You say you want a revolution

alma mater (literal in latin = a kind and nourishing mother) a school, college, or university at which one has studied and, usually, from which one has graduated.

University of Queensland St Lucia – Early Days

Courier Mail 16 Jan 1951

I first visited the University of Queensland in the 1950s with my father, Joe Curr. Dad was employed by the Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane ‘Duhig-the-builder‘ to raise funds for the construction of Duchesne college for women at St Lucia. The fundraising campaign to build six colleges was called the Joint Appeal. My father worked on it for about eight years and raised the funds necessary to build Duchesne. Dad complained that it made him feel ‘like a professional beggar’, having to go cap-in-hand asking industrialists, miners, politicians and businessmen for donations toward the building fund.

Progress in raising money for the fund was reported on 16th of January 1951 in Brisbane Courier Mail.

University College appeal Brisbane.

“The joint appeal on behalf of the university colleges has reached £29,208 with the promise of another £10,000.

MR. T. R. GROOM presenting cheques of £1000 each to representatives of Queensland University Residential Colleges in Brisbane yesterday. College representatives receiving cheques are (from left) : Mr. F. J. Curr (Duchesne), Father G. Power (St. Leo’s), Miss M. Piddington (Women’s), The Revs. M. Henderson (Emmanuel) and H H Trigge (Kings). Another college to receive a cheque was St. John’s.Courier Mail 17 Sept 1949

“The objective of the fund which is to build six new colleges on the site of the new university at St Lucia is 300,000 pounds. The colleges are St John’s St Leo’s Emmanuel and Kings for men and the Women’s College and Duchesne for women exist in college buildings are old, dilapidated and scattered throughout Brisbane.

“In addition to the joint appeal to business firms, each of the colleges is appealing for its own funds, and the State government is giving a pound for pound subsidy of up to £50,000 for each college.” CM 16th of January 1951. In 1977 I wrote a critique of the dormitory style accommodation provided at that time in the colleges listed above. Using my own resources (which weren’t much) I conducted research at university colleges throughout the Eastern seaboard of Australia and posed alternative models for design of these colleges. This was to reflect a change in the culture from when the colleges were built to the more communal style of living by students and the shortage of appropriate housing in the 1970s.

Dr Colin Dobson

 Work at Uni

Just before he died my father took me back to the campus in 1967 where he asked a professor of veterinary science John Sprent to give me a job in the laboratory at the Department of Parasitology as he could not afford to send me to university. John Sprent lived in the farm next to ours at Moggill. He gave me the job working for a little over $27 per week under the direct supervision of Dr Colin Dobson (pictured) who was conducting immunology experiments. My wage was raised to $32 per week in the following year. I worked in the department for about 14 months .

 During that time, I conducted a range of experiments far beyond my pay grade. For example, I would extract blood from the hearts of guinea pigs under anesthesia.  I would analyse the blood using column chromatography and electrophoresis to see which gamma globulins resided in the blood of those guinea pigs.

I would inject the guinea pigs with an antigen which I had prepared by grinding up worms that were found both in animals and children. I would extract the proteins by centrifuging them. I extracted the antigen and inject it into the guinea pig. Once again, I would analyse the blood of the guinea pig using the methods mentioned above. And I would inspect and measure reactions under the skin after having killed the animal. These days many of these experiments would be outlawed. However I was a 17 year old under the guidance and control of men far older and more senior.

I performed a number of duties relating to other animals and analysing their blood, specifically the gamma globulins in their blood. These experiments were on rabbits, snakes, horses which were all kept on site in an animal house. It was my job to look after some of those animals.

During my time at the University veterinary school, Dr Colin Dobson was awarded a Doctorate of Science (D.Sc.) for his work on these animals. Dobson was looking for a means of diagnosing worms in children and animals. Plus, he was trying to work out the immunological response to parasites that infected both animals and humans.

At the end of my time, in the Department of Parasitology I enrolled in medicine having saved enough money to pay the necessary fees and to buy the textbooks required.

