Help Save UQ Union Complex

The Save the UQ Union Complex Committee’s (SUQUC) heritage application is now online on the Heritage Department’s website –

March around circular drive from the forum area at UQU Complex to the JD Story (Admin) Building. Students were upset that special branch were allowed on campus.

On the same site you will find a link to the Public Notice inviting written submissions from members of the public. The notice explains the process to follow. Please note that the deadline for submissions is 7 June. It is very important for our chances of success that the Heritage Council receives submissions supporting our claim.

Not only will a large volume of sympathetic submissions show the extent of support, the comments and information supplied in the submissions will be taken into account, adding to the arguments developed in the application itself.

As you will see from examining the application, we argue strongly that the site is historically important as a place of independent thought and cultural expression and a hub of democracy from which numerous campaigns were initiated and supported, campaigns that had the accumulative effect of changing the course of Queensland history.  

Please take the time to write a submission.

It can be based on your personal association with the site or your assessment of its historical importance or a combination of both. It can focus on the political life of the site, the role of the Schonell, the history of 4ZZZ, the architecture of the place or any other aspect you consider relevant and important.

If you have friends or contacts within organisations you know to be supportive, encourage them to make a submission too. Let’s create an avalanche.

Written submissions
Written submissions quoting the HRN 650238 must be received by 7 June 2019 and should be lodged with:

Executive Officer, Heritage Branch
Department of Environment and Science

Or email:

Please note that all submissions received by the department in response to this advertisement are considered to be public information unless otherwise determined. Copies of submissions will be given to a range of stakeholders, including the owner of the place and the relevant local authority, as part of the cultural heritage significance assessment of the place.

For further information please contact the department’s Heritage Branch.


2 thoughts on “Help Save UQ Union Complex

  1. Lee Duffield says:

    Campaigners for protection of the endangered Union Complex at the University of Queensland have made a formal application for its recognition on the Queensland Heritage Register.

    Written submissions quoting the HRN 650238 must be received by 7 June 2019 and should be lodged with: Executive Officer, Heritage Branch Department of Environment and Science GPO Box 2454 BRISBANE QLD 4001 Or email:

    Lee Richard Duffield PhD, Brisbane, Australia
    Independent Australia, EU Australia Online, Subtropic
    Research Associate, Pacific Media Centre, AUT, NZ
    Tel +61 7 33670621, +61 (0) 407702860


    Heritage Application filed to defend threated complex at UQ
    Campaigners for protection of the endangered Union Complex at the University of Queensland have made a formal application for its recognition on the Queensland Heritage Register.

    The chairperson of the heritage campaign and nominee for the application, Dr Jeff Rickertt, said the books were open so all interested persons could read and contribute towards it.

    “The area we want to see cherished not demolished is the open-air forum, with the Schonell Theatre, Union Building, Refectory, student services building and conference centre clustered around it”, he said.

    “As we point out in the Heritage submission these buildings were specifically designed to make up a defined student area and set some innovative architectural standards in their time.

    “The area became dramatically important as a centre for democratic change and alternative culture with its impacts going far beyond just the campus environment.

    “It became a place of sanctuary under authoritarian governments from 1961-89, for years the only public space where opponents of government could meet and organise free of intimidation and violence.

    “It was a main centre of resistance to military conscription and the Vietnam War commitment; the base for reform in civil liberties; an organising hub for the feminist movement, gay and lesbian rights, indigenous rights, and opposition to the Apartheid system in South Africa, together with racism in Australia.

    “It became a cultural hub very important to generations of Queenslanders, especially through cinema and theatre productions at the Schonell, and through Radio Triple-Z, based at the Union Complex, which made great gains for free speech and new music.

    “The mainstream life of Queensland today has been defined and enriched by the success of the movements that started here and by the contributions made in arts and culture.

    “A rebuilding scheme from the university management will demolish this centre, trash its history and heritage, and install a new development for its own purposes — no longer to be student-run.

    “The Heritage listing process invites people to have their say on applications.
    “We urge all those who have a connection in their lives with the Union Centre and want to support its preservation, to write in before the due date – 7th June”.

    Please see the full Heritage application here:
    To make a contribution, by post or email, please see the Heritage Department Notice for details, (to be effective submissions should follow the Heritage criteria as set out in the full submission):

    Additional information from the Heritage application:
    The complex built during the 1950s and early 1960s was intended as a student place within the university, as was made clear by the Queensland Governor, Sir Henry Abel Smith, when he opened it. At the ceremony, he and Vice Chancellor Fred Schonell spoke at length on the theme of student unionism as a vehicle for providing students with a “whole education” through extra-curricular activities. Schonell argued that “the union provides some of those experiences which lead to the education of the whole man.”

    The forward-looking designs included the imitation of wooden lattice panels common in Queensland domestic architecture, enveloping the Union Building, a breezeblock form subsequently named the Trotter Block after the building’s architect Stephen Trotter.

