UQ's Schonell Theatre

UQ’s Schonell Theatre won’t be saved by Heritage bid

The University of Queensland’s Schonell Theatre is likely to be demolished after an unsuccessful attempt to save the historic venue. 

The theatre, which is part of University of Queensland’s (UQ) Union complex, is set to be demolished for the university’s $300 million redevelopment plans.

The complex comprises of the theatre itself, a student services support building, an administration block, a conference centre, and an outdoor area known as ‘The Forum’. This particular open air space is well known for its rallies and debates throughout the university’s history.

In May this year, a librarian at the university made an application to add the complex to the Queensland Heritage Register. Arguing it’s historic and social significance, the Heritage Council rejected the proposal. ‘The Forum’, however, will be acknowledged for its contribution to the university. 

“The QHC will make representations to the university recommending that an appropriate acknowledgment be given to the open space within the Union Complex known as The Forum,” read the official statement.

The student union complex has been a place of fierce political debate for decades, and will soon be destroyed to make way for a new generation of discussion. UQ Vice Chancellor Peter Hoj spoke of his excitement about the new complex. 

“This will allow us to make the necessary investments in infrastructure on campus now and in the future, essential if UQ is to remain a top 50 global teaching and research university,” Hoj said.

The complex has undergone many changes throughout its life, which gave members of the council reason to deny the application. Chairwoman Debbie Best commented on the changes had to the precinct overtime, with her sentiments extending to the theatre itself. 

“The physical exterior of many of the buildings has changed significantly since they were first constructed… while the interiors have been considerably altered as different uses and requirements took priority’

“Overall, it was considered the union complex no longer retained sufficient original fabric to demonstrate the level of cultural heritage significance needed for entry into the Queensland Heritage Register.”

The demolition of the Schonell Theatre comes after the Queensland University of Technology announced major renovations to the Gardens Theatre precinct, which sparked controversy among students and theatregoers.

The Schonell Theatre has hosted many theatrical productions throughout its existence and is commonly used by Queensland Musical Theatre for their productions. Most recently the theatre played home to ‘Cats’, and will continue with ‘The Producers’ and ‘Hello Dolly!’ in 2020. It has also provided exposure to indie and niche films.

UQ plans to include a theatre or cinema centre in the new Union complex, so balance might just be restored to honour the beloved Schonell Theatre. 

Details on UQ’s redevelopment is still unknown and in the university’s hands.

Photography courtesy of University of Queensland. 

Related Articles