I passed first year Medicine and received a Commonwealth scholarship. During that time I lived at home at Taringa with my mother, brother and sisters. I saved enough money to buy a motor scootter to travel to Uni each day as public transport was poor especially for someone working during the day and studying at night.

For the next 10 years I both worked and studied at the university at St Lucia. You could also say that I lived on campus for three of those years. As well because I bought a broken-down, old yacht with a friend called the ‘MV Careel’ and which I moored alongside the University of Queensland rowing shed. I borrowed $1,500 to pay for my share of the boat from the TALSA Credit Union, which was a credit union for Technical,. Administrative and Laboratory Staff Association.

I obtained permission from one of the administrators in the JD story administration building to moor my boat there. My personal address was  ‘MV Careel’, Poste restante C/- St. Lucia University Post Office 4068 during that time I completed a science degree, graduating in 1975.

Later employment

I had a number of jobs working for the university, which included holiday employment in the Department of Zoology and also I worked on the Heron Island Research station on the Great Barrier Reef where I clocked up over 1,000 hours SCUBA diving and assisting in the collection of data for a number of marine biologists stationed there to conduct their experiments.

These biologists came from all over the world and they were employed at institutions such as: the University of Sydney, the Australian Museum, the University of Queensland and a number of other institutions, including the University of Vienna.


After receiving my degree, and for the next three years, I did unpaid voluntary work at the University of Queensland Students Union. In 1976, I was enrolled in an honours course in Psychology. I wrote a thesis on the social organisation of sharks (published in November 1976), which was to hold me in good stead in later years when we came up against the Bjelke-Petersen government and its ban on street marches.

It soon became apparent that the University of Queensland Senate was only interested in appeasement of the State government. For example, in 1985 the UQ Senate awarded Joh Bjelke-Petersen an honourary doctorate of laws. This flew in the face of all known facts about Petersen and his government; he had attacked the education system; put over 2,000 citizens attempting to exercise their democratic rights in the watchouses and jails by having them arrested, locked up and fined; and he had  sacked 1,002 SEQEB workers in order to replace them with contractors on worse conditions and pay. He had flouted constitutional convention in helping the governor general, Sir John Kerr, to bring down the Whitlam government in 1975. I watched my most senior academic supervisor, Professor Glenn McBride, dressed in all his sartorial academic splendour, line up with the other professors and senators to confer this degree on our lawless Premier. It was as if they consciously wished to demean UQ as an institution of learning and throw their lot in with the corrupt band of police, media moguls, judges, mining and corporate bagmen the Premier surrounded himself with.

Working at Students Union and academia

During 1976-77, I worked in the students Legal Aid scheme set up by set up by William Beatty. In November 1977 I submitted a thesis to the Department of Psychology titled “Towards an understanding of stress in Magistrates Courts – some effects on the quality of advocacy within the Duty Solicitors Scheme of Queensland” and presented my findings to the President of the Law Society of Queensland, from memory a Mr James Foote(?). I mailed out a survey to 400 duty solicitors in the Brisbane area (17-percent response) and found that 31 percent were in their first 5 years of practice, 46 percent were aged 20-30, and only 34 percent had any experience practicing criminal law. Contradictions in the respondents’ views regarding their relative effectiveness in public and private cases indicated that, in their duty solicitor role, lawyers may not be concerned with their effectiveness. Instead, they may simply act out a predefined role, viewing outcomes as largely beyond their control.?

With my approval Mr Beattie used the information collected to publicly criticize the Magistrates Court’s system generally and more specifically the Duty Solicitor Scheme run by Law Society. For reasons he never explained, my supervisor, Mr Art Veno, rejected my thesis for entry into a Masters course in the Psychology department. Both Mr Veno and Mr Jim Gardiner were highly critical of the mental health system in Queensland. For example the treatment of the inmates of the Wolston Park facility belonged to the dark ages.

About this time the Student Legal Aid employed a qualified lawyer, Noel Nunan, to do legal work. Mr Nunan later became a Magistrate and Coroner in Queensland and has only just recently retired. He presided over the Lonergan case where two people were left to die at sea and possibly eaten by sharks by a scuba diving charter service operating out of Cairns.

