The Great Court at The University of Queensland, St Lucia – Part 1

The Great Court at The University of Queensland, St Lucia – Part 1

Queensland University, the state’s first university, was established in legislation in 1909, and according to the Qld Heritage Register, commemorates Qld’s 50th anniversary as a State. The following information is taken from the Heritage Register page for The Great Court.

There was a lot of buggering about before construction on the St Lucia site began in 1935, and building continued on the Great Court until 1979. Benefactors, Mary Emilia Mayne and her brother, Dr James O’Neil Mayne, donated the enormous sum of 50,000 pounds to get the ball rolling rather well. You can read about the Mayne family – a curious and interesting clan – in a great book by Rosamond Siemon, titled, The Mayne Inheritance. Highly recommended.

The Premier of the day hoped the project would spur employment during the Great Depression, and indeed, he has a Great Court building named after him, Forgan Smith, which you’ll see in this and the other galleries.

The Great Court’s layout follows design principles championed by Thomas Jefferson in the early 1800s, his concept of an ‘academic village’ “clearly demonstrated in the complex by the large, open central courtyard that is surrounded by interspersed pavilions representing different disciplines, linked together by internal colonnades. From its location on the highest rise of the land overlooking the surrounding campus buildings, the Great Court is regarded as an important visual symbol of and central core to the University of Queensland.” (And that height has helped preserve it during our frequent floods).

It also reflects Art Deco style in its architecture and aesthetics and incorporates “friezes, statues, and grotesques depicting significant individuals and events” in Queensland’s, Australia’s and the University’s history.

The first building completed was Forgan Smith and the last, in 1978, the Michie (named after Professor of Classics, JL Michie), where I spent many years attending and not attending classes and seminars in the pursuit of, well, one is still pursuing, after the formalities. Lifelong learning, grasshopper.

Perhaps some of the most interesting aspects of the Great Court focus on the sculptures. The German stonemason, John Theodore Muller, along with Frederick James McGowan, were the principle stonemasons, and worked on and completed a significant proportion of the sculpture between 1939 and 1953, including “the statues, friezes on the Forgan Smith and Steele Buildings: the distinctive frieze of prehistoric life on the Richards Building; and about half of the grotesques, coats of arms, arches and roundels.”

While Mr McGowan died in the 1940s, Mr Muller continued carving until his death at 80, in 1953, at which time “all of the friezes, most of the statues, and half of the grotesques, coats of arms, arches and roundels were completed.”

Carving was a lesser priority for many years after Mr Muller’s death until a competition in 1976, while the Michie was being built, resulted in Ms Rhyl Hinwood being commissioned to continue the work. She has carved quite a number of grotesques and coats of arms for the Court (which you’ll see in the gallery), and the two monumental figures at the main entrance to the Goddard Building.

The Great Court is a beautiful place, and City of Images recommends a picnic on the grass on any sunny Sunday afternoon, followed by a slow stroll – or walking meditation – around the cloisters.

We hope you enjoy the gallery.  Look out for Part 2 and the special Forgan-Smith to Forgan-Smith 360 gallery – when too much Great Court just isn’t enough.


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