offer students a central meeting place, which during the 1960s grew into the epicentre of Brisbane’s political dissent.’ (p.240) – Hot Modernism: Queensland Architecture 1945-1975.

Bulldozing this site will not only erase the physical expression of this history, it will be a potent symbol of a university re-embracing and celebrating elitism and privilege.

So the UQ Union Complex expressed a new egalitarian and community-focussed spirit within the university. The antithesis could be said of an administration that would reduce these same buildings to rubble.

Here is an excerpt from piece about the Schonell Theatre by Frances Whiting, published in the Sunday Mail on 2 December.

For those of you who had the great misfortune of missing my solo performance of “Blue Mermaid on Rocky Shore” at the 1972 Little Miss Dumpling’s Ballet School’s end of year concert at Brisbane’s Schonell Theatre, suffice to say those who did witness it are still talking about it today.

Frances Whiting in Blue Mermaid on Rocky Shore at Schonell Theatre 1972.

I had what I believe is called stage fright, and so found myself unable to move from my position to the side of the stage where a group of little Miss Dumpling milkmaids – and their pails-were waiting to go on. But even though I could see them from my eye’s periphery, and hear them hissing, “Get off Frances, you idiot”, I found I could not move – it was like the little mermaid had been caught in a nice floe.

Many of you may have heard that the University of Queensland will likely demolish the Schonell as part of a development plan – their rationale is it does not comply with disability access. And so it should comply – but this is something that could be achieved within the existing building, to my mind (there’s) a better alternative than knocking it down. We have a history here in Queensland of knocking things down and then regretting it later, don’t we?

 The Schonell, designed by the late, well-known architect Stephen Trotter, is a delight, all 70s brick archways and huge coppery starbursts on its wall. It’s worth a look. and it’s worth keeping because apart from the architectural loss; when we lose our buildings of cultural significance, we also Jose all the stories contained in them.

This weekend my daughter will perform on the Schonell Theatre’s stage with her dance school. I’ll probably talk about it for years to come-the time my little girl danced at the Schonell, and we came full circle. Such are the times our stories are made, such are the ones worth keeping.

When the lights came up, I was still there … frozen to the spot – Francis Whiting, Schonell Theatre 1972


Jeff Rickertt
Save UQ Union Complex
16 Dec 2018

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