Street Marches

For the next eight years (1977-1985), I spent a lot of time in the courts, helping people defend political charges and other charges made as a result of infringements of repressive laws. During that time, I was arrested on over 30 occasions at street marches, union pickets, and related activities like postering, leafleting, speaking in public, and on trumped charges likes ‘disorderly manner’, ‘resist arrest’, ‘holding a banner ‘Joh Must Go’, and a variety of infractions under then very strict Traffic Act and related quasi criminal offences in Queensland. Eventually I was committed for trial for ‘burning a magistrate’s lawn and garden hose‘. I was acquitted by a jury of that charge. Needless to say I had lost faith in the legal system. My comrades were constantly attacked and assaulted by police. A number of them lost their jobs supporting the struggle for democratic rights sometimes dobbed in by the Special Branch.

One case stood was that of the O’Reilly brothers, Sean (19) and Ciaron (17). They were both assaulted by a Detective John Frederick Johnson at a peaceful demonstration. They were kicked, abused and assaulted. Some time later Sean’s nose was broken by the same copper, a huge man. Yet it was Ciaron who was charged with police assault and dragged before Magistrate William Joseph MacKay.

I remember sitting in a court room and watching independent eyewitnesses, a tv cameraman, film evidence showing his innocence, and the truthfulness of Jim Dowling, whom Ciaron first met during this incident.

Ciaron had a good lawyer who later became a judge. I think his name was Robertson or Robinson.

The defence team was backed up by a litany of character witnesses like teachers, nuns and priests all testifying to Ciaron’s innocence.

You’d think such people singing their praises of the young Ciaron – especially in the Irish catholic dominated judiciary of Queensland – would find a sympathetic ear in a magistrate, even a police magistrate.

But no, the ears of Magistrate Mackay remained closed – as if his worship lived in a permanent alcoholic haze – as he came down resoundingly in favour of police and convicted the assaulted student of the very crime to which he (Ciaron) had fallen victim.

It is little wonder that my contempt for the court system came through. I was convicted of ‘contempt of court’ on three separate occasions and locked up for two weeks when I called out the close association that police enjoyed with the magistrates. One occasion I called Magistrate Jones a political puppet, was immediately taken into custody and threatened with 14 days jail. I couldn’t come up with the money. Fortunately a friend (Marion Redmond) in the back of the court stumped up the cash and I was released.

My final arrest in the democratic rights struggle was during the South-East Queensland electricity dispute, where the government sacked 1,002 SEQEB linesman and cable jointers. This sent the state into chaos by causing power outages. The government’s aim was to replace workers with contract labour.

Ian Curr arrested by Cnst Monley and Walsh outside the Executive Building in George Street for carrying a banner Joh Must Go. 1985 Photo: David Hinchcliffe.


In 1977 I set up the Education Resource Office on the second floor of the University of Queensland student union building. This building was designed by an architect Steven Trotter.  Subsequently this building’s internal floorplan was ruined by replacing the open internal design with a bank (no doubt on favourable terms), a games room, enclosed offices and vending machines.

4ZZZ and Schonell Theatre

In 1977 I was elected Education Vice-President of the Student Union. Both in 1976 and 1977 I attended a number of union council meetings governing the various activities of the union. The annual budget of the union was considerable and it provided a number of services and ran the refectory, employing staff and operating kitchens. Budget allocations in those years were controversial and so a position on union council was necessary for the various interest groups such as the radio station, the child care facility and Schonell theatre. Schonell employed a number of staff and at that time often returned a surplus to the union because of the popularity of the independent overseas releases and art house cinema that could not be seen in city or suburban cinemaplexes. At various times, Ron Wakenshaw, Jim Beatson and Desley Agnoletto managed the theatre and it remained cutting edge throughout the second half of the 1970s.

