I’ve curated a selection of stories that are linked to a particular spot at The University of Queensland’s Saint Lucia campus. Better still, each micro-memoir unfolds in a location you can still visit. That’s a rare thing for The University of Queensland, where building construction and demolition is a relentless, endless pursuit.
There is something conspiratorial about learning about what happened at a place. It’s that excitement of finding out why people say a particular house is said to be haunted, or stumbling upon a secret tunnel built during the war. This little discovery makes you a custodian of its secrets and a keeper of its history. Now, when you look at this or that forgotten building or alleyway, it winks at you, and slyly, you wink back.
For years, I worked in the Brisbane CBD near the Magistrate’s Court. Across the road is a 7-Eleven, which is all I saw when I walked past it of a morning. But that convenience store happens to occupy the ground floor of the heritage-listed BAFS Dispensary building: a purpose-built art deco thing of auburn brick and cream mouldings, that somehow fits all of the shapes of window used in Play School in its facade. Until a friend drew my attention to it, I’d never looked above the awning.
In its hey-day, BAFS dispensed more than 60% of Brisbane’s medical prescriptions, and, self-funded, provided free dentistry and optometry services to the public in its suites upstairs. It hints at this past with its modestly-sized mortar and pestle, perched atop the corner parapet facing Turbot and George Streets.
I’m betting next time you pass that building, you’ll look for the mortar and pestle. And when you see it, it’ll wink at you.
The UQ campus in St Lucia has plenty of its own stories (besides the one associating its purchase with a pretty violent murder). Occupying its own bend of the river, this impressive mini-metropolis of brave architecture and braver ibises fortifies a central ring of buildings. This ring of buildings, that is, Forgan Smith et. al, is clad in classical sandstone masonry, resplendent with gargoyles, and proverbs (‘Know Thyself’) etched above building entrances. They’re connected by a rather photogenic walkway of arches and pillars, which feature regularly in bridal photo shoots and any TV news segments featuring UQ in any way at all.
And at the heart of this ring is its Famous Broad Lawn, AKA The Great Court, UQ’s Pride And Or Joy. And great is indeed the correct unit of scale for this, as with everything here: the campus sprawls miles in all directions from it, in an order so chaotic it now requires a phone app to navigate. But each inch of its solar panels, dusky wattles, pebbled pavings and illegally parked cars absorbs the dust and skin of all who ever passed through it. Each footfall and chair scrape and hung painting marks it. The university in its immensity wears all our stories, however small, and it holds onto them.
So here’s how some of those stories happened, and where to find them.
Catherine Lawrence recalls how The Great Court looked in the Spring of 2014 in “You two are still here then?”, while Jenna Birbeck describes how it feels to cross the Eleanor Schonell bridge for the first time, its poetry beneath her feet (literally). June McNicol hints at why the Frank White metallurgy building isn’t named after her, and Margaret Blasczczyk remembers a time when the Audiology department gave lectures in a suburban living room.
And finally, there’s a story that I believe is the story. It has the power to drag you by the collar back to perhaps your own nauseating university memories, whether recent, distant, or still a work in progress. “Fizzers made me do it” rides that deliriously tired, sour-taste-in-your-mouth anxiety and free-fall of assessment. In a few short paragraphs, all that deadline-treading, paper-submitting, degree-finishing, results-receiving emotional chaos your subconscious tried to forget will flood back to you, just for a moment. Hannah’s story is the story of the modern Australian student, in a world where a degree is expected of everyone, and the search for self-worth–for any meaning at all–is a constant.
For best results, read these stories while you’re on campus if you can. Visit UQ, and stand, sit, and walk across the various lawns and libraries where they happened. Experience them in situ. Connect with the story around you.*
1. “You two are still here then?” by Catherine Lawrence
2. The Eleanor Schonell Bridge, by Jenna Birbeck
3. My role in the early years of the Metallurgy Department, by June McNicol
4. Free education: Audiology to Art, by Margaret Blaszczyk and
5. Fizzers made me do it, by Hannah Towers
* For “Fizzers made me do it” by Hannah Towers, I recommend an additional stop by the UQ lolly shop for a handful of fizzers. Pink for preference.