The Fryer story

The Fryer Memorial Library of Australian Literature was founded in 1927 in honour of John Denis Fryer. For over 90 years, we have been collecting a rich store of unique cultural material, supporting students and researchers in their research projects and hosting events for our community of scholars. Find out how our library has transformed over time by clicking through the timeline and profiles below.

Fryer Timeline

The Fryer Library as we know it wouldn't exist today if it hadn't been for one popular student, John Denis Fryer, whose all too short time at The University of Queensland had a big impact on those who knew him.

Jack's life

Born in 1895 in Springsure, Central Queensland, Jack Fryer attended Rockhampton Grammar School and went on to win a scholarship to The University of Queensland in 1915, aged 19.

Soon after starting his first term at the university, Fryer volunteered for military service in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF). He was commissioned in 1916 and served in France and Belgium in 1917. In August 1918 he was badly wounded in a German attack. Fryer returned home in July 1919 and started University again in March 1920, undertaking study towards a Classic Honours degree with commitment and enthusiasm. A popular and active figure on campus, Fryer was also editor of the student magazine, Galmahra, Vice-President of the Dramatic Society and representative rugby player.

However, by mid-1922, he had developed tuberculosis. Too sick to sit for his final honours examinations, Fryer returned home to Springsure and died in February 1923. The University senate awarded him the BA degree on 15 December 1922.

As a memorial to their former member and vice-president, members of the University Dramatic Society donated £10 to establish a collection of works in Australian literature. With this collection as its foundation, the Fryer Memorial Library of Australian Literature was established in 1927.

1920 1st XV Rugby Team, featuring Jack Fryer, middle of back row

The John Denis Fryer Papers

The John Denis Fryer Papers (UQFL23) feature items from Jack's life, which reveal a loving son and brother as well as a devoted student and soldier. Items include photographs of Fryer with his family and from his student days at The University of Queensland, letters and cards sent home to Springsure from the battlefields of France, military maps of Amiens and St Quentin as well as his medals. The obituaries in the collection, written following Fryer's death, show the high regard in which he was held. Although his life was cut short, his legacy continues in the research and cultural collections of the Fryer Memorial Library. A selection of Fryer’s photographs and correspondence is also available online.

Find out more

View our online exhibition featuring correspondence and photographs from Fryer's life, including his time as student at The University of Queensland and his service in the First World War.

In 1927, Australian literature was still a relatively new academic field at The University of Queensland, so the creation of a library dedicated to the subject became a passion project for one member of staff, Dr Frederick Walter Robinson.

Robinson's life

Frederick Robinson, later known affectionately by students as Doc Robbie, was born in Sydney in 1888. He was academically gifted from an early age and won several scholarships that allowed him to complete his education at Sydney Boys' High School, the University of Sydney and the University of Jena in Germany. 

After serving in World War I, first in the Field Ambulance and later as an intelligence officer, Robinson returned to Australia and in 1923 moved to Brisbane to become a lecturer in English and German at The University of Queensland. He was highly involved in the design of the St Lucia campus and many of his plans for how he felt the university site should look are now held in the Fryer Library.

His association with the military continued throughout his career - Robinson worked in intelligence again during the Second World War and was also instrumental in coordinating The University of Queensland's contribution to the war.

Frederick Robinson in academic dress

Robinson and the Fryer Library

The Fryer Library began it's life as a collection of books in a single cabinet in Robinson's office. As a lecturer in the English Department, Robinson became the champion of the Fryer, petitioning the university for funds to buy more books and designing the new space for the library when the department moved to St Lucia from George Street in the 1950s. He even had bookcases and a display cabinet made to his specifications for the library, one of which may now be on Level 2 of the Duhig Tower.

Sign reading 'The Fryer Library is a research library, part of the English Department. In common with similar libraries, it is NOT a general lending library. No books, documents, etc. may be removed without reference to the Fryer Librarian.
An early sign from the Fryer Library in Doc Robbie's handwriting.

The Reading Room at that time was adjacent to Robinson's office and he took on the role of Fryer Librarian, choosing books to acquire and helping students with enquiries, alongside his academic work. Even when he was made a Professor, Robinson still made time for the Fryer Library and was a keen advocate for the library after it moved from the English Department to the Library.

The Fryer Reading Room is now known as the Frederick Walter Robinson Reading Room in his honour.

Find out more

The Frederick Walter Robinson Papers (UQFL5) contains material relating to Robinson's career as an academic including lectures and research notes, as well as early records of the Fryer Library.

You can view digitised materials from the collection on UQ eSpace.

The University of Queensland acquired the remarkable Father Edward Leo Hayes Collection in 1967. The treasures that Father Hayes collected have contributed to the reputation of the Fryer Library as a pre-eminent research collection.

Father Edward Leo Hayes

Father Edward Leo Hayes (1889-1967) was a Catholic priest based in Oakey, Queensland. He was also an inveterate and eclectic book collector.

The young Father Edward Leo Hayes

Books filled the house 

Father Hayes kept his books everywhere: in the presbytery, in cupboards, on the floor, in the bathtub, in the oven and under his bed. They were interspersed with jars of snakes, coins, shotguns, cowbells, stamps, bookplates, maps, letters and personal documents, artefacts and geological specimens, autographs, dinosaur bones, press cuttings, postcards, photographs, and even a human skull. 

A pre-eminent private collection

The Hayes Collection was acknowledged worldwide as one of the great Australian collections and the pre-eminent private collection accumulated in the 20th century.

With limited resources, but with a multitude of generous friends and very patient booksellers, Father Hayes amassed an extraordinary collection.

Among the manuscripts he possessed were letters and poems from well-known figures including Dame Mary Gilmore, Paul Grano, Steele Rudd, Henry Lawson, William Morris, Miles Franklin, A.B. Paterson and A. G. Stevens.

Father Hayes was most proud of his books, and could count such gems as a first edition Matthew Flinders’ A Voyage to Terra Australis, and Gregory Mathews’ Birds of Australia amongst his collection, as well as limited editions and sometimes sole-surviving copies of fiction, essays and poetry of most Australian authors.

Father Hayes' collection exceeded 100,000 items at the time of his death, and included:

  • 25,000 books - 19,000 of these were on Australian subjects
  • 30,000 manuscript items
  • over 4,000 geological specimens
  • 1,500 anthropological artefacts  

The Hayes Collection is truly a monument to one man’s love of literature and the world around him.

Whiskey given to Hayes by General MacArthur                    Condamine cowbells
Papal Medallion

The move to UQ and the impact of the collection

It took four trucks to move the Hayes Collection to The University of Queensland. Each truck carried 80 crates containing 400 cartons. The collection doubled the University’s resources to support Australian subjects and the Fryer Library became the premier institution for higher research in Australian studies. The collection has provided material for outstanding research. A special issue of Fryer Folios was dedicated to the collection to mark its 40th anniversary in 2007.

Our noblest collection, and a great source of pride, is the Father Leo Hayes collection. This was the work of a lifetime and the work of a devoted Australian patriot. Its treasures are detailed in the University Library’s Brochure in his memory. There is no scholar working in the Robinson Room who does not surround himself equally with Fryer and Hayes material. One supplements the other to an amazing degree.

Source: The Fryer Memorial Library of Australian Literature. [St. Lucia, Queensland] [Fryer Memorial Library, University of Queensland]

Further reading