On the other hand, the radio station was thirsty for money as it had up to 10 paid staff. I can recall union council voting for a motion that gave 4ZZ and the child care centre nearly a quarter a millions dollars in one year. This motion was passed with the help of a swag of proxys produced by one of the station’s founders, Jim Beatson. The following year, at a closed emergency meeting of ten union councillors, Beatson ensured the stations survival by passing a motion (9-1) in favour of him becoming acting President of the Student Union. He may not even have been a student at the time as he had first enrolled some 6 years previously. Henceforth he steered a pragmatic course towards obtaining a high power licence for the station from the Federal government (it was finally granted in 1980). Beatson took every opportunity to oppose the defiant stance taken by Right-to-March campaign during 1977 till 1979, speaking against marching in the forums. Beatson would appear and attempt to cut off proposals to march. On one occasion he interposed himself at Checkpoint Charlie and tried to tell the police that their PA system was defective and that students and staff could not hear the prohibition on marching (even though it was pretty bloody obvious that we wished to march and the cops were there to stop us).

On another occasion Beatson turned up at Guyatt Park and argued for students to return to their studies. His timing was not great because there was a tense situation created by police cutting off the march. Police were bundling the three arrested in a paddy wagon when Beatson appealed for a return to the University. We had used walkie talkies to subvert the police operation, a tactic that Beatson subsequently applauded, but not on that day. Beatson seemed to think 1977 was a re-run of 1967. It wasn’t. The people involved in 1977 represented a far wider cross section of the community. This was reflected in the arrest lists. The Big March in 1967 comprised students and staff of the University whereas in 1977-79 marches were mainly workers and unemployed. Students only featured in any number in the early marches, by October 22, 1977 only 6 weeks into the campaign the marchers were a cross section of society including wharfies, labourers, public servants, teachers, technicians, nurses, and so on. By the 12 November 1977 state election this movement produced a 10% swing against the government in the Metropolitan areas of the state. Only one section of the Labor Party wanted any part of the struggle, the Socialist Left led by George Georges. This forced them into a kind of vanguard situation. So by 3 December 1977 they advocated mass arrests even though in November 1977 Georges was threatened with dis-endorsement by Labor Party headquarters (through State Secretary Gerry Jones). The Socialist Left was attempting to convince the party that Bjelke Petersen could be defeated at the ballot box by mass mobilisations organised till then by the CLCC. So they called on interstate trade union organisers and MPs to come to Queensland to defy the government. The CLCC with SL support even convinced conservative Trade Union President, Harry Hauneschild, to sponsor the march and get arrested with nearly 300 other people. This put Bjelke-Petersen on the back foot and his organisation and sections of the Liberal Party called on Joh to back off, something the Premier was not prepared to do. So by the next big march on the 4th March 1978, the Labor party pulled back and left the CLCC to organise the march by themselves. For the first time marchers tried to avoid arrest by marching around the square and exiting via Anne Street making their way toward Roma Street forum. Some 50 people made it but police pulled out all stops and their were violent arrests such the one described where the O’Reilly brothers were assaulted. Another arrest was that of one of the CLCC organisers, Terry Farr, who later ran the Workers Health Centre from Trades Hall.

Terry Farr being strangled by Plainclothes Detective Pat Glancy on the fringe of King George Square on 4 March 1978.

4ZZ looking for Left cover
Beatson may have seen his public opposition to marching as another step towards gaining a high power licence for 4ZZ by not alienating the Federal government. Prior to this, the station co-ordinator Denis Reinhardt banned the Civil Liberties program on the station. Reinhardt had full support from paid station staff and later from Beatson as well. Having said that, I do not believe Jim Beatson was motivated by self-interest in taking these steps. He was determined to ensure the survival of the radio station that he and others from the anti-war movement had fought so hard to build. Left Cover was provided by an unlikely source when 4PR – Voice of the People turned up (in 1978?) to the Australian Broadcasting Commission hearings into community broadcasting to make a submission as to why 4PR should not be given a high power licence. Finally 4ZZZ got the gig and achieved high power status. We removed the antenna from the Schonell Theatre and put a larger one up on Mt Cootha. 4PR continued to make sound wave broadcasts in the forum area and the occasional pirate broadcast from Mt Cootha. 4PR – Voice of the People continued to this day as a podcast on current affairs. The political struggle continues.

