Great Court at St Lucia
The heart of The University of Queensland’s St Lucia campus, the Great Court is a popular venue for ceremonies, exhibitions and functions, as well as being the perfect location to relax with friends. Its lush gardens, historic cloister walk and extensive array of carvings dating back to 1939 have ensured a well-deserved place on the Queensland Heritage Register and the Register of the National Trust of Queensland.
Guide to the Great Court
History of the Great Court
Designed by state government architects Hennessy, Hennessy & Co in the mid-1930s, the Great Court was created as a modern take on the European quadrangles of monasteries and universities. It was to be “original in conception, monumental in design, and embodying the Australian spirit of art with English culture” to fit in with Vice-Chancellor JD Story’s hope that the University would be a “gem in a beautiful subtropical setting of hill, dale and river”.
The foundation stone for the new University campus was laid by Queensland Premier the Hon William Forgan Smith on 6 March 1937 and construction began the following year. Built from Helidon freestone – or sandstone – it was unlike other buildings of the period as no attempt was made to achieve a uniform colour, resulting in a swathe of purples, lavenders, creams, buffs and browns that looks particularly attractive after rain.
The Great Court took more than 40 years to complete, and played a key role in World War II when it housed the Advanced Land Headquarters of the Allied Land Forces in the Pacific, headed by General Sir Thomas Blamey. A 1945 bronze plaque commemorating this period can be found in the Forgan Smith tower.
Wartime University - Australian Women's Army Service site - trenches between Central Library and Mayne Hall, c.1941. UQA S178 B175
The Great Court, c.1947. photo courtesy Fryer Library
The Great Court carvings
To “alleviate the severe simplicity of the outer walls”, the original planners called for extensive sculptural adornment of the Great Court walls and columns. Their objective was to record in stone:
- the most important events in Queensland’s history
- Queensland’s principal flora and fauna
- a fully representative collection of Aboriginal customs and social life
- the coats of arms of all universities in the British Commonwealth and other principal universities in the world.
They also added key figures and names in the history of scholarship to portray aspects of the University’s academic traditions.
Carving began in 1939 when the first University Sculptor, John Theodore Muller (1873–1953), and his associates interpreted the designs of Hennessy, Hennessy & Co principal architect Leo Drinan (although the subjects of the grotesques were his own). Muller produced several hundred carvings in a range of styles until his death in 1953, after which work on the Great Court carvings languished for more than two decades.
In 1976 the University Senate invited several artists to submit a sample grotesque and awarded the second commission of University Sculptor to Dr Rhyl Kingston Hinwood AM (1940–). Over a 35-year period, she too completed several hundred diverse carvings, mostly of her own design.
Carving styles and types
The carvings on the walls and columns of the Great Court comprise a variety of subjects and styles – from low-relief historical friezes to stand-alone statues and wall-mounted grotesques.
Decorative bands or features on a wall, mostly bas-relief (low-relief), these carvings depict Indigenous life, historical scenes, scientific pioneers and noted literary authors
Located at the top of the three- or four-sided columns within the cloisters, these generally represent university coats of arms
Located on the three-sided columns within the cloisters, these carvings depict Queensland flora
Located on the outside walls of the cloisters, facing the Great Court lawn, these low-relief carvings depict Queensland flora and fauna
Decorative panels, round in form, these are mostly flora and fauna, but also some individual heads of people
High-relief three-dimensional carvings, either free-standing or attached to walls, these depict famous scholars, writers and scientists, as well as books
These are words carved into sandstone that depict academic quotations or the names of significant learned figures in history
Possibly the most popular of all the carvings, these projecting sculptures on the cloister walls were created to introduce an element of humour to the Great Court and include UQ academics, fictional literary characters and other mythical creatures (note: despite some having open mouths, the grotesques are not gargoyles, which are water spouts for carrying away rainwater)
Great Court map
To view a map of the carvings located within the cloisters, click Map A, and to check the list of carvings, click List A. For the carvings located on the outer walls of the Great Court, click Map B for the map and List B for the detailed list.
Carving a history: a guide to the Great Court
A fully illustrated book is now available at the Co-op Bookshop
UQ Great Court Sculptures Online
Use the UQ Great Court Sculptures Online to search and view the iconic sandstone sculptures. Create your own collection of sculptures by clicking the 'Add to My Collection' button. Once you have finished share your favourite works on the 'My Collection' page.
Great Court Indigenous artspace
Artist and Adjunct Professor Fiona Foley recognised the court’s links to Indigenous culture and knowledge systems through the September 2014 site-specific exhibition Courting Blakness. Foley invited several Indigenous artists – including Queenslanders Archie Moore, Megan Cope and Ryan Presley – to contribute work to the exhibition, providing a contemporary context to engage with the Great Court and its history, and an opportunity to consider “how local, national and transnational spaces of knowledge are formed and reconfigured over time”.