Why we must try to stop the demolition of the historic student union complex

The first meeting of the 17 Group for 2019 will take place on Wednesday the 6th ofFebruary at 7 pm in Unit 6 at 20 Drury St, West End.  You have probably already heard of the project of the University of Queensland Administration to bulldoze the entire student union complex as part of their new ‘Master Plan’.  This meeting will address that issue and publicise the movement that is attempting to stop the philistine destruction of this historically and culturally significant site.  The topic is:“Why We Must Try To Stop the Demolition of the Historic Student Union Complex”.

The speakers will be Jeff Rickertt and Anne Richards, both of whom will put this question in the wider context of what the concept of a university was and what it now is.  For a fuller account of the anti-demolition movement, read the attachment.


Since 1960 the University of Queensland Union complex, with the Schonell Theatre as a later addition, has played a central role in the life of the St Lucia student community and in most of the campaigns of dissent that have emerged in Brisbane. Whether the issue has been conscription, the war in Vietnam, apartheid in both its South African and Queensland articulations, uranium mining, women’s and LGBTI oppression, civil liberties or the very character and function of the university, the union complex has served as a centre for discussion and mobilisation, with the repercussions felt well beyond the campus. Successive university VCs and Senates have come to regard the precinct’s propensity to ferment radical thought and action as a problem. Their anxiety has been shared all too often by careerists and conservatives elected to the student union executive. (Remember Frank Gardiner, Brad Bauman, Victoria Brazil!)  Containment, co-option, coercion and calumny have all been tried, with mixed but generally limited success. 

Now, with student unionism seriously weakened by the introduction of VSU, and campus activism at a low ebb, an emboldened management has hit upon a bold new approach: demolition. The latest Master Plan for the St Lucia campus calls for the entire UQU site to be bulldozed and replaced by a new facility delivering retail and other services, all under the rubric of improving the ‘student experience’. Far from being considered as scholars or partners with their teachers in the pursuit of ‘light, liberty and learning’, students in this dystopian vision are mere customers, sources of income, their ‘education’ a utilitarian product bought in a competitive global marketplace. No place for collectivism here. No place for the disciplines to nurture the deep critical thought that might begin to interrogate the very foundations of their social role. Certainly no dissent, or none of real substance. In the proposed replacement building, the student union, stripped of most of its independent revenue sources, will be thrown a few crumbs in the form of a modest allocation of office space, therein to preside over a union in name only. But the forum area and the refec aren’t about to succumb easily. Current and past members of the UQ community are fighting back, determined to protect this historic ‘university within the university’. 

Jeff will be discussing how the situation has come to this, and what is being done to save the UQU site.  Anne will elaborate her argument from the basis of her excellent recent novella, which was a moving memoir of her variegated experience of her years of university life in and around this now threatened space that has meant so much to the student generations from the sixties to the nineties and beyond.

Biographical Notes:

Jeff Rickertt is a UQ alumnus and former student activist. Since the late 1980s he has worked in Brisbane as a librarian, an archivist and a public servant while continuing to research and publish in the field of labour history and radical politics.

Anne Richards is an academic and writer at Griffith University, Gold Coast. Her awards include a Griffith Review Writing Fellowship and an ARC Post-Doctoral Fellowship. Her novella ‘Demonstrating Defiance’ was published Griffith Review 62, October 2018. She is currently finalizing her manuscript A Book of Doors based on the radical movement at UQ in the late 1960s/early 70s.

Leon?  We thought of appealing to his better side by asking the simple question:  “How would you feel, comrade, if the Putin administration decided to demolish the Winter Palace and replace it by the world’s largest Macdonald’s or by a Russian Trump Tower?”.   “They probably already have”, he said, as he shut the door.  Don’t shut yours, gentle reader of this notice.  Join the movement, come to the meeting on the 6th, and then to the rally on the 25th of February.

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