UQ St Lucia Great Court

The Great Court is the centre of The University of Queensland’s St Lucia Campus. It is listed on the Queensland Heritage Register and the Register of the National Trust of Queensland. Its lawn is used for ceremonies, exhibitions and functions and is a popular lunch spot for students.

Great Court sculptures

Carvings in Helidon freestone adorning the exterior walls and cloisters of the court incorporate significant aspects of cultural and natural history. Many of the motifs were conceived by principal architect Leo Drinan, and included in Hennessy, Hennessy & Co’s original design.

Artists and artisans

Stonemasons John Theodore Muller and Frederick James McGowan began work on the carvings in 1939, but progress stalled in 1942 due to World War Two. McGowan died before the carving program resumed in 1945, and Muller worked on the project alone until his death in 1953.

The program was revived when work began on the Michie Building in 1972. Rhyl Hinwood won the commission over several other Queensland sculptors, and began work in 1976, completing many grotesques, coats of arms and figures. To this day, the carvings remain a work in progress.

Features of the Great Court

Friezes

Friezes of historical images carved in low relief decorate the exterior walls of the buildings and the tower of the Great Court. These include a panorama of prehistoric life, scenes of Indigenous culture, vignettes that foreground the establishment of the colony of Queensland and the foundation of the University, achievements of the Australian Army in World War Two, and developments in science, agriculture and industry.

Statues

Statues of prominent figures in science, philosophy and literature – including Antoine Lavoisier, Charles Darwin, Plato and William Shakespeare – flank the primary entrances of the Steel, Forgan Smith and Goddard buildings.

Grotesques

Perhaps the most intriguing features are the carved stone caricatures or grotesques that decorate the outside walls of the Great Court. These portraits are popular because of the light-hearted quality they bring to the otherwise formal architecture. Their quirky designs reflect the whims of the stonemasons who created them. Subjects include UQ academics, fictional characters from literature, mythical creatures, a portrait of stonemason John Theodore Muller, and a self-portrait of sculptor Rhyl Hinwood.

Coats of arms, arches and roundels

The columns that support the cloister around the Great Court are adorned with coats of arms representing the tertiary institutions of the British Commonwealth, other significant international universities, and the UQ residential colleges. The external walls of the cloister feature archways and roundels that depict native Queensland flora and fauna and exotic and agriculturally significant species.

Indigenous history

Aspects of Indigenous Queensland culture are included in the carved designs. Friezes above the entrance to the Forgan Smith Building depict traditional activities including hunting and bark harvesting. The Michie Building features a portrait of an unidentified Indigenous woman and a likeness of Jinabara man Willie MacKenzie (Gaiarbau). Anthropologist Dr L.P. Winterbotham interviewed Mackenzie at UQ in the 1950s. Mackenzie's account of his people's cultural practices was used to secure Native Title for the Jinabara in 2012.

A site for contemporary art

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 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.’


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