Building a University, 1938-1979

Whoever has the honour to be entrusted with the architecture of St. Lucia … must make no mean plans, for mean plans have no magic to stir any man's blood, or awaken inspiration in anyone, and the University should be an inspiration to her students. (J.J.C. Bradfield, June 22, 1936)i

Construction began at The University of Queensland’s St Lucia campus in March 1938 with the main building that is now known as the Forgan Smith Building. Now, after eighty years of development,

“the buildings on the campus are an object lesson in [the] changing styles of Australian academic architecture over the last three-quarters of a century. They include many fine buildings … but the recognised centre of the campus is the complex of sandstone-clad buildings, carefully situated at the apex of the site, adjacent to what was once called Mill Road, a dirt track which ran down to William Dart's eponymous sugar mill on the riverbank. Since the early 1950s, this central [heritage listed] complex of buildings has been known as The Great Court”.2

Building a University, 1938-1979.

These buildings suffered from delays in construction due to financial constraints and the Second World War. Construction happened in stages, clockwise around the court. It wasn’t until March 1979 that the work finished and the buildings around the ‘Great Court’ were complete.

On August 4, a ceremony was held in the Great Court itself to mark this milestone. An exhibition relating to the history of the Great Court was mounted in the former Darnell Gallery on the first floor of the Forgan Smith Building,3 and consisted of a photographic display of the planning and building of the Great Court and of the key people who worked to make the project a reality.4

The Fryer Memorial Library in what was then the Central Library Building (also know as the Social Sciences and Humanities Library) also celebrated this milestone with an exhibition, Building a University, which included a selection from the Library’s rich holdings of archival material relating to the history of the University and the State of Queensland.

The exhibitions opened in time for Expo-Uni, held from 3-4 August in 1979. Expo-Uni was an event presented by the University of Queensland Union in conjunction with various faculties of the University. It offered potential University students a guide to courses, careers, research and culture. It included displays, activities by departments, clubs, societies and sporting groups.

The Library digitised slides from the Building a University exhibition.  

For further information about the history of The University of Queensland see:

See also:

Family History at UQ


Dulcie Stewart, Metadata Creator, Digitisation Team.


[1] [J.J.C. Bradfield], "University at Saint Lucia Lay-Out: Address before the Senate and Staff of the University at the Geology Theatre, June 22nd, 1936," UQ History Collection, Fryer Library, UQFL458, Box 12, Folder 2.

[2] East, J. W. (2014). No mean plans: designing the Great Court at the University of Queensland. Brisbane: John W. East. Retrieved from

[3] Ibid.

[4] Expo-Uni. Brisbane: University of Queensland. Union, 1979.

Last updated:
16 December 2019