‘Won’t get fooled again’?
Perhaps one answer to why 4ZZZ banned crucial programs during this period lies in an article by Alan Knight in the 1985 4ZZZ Radio Times (p14). The political groups (Through the looking glass, Megaherz, the Civil Liberties program) were excluded from 4ZZ by the full-time staff including station co-ordinator Denis Reinhardt (later a mining entrepreneur) and Jim Beatson (Community Activist).

Alan Knight, who had been the editor of Semper Floreat in 1973, said the problem as being caused by internal conflict between volunteers and paid staff. The station never understood the notion of ‘worker control’.

Whose radio is it anyway?

“In those days there was a sort of access component. Round the middle of the day. There were either educational style programs or programs run by some of the campus feminists. What happened was Jim Beatson had always been critical of the idea of access. His position was that it disrupted the program flow of the station, that it wasn’t properly integrated with what the rest of the station was doing. And it was often badly produced and, dare I say it, very boring. Carole Ferrier’s position was that it was their control of air time and Jim was trying to dictate to them what they did. My position was, I guess, that without heavy input by volunteers staff, the talk component of the station would fall dramatically. There was also a problem with a personality clash between Jim and Carole. And this built up at weekly meetings from a discussion to a screaming match. The way Jim countered it was by gradually rallying the full-time staff so that by 1976, you had the full time staff and a couple of volunteers against the volunteers. So the volunteers lost the numbers and the programs were abolished. [The programs Alan Knight is speaking about here are Through the looking glass and Megaherzz.]

So this led to a lot of bad feeling. And Carole said she didn’t want anything more to do with the station and left with her friends and supporters. That led to a perception that the station was anti-feminist, which of course had never been the case. I see that split as being the result of a personality clash between Carole and Jim. The split sealed off any idea of having access on 4ZZZ (sic) and the station became controlled by the full time staff. It meant, however, that the station maintained its political line. So that didn’t change. It just meant that some groups wouldn’t have free airtime. It became much less like 2SER and other community radio stations, and much more unique. Now the station’s problems are physical ones, rather than intellectual ones.” – Alan Knight October 1985, Radio Times.

The station did change its political position by banning the Civil Liberties program. Eventually 4ZZZ adopted a more corporate style of management with a paid manager, technician and music coordinator employed by and answerable to the Board of Creative Broadcasters Pty Ltd (4ZZZ-FM). Its focus was always music. News and current affairs only briefly featured as a major focus when 4ZZZ became a training ground for newsroom staff to go on to mainstream journalism (the ABC, National Times, even The Australian).

Civil Liberties room
Right-to-march activists also set up a roneo machine and an office as part of the democratic rights campaign. We occupied a space on the top floor where ABSCHOL had been before it moved into offices in the city across the road from the Tax Office. ABSCHOL was the Aboriginal Affairs Department of the Australian Union of Students. It was housed on the second floor of the University of Queensland Student Union. Its activities became wider when the Australian Government began a secondary school scholarships scheme for aboriginal people.

In the Civil Liberties room we created a media action campaign and produced a booklet called ‘Live to fight, Fight to live’ which we circulated on campus and interstate. We took the booklet to Melbourne and distributed it at unions, community organisations and university campuses.

The front cover says ‘From each according to ability, to each according to need. Is $1.50 too much ability’ which reflects the sentiment behind the publication. We were trying to get to as many people as we could with a radical analysis of capitalism in Queensland. The opening article gives some idea:

‘Live to fight, Fight to live’ has a picture of a march around circular drive from the forum area to the JD Story (Admin) Building. Students are upset that special branch were allowed on campus.

UQ Vice Chancellor Sir Zelman Cowen holding a bren gun in the UQ Great Court during the height of the American war in Vietnam that caused the loss of over a million lives.

There had been an incident with the pro-war secretary to the ambassador from South Vietnam, a Mr. Quang. The placard in the photo reads ‘no dealings between political police and the administration‘. This was caused by university authorities calling the Commissioner of Police, Ray Whitrod, who deployed Special Branch and uniformed police onto the campus. There were several arrests and disciplinary charges by Vice Chancellor Cowen who expelled 8 students.