    The way the complex came to work as a forum was as foreseen by the University Architect James Birrell, who described it as “a pavilion development with pedestrian and casual areas between buildings.”

    Within a short time, people who went to the forum to support ideas of freedom and reform came up against governments determined to admit no change.

    That began with their unbending defence of heavy State literary censorship unheard of today.

    When students backed the right to speak out and make a protest, the Queensland Government sent police to put them down, and in 1977 legislated to remove the right of appeal against bans on demonstrations. The then-Premier, Johannes Bjelke Petersen said: “The day of the street march is over.”

    The complex has new roles to play in cultural life and negotiating social change, as in the past, functioning as a learning centre in its own right – “a university within the university”.

    21 May 2019
    For information contact …
    Jeff Rickertt, 0421-637172,
    Lachlan Hurse, 0417-231895
    Lee Duffield, 0407702860,

  2. Open letter to Heritage Branch, Department of Environment and Science says:

    To: Executive Officer,
    Heritage Branch
    Department of Environment and Science
    GPO Box 2454

    Re: Heritage application HRN 650238 – UQ Union complex

    Dear Sir or Ms,

    This is a written submission supporting the heritage value of the University of Queensland Union complex.

    I worked at the University of Queensland from 1967 till 1977. I lived on a yacht near the Eric Freeman boathouse at UQ from 1971 till 1974. I first visited the St Lucia campus with my father, Joe Curr, in the 1950s as he was employed by the Joint Colleges appeal to raise funds to build the Catholic women’s college, Duchesne. My father was also a student of the University.

    Later I too was a student at UQ and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in 1975.

    As well as having an interest in science, I was also interested in radio, theatre, the arts and democratic rights.

    The University of Queensland Union complex provided me and my colleagues with facilities to pursue those interests. The Cement Box theatre (below the Schonell) permitted me to participate in the Blue Light Theatre Company putting on plays such as Samuel Beckett’s Endgame. I worked as a volunteer in the student’s legal aid scheme and the education resource office housed in the original UQ union building.

    Heritage value at state level

    The open area called the forum enabled a group of people to put on a play called The Public Trial of Bjelke-Peterson written by myself and Joe Monsour. This play attracted well over 1000 people during one lunchtime in 1978. The characters in this satirical play were prominent in public life at that time.

    Joh Bjelke-Petersen, the Peoples Prosecutor (Mr. John Citizen), the Ruling Class Defender (Mr. Harrison Good Luck), court Baliff, Judge (Mr. Justice Danger), Reporter for 4PR – Jim Dunn, Albert Patrick Field (briefly Senator for Queensland in 1975), Ray Whitrod (Former Police Commissioner), Flo Bjelke-Petersen (wife of the Premier of the State of Queensland), Dim Lardner (Social Critic and Psychologist), Saul Dilson (Criminologist), a Friend of the Earth, Lady pilot of B-P, Lang Hancock (Mining Magnate).

    The cultural life of the University was enriched by many activities such as this.

    Heritage value at national level
    The longest period of mass defiance in Australian history (save for the aboriginal resistance) began at the UQ union complex in September 1977. This campaign was not exhausted until July 1979 after 2,000 people were arrested in demonstrations against the government. In most parts of Brisbane it was illegal to be young person, to be a black young person was even worse . The University of Queensland union complex provided refuge from repression. Joh Bjelke-Peterson, on visiting the University Union in 1980, made the point that only hear was opposition to his government so vocal.

    Social and historical significance
    The Schonell theatre under the creative direction of Jim Beatson, Ron Wakensure, and Desley Agnoletto made sure the best cinema came to the UQ union complex first. For example in 1979 I saw some memorable cinema in the Schonell: Fracnsi Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, Woody Allen’s Manhattan, and Ridley Scott’s Alien. This cinema provided neighbouring suburbs with first class films and a place to enjoy a good pizza named after some of famous directors like Bertolucci, Visconti, Fassbinder, Bergman, Pasolini and some of cinema’s greatest actors.

    The University of Queensland Students Union provided funds for diverse enterprises such as 4ZZ (later ZZZ) and a kindergarten for staff and students at the University. I can remember when I was the student union Vice-President (education) witnessing council passing a motion in 1976 to provide over a quarter of a $$million for these important facilities on campus.

    Both enterprises have flourished since and are going strong over 40 years later, albeit 4ZZZ has moved to the Valley.

    These things didn’t just happen out of the blue, this complex arose from the expenditure of monies, not from the Senate, not from government, but from student fees. This money paved our heritage. It would be a serious mistake for a latter-day administration, funded largely by corporate interests, to take away our heritage and to destroy buildings built on the back of union fees.

    Both staff and students through their respective organisations have denounced the move by the Senate to demolish the UQ union complex.

    The Heritage Council should rule to protect the UQ union complex because of its cultural and social significance and it’s heritage values.

    Yours sincerely
    Ian Curr BSc (UQ), Grad. Dip ATAX (UNSW)
    25th of May 2019

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