Although the University of Queensland was established in 1909, its first premises were that of the recently vacated Old Government House on George St. After many years of expansion and debate over a new location (during which time Herston was the forerunner of choice), thanks to the generosity of Dr James Mayne and his sister Amelia who donated 50000 pounds towards the acquisition of the St Lucia site in 1923, building finally commenced in 1937.
Legend goes that James and Amelia, cursed by their father Patrick’s money which had been stolen from a man he brutally killed and dismembered, spent their years giving it away as a form of atonement for their father’s sins. And so indirectly the University of Queensland came to be at St Lucia as a consequence of a man’s murder.
The University’s grand first building, constructed of splendid Helidon sandstone and featuring a stately art deco tower was actually a Depression employment project, named the Forgan Smith Building after the Premier of the time. It was part of a circlet of buildings dreamed up by architects Hennessy and Hennessy in keeping with the US Thomas Jefferson concept of the academic village and which altogether took until 1979 to complete.
As part of the design, the architects had incorporated the plethora of friezes, statues and grotesques adorning the exterior, all of which depict significant events, people, coats of arms or local flora and fauna and German sculptor John Muller and Frederick McGowan were put to work carving and after their deaths and a couple of decades ubiquitous local sculptor Rhyl Hinwood finished the job.
The Forgan Smith building was also significant for its role in the war, having been occupied by Sir Thomas Blamey as the Advanced Headquarters of the Allied Land Forces in the South Pacific.
Other noteworthy parts of the University are the ornamental lakes, the Alumni Teaching Garden – a walk-through rainforest grove down by the Ferry Terminal, the allegedly haunted Schonell Theatre and the anthropology, art and antiquities museums.