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UQ Union complex – ‘history not fabric’

I hear what you say

– Sir Zelman Cowen,
Vice-Chancellor University of Qld
during the Vietnam War

Heritage Council hears case for protecting Union complex at University of Queensland

Advocates for protecting the student Union complex at Queensland University have put their case to the Queensland Heritage Council at hearings, on Friday 25 October, where close to 40 submissions were considered. 

The UQ Union complex is clearly the biggest matter the Heritage Council has had to deal with this year, and it has deferred any decision, expected to consider the issue again on 29 November.

Quang Incident, UQ Union Relaxation Block, July 1970.
Photo – UQ University Security

At least three presentations were given, to reinforce the submissions of many individuals, groups and organisations who want the area put on the Heritage Register, especially because of its historical significance.

An official party from the university management, headed by the Vice Chancellor Peter Hoj spoke against the Heritage protection.

Jeff Rickertt, Chairperson of the Campaign to Save the UQ Union Complex, said the university management had stuck with plans to demolish the whole precinct, and based its case on growing student numbers, playing down any reference to heritage values.

“Our proposals covered criteria that include the historical and cultural importance of the area, and the architectural values linked to it, so the debate has developed into something of a stand-off between ‘citizens and the corporation’”, Dr Rickertt said.

“One good question brought up during the presentations, was why the UQ management so much want to erect this complex in the student area instead of somewhere else on the campus.”

Protecting the area is supported in 36 submissions, by the National Trust, a previous Chair of the Heritage Council itself, the Queensland Council of Unions and the universities union NTEU, senior university staff past and present, members of the student Union Council past and present, political and cultural activists past and present, and graduates from over the decades coming forward as private citizens.

UQU Forum area circa 1977
Note: Marie Crisp selling the Communist Party
newspaper Tribune on the footpath

In documents made public in the application process, Brisbane City Council has advised the Heritage Council that the university Union complex is in the Heritage overlay of the 2014 Brisbane City Plan, it has been protected as a local heritage place since 2004, and there are as yet no existing development applications or approvals for the site.

Dr Rickertt said the Campaign to Save the UQ Union Complex had received a shock when the full detail of the university management position was made public, with its proposal to take over the area until now managed by the student body, put up a new complex and use it for student services and teaching there.

“The University has signed on to some arguments that the buildings in contention have been changed or renovated so much that their heritage value has disappeared, and we have brought in highly credentialled architects and historians who have taken that on – they don’t wear it”, said Dr Rickertt.

“It has also sought to ignore or dismiss the role played by this precinct as a base and also a refuge for political and social movements for change, especially during the so-called ‘Bjelke years’ when any kind of dissent was punished by the state.”

Movements had extended from campaigns over civil liberties, to Vietnam, union issues, the new feminist movement, gay rights, opposition to South African apartheid, and indigenous rights in Australia – virtually all of their objectives now ‘mainstream’ in Queensland life.

A former trade union secretary, and former member of the Heritage Council, Dr Howard Guille, said the Council’s own guidelines made clear that “history not fabric” could be a central test for Heritage registration.

In a presentation, he said, more than buildings the site itself would be in the same category as the Heritage listed site of the shearers’ strike at Barcaldine, where there is no building. Its Heritage citation says the site contains: “the remains of a camp oven made of ant bed, a blazed tree and a light artefact scatter, some of which is subsequent to the strike.”

Contact: Jeff Rickertt, 0421-637172, jrickertt@optusnet.com.au, Facebook@SUQUC

See all submissions on the Heritage Council website:  https://www.qld.gov.au/environment/land/heritage/register/applications#enter

Brisbane 26.10.19

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