On that note, I was often excluded from the University mainly because of fines imposed that I did not have the money to pay. I would usually either appeal the decision, try to raise the money and tell the authorities I would try to be better in future. This strategy usually worked but I was excluded from the Medical Faculty which I appealed and was allowed to continue my studies in Science. I would like to thank Professor Dorothy Sanders for her kindness and wisdom in allowing me to complete my degree successfully. I hope I did not disappoint her.

During this period (1975-1978), the Student Union was run by conservative liberal party members and a representative of the right-wing National City Council. His name was John Herzog.

Australian Union of Students
However, the Australian Union of Students (AUS) had appointed a Representative Peter Annear from the Socialist Workers Party to occupy the position of AUS coordinator. A war raged within the union between the Zionists John Heroz and Michael Danby over the issue of AUS support for Palestine. Eventually this conflict brought the national union down from which it never really recovered. The final nail in its coffin was the introduction of voluntary student unionism by the Howard government and re-introduction of fees by the Hawke government. This was called the HECS scheme. These twin economic attacks on the University made it little more than a sausage factory for the production of degrees serving corporate interests. In 1977 I represented the UQ Students Union at the annual AUS conference in Melbourne.

Right-to-march campaign
The right to march campaign of 1977 till 1979 was part of a broader struggle for democratic rights.

These rights included:

  • opposition to uranium mining and export
  • the right to march and assemble
  • women’s rights including women’s control of reproductive rights;
  • Aboriginal rights including land rights and opposition to the Queensland Acts;
  • Gay Rights (See Peter Weir Campaign to allow gay teachers to teach in Qld state schools); and most importantly,
  • the right to organise.

The struggle for democratic rights was reflected in the 1978 May Day procession where the Red Contingent outnumbered the trade unions and in that contingent a number of different campaigns mentioned were present.

Also a number of different groups carried red flags. These groups included the Communist Party of Australia, the Socialist Party of Australia, the International Socialists, independent Marxists, and the Socialist Workers Party including the Communist League. At the end of the Red Contingent were the anarchists from groups like the Libertarian Socialist Organisation, the Learning Exchange, and Friends of the Earth.

All these groups including the Campaign Against Nuclear power and the Civil Liberties Co-ordinating Committee participated in the right-to-march campaign and carried banners on May Day in support of their demands for democratic rights.

So also did the Trade Unions including the Waterside workers, Seamen’s union, Building Workers Industrial Unions (BWIU), and all the affiliated unions under the Trades and Labour Council. Trade union rights were an important part of the struggle. Workers rights were paramount in the right-to-march campaign and this was demonstrated by the first illegal march on the 7th of September 1977 was to a trade union rally defending the right to organise after a TWU official, Ted Zaphir, had been charged with a criminal offence for doing just that, organising in trade unions.

The 1977-79 Democratic Rights campaign at Queensland University organised and ‘Afternoon for Change’ each Wednesday at the Student Union complex where we showed revolutionary and progressive films, had discussions and printed leaflets.

This was run out of the education resource office and later, the Civil Liberties room. During 1976 to 78. We organised regular forums and put on a public trial of Bjelke-Petersen which attracted a large crowd between Schonell Theatre and the refectory at the back of the main building.

4PR – Voice of the People

We also set up a pirate radio station – 4PR – Voice of the People FM 102 megahertz – we would broadcast using sound waves in the forum area and also from a portable transmitter built by ‘George Orwell’  from Mt Cootha at selected times. Our motivation was the university student union radio station 4ZZ had shown a disinterest in opposing the state and federal governments because it was seeking a higher power licence from the federal government. 4ZZ went to the extent of banning ‘megaherz’, a women’s liberation programme on the station. Later 4ZZ then banned the Civil Liberties programme. Specifically, we interviewed a Liberal Senator, Neville Bonner and asked him why he voted in favour of the Fraser government’s uranium decision to mine uranium on Aboriginal land.


As a result of my direct involvement in the University of Queensland Student Union, I make some recommendations as to the heritage value of the complex and the design aspects of it which require some changes, but also some retention of existing structures.

Re-establish a forum area. This is a particularly important space where there can be mass gatherings of people such as that occurred during the Vietnam War moratoria, the Springbok Tour, and the 1977-79 Street March campaign where forums of up to 500 people occurred regularly. At these forums there were democratic votes on strategies for students and staff to combat the attacks being made by the government on a range of issues, including education, the refusal to have sex education in schools or even basic biology education through a programme called MACOS and SEMP. Forums were organised on government refusal to employ gay teachers, on the question of mining and export of uranium. State and Federal governments were  fast at exporting uranium dug up at the Mary Kathleen mine in North Queensland, and exporting it through the Hamilton No 4 Wharf in Brisbane.

Special areas need to be created by first nations people to commemorate the struggles when governments attacked Aboriginal people and openly denied First Nations people to have land rights. The Qld government introduced repressive Queensland acts, which denied Aboriginal people basic human rights: such as the right to work, and to choose where they lived, and to decide who they would get married to. They were under constant control of so called Aboriginal Protectors and the Queensland Police Force. During that time and later, there were many children taken away and Aboriginal deaths in custody. Both these continue to this day. And many Aboriginal people were confined to missions like Cherbourg, Woorabinda, Mornington Island, Palm Island, Doomadgee, Hopevale, Injinoo, Kowanyama, Lockhart River, Mapoon, Napranum, New Mapoon, Pormpuraaw, Umagico, Wujal Wujal and Yarrabah under so called DOGIT leases. The grievances of people affected were often the subject of discussion and debate in the university forum area.

Recommendations for changes to existing Student Union Building complex to preserve heritage and significance of the space

Forum Area. Currently, the old forum area is cluttered with unnecessary and dilapidated furniture, commercial activities that do not befit a learning institution, ramps and thoroughfares to enhance the sale of lollies, goods and foodstuffs, many of which are unhealthy and expensive. There are unnecessary obstructions in this area and it needs to be opened up and to become the vibrant centre that it was during previous decades when social justice issues were raised in open discussions.

Forum Area in 1977

The space should have limited and regulated commercial activity and should permit the free exchange of ideas using amplification. It should be designed in such a way to limit interference with classes being conducted nearby.

I mentioned that we once conducted an ‘afternoon for change‘ where we showed films it is important that affordable films be shown for free to students, staff and other people visiting the university for this purpose the Schonell theatre should be retained and the existing cinemas upgraded and refurbished. It is also important that live theatre be performed in the student complex as it has for over a generation the cement box theatre or its equivalent should be used as such a space.

The student union has always struggled to provide good nutritious food, it should run its own kitchen and refectory. With food provided at cost to students and staff. The Refectory needs to be properly designed for this purpose. The pizza shop which provides views over the river across to Highgate Hill and Dutton Park was a favourite spot for people and this should continue

Medical Centre.There needs to be space for a medical centre. The medical service has been in the Gordon Greenwood Building for many years. For some reason what was a medical service housed in the Student Union buildings has taken on the mantle of a University run service. The counselling service moved out of the Relaxation Block in 2021. This is an important part of the student health service and should be returned and appropriate space made available for it.

Student Legal Aid Scheme – space be provided a Legal Aid scheme.

The Child Care Centre was moved out in 2020. This needs to be re-established and facilities provided. (all of which had been present since the 1970s since the women and their allies (Beatson, sic) passed large sums of money in Union Council to be provided for the centre).

Studios for live broadcast. In 1988, I think, the university and the conservative Student Union run by a National Party nominee Victoria Brazil and her backers attempted to remove radio station 4ZZZ from the campus. Eventually it was successful in doing this, but not before a very strong response from students, staff and others who had participated and listened to the radio station since 1975 another radio station should be considered and facilities provided including studios and transmitters (although these may no longer be necessary in the age of the internet) [See

Imagined UQ Student Union Complex by architecture students

Relax Block. In the past there were also recreational rooms where people could listen to music, play cards and quiet spaces where people could study and talk in small groups. The relaxation block was one such building where these activities took place.

Similar spaces need to be provided, including a large public meeting space which for example has large meetings associated with opposition to apartheid in South Africa the conduct of the anti Vietnam War a moratorium campaign? The Civil Liberties campaign in 1967. A campaign for public transport and then the 1977-79 Democratic Rights campaign.

1971 Student Union and Staff Strike against apartheid. Students and staff at the university voted in numbers to strike after police violence used against students during a peaceful picket at the tower mill motel in July 1971 where the Springbok rugby union team and all white racist and apartheid team was playing a test match in Brisbane at the exhibition rounds.

Because of the history of police violence against students in the 1960s and 70s police should be discouraged from attending the Student Union Complex except when personal and public safety require it. A plaque stating ”no dealings between political police and the administration‘ needs to be erected outside the Relax Block and a short historical reference to the Quang Incident and the names of those students expelled listed and remembered.

Student Protest in Relaxation block (the Quang Incident): From Left: ? woman, Ann Berquier (wearing hat), ?, Graham Jones (seated), standing, blond man with the glasses is Bill Denham, John Jiggens (standing behind Denham}, Edwin Rolph, Secretary Quang (seated)

Public Meetings facilities for public meetings should be developed. This is so there is not a repetition of what happened on the day the University voted to go on strike and heavy rain fell forcing students and staff into the refectory where people were eating.

Student Union Council. The E G Whitlam room provided a space where the student union council could meet and I participated as an office bearer in those debates in 1977. And these meetings should be that student representatives from all over campus can meet together in one place. And decide on matters of the day.

Performance space for live music. In 1977, I attended a folk and blues festival at the University of Queensland Student Union complex organised by a National Folk and Blues organization.. Performance spaces were provided in the refectory for the so called Joint Efforts where local musicians could play to what was then very large audiences. Similar facilities need to be provided to enrich the culture of this place and be open to all.

The Schonell Theatre was born out of the need to have a cultural life on campus that was open to all students, staff and visitors to the University. The Schonell is now closed to everyone because of asbestos remediation work but it needs to be re-opened and renovated with the intention of running cinema, live shows and theatre and a performance space for local musicians.

Women’s Rights Room – The first Women’s rights organiser I remember at UQ Students Union was Radha Rouse in 1976. She was followed in the following year by Anna McCormack. Both were strong advocates for women’s rights in the union. I remember joining with Anna in a successful campaign to stop the Student Union from sacking a woman cleaner. Needless to say, a Women’s Rights room is an essential part of the Student Union complex.

Refec and Food Co-op

Unfortunately the refectory was used by successive student Union administrations to stamp their own authority on the space. As a result each new Union council would vote for changes to that structure. Presumably those changes were ratified by the University because it owns the land on which the buildings were constructed. This resulted in very poor design of the internal spaces within the buildings constructed so long ago. They were rarely fit for purpose. Extensive renovations and maintenance needs to be undertaken after consultation with students and staff who use this facility.

The refectory needs also to provide space for a food co-op where nutritious food is sold at cost.

Student-union-food coop-July-1973

Site Inspection Necessary
As no floor plans are available, I recommend a site inspection be carried out a site inspection by those interested in saving the UQ Student Union complex and in conjunction with University consultants. A masterplan for renovation and re-development of the complex needs to be the objective of this consultation.

Ian Curr B.Sc. (UQ), Grad. Dip. ATAX (UNSW)
29 Jan 2022

The author pointing to himself in an illegal street march from the University of Queensland Campus on 12 Sept 1977 during the Qld Democratic Rights Struggle (1977-79)- thanks to Architecture students and staff who came up with ideas about how the Student Union complex heritage can be preserved and placing their ideas on display.

2 thoughts on “You say you want a revolution

  1. John Dixon says:

    Thanks for writing this Ian, great memory and details, I enjoyed the trip.

    1. Thanks John … a bit rambling and chaotic … a bit like my life.

      A few typos in there too.


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