The university had been founded in the passion for serious reading, the existence of literati and a book culture, as well as the application of ideas into methods for the utility of an agrarian society. The founding of the university expressed the tension but not merely the division of a vision between progressivists (‘A Place of Light and Learning’) and populists (‘A People’s University’). It drew out the tensions between the investment in the humanities and that of the practical natural sciences and social sciences. Those who have been tasked to consider the university and the state’s history have felt that much potential investment in ‘the intellect’ (to the patient questions of why and where…) was lost to political and social expediency (…rather than the impatient questions of how and when). The thesis of Queensland as a frontier society has terribly hidden the rich intellectual heritage that began as library collections at the Garden Points campus. This is revealed in Thomis’ history where the library and its collections, and facilities, struggled in its inadequacy, never properly funded by those state decision-makers who never loved books and reading, and despised such activities against ‘common sense know-how’. Nevertheless, when the university left Gardens Point for its new campus at St Lucia, much of that agrarian prejudice was defeated in the urbanisation of the late 20th century.
The prelude to the history was the affiliation in 1897with the University Extension Movement, organised by the Brisbane Grammar School Headmaster, R.H. Roe. Classes were sponsored in Brisbane for the Sydney University matriculation qualification. The idea of the University of Queensland’s libraries at Gardens Point is to go the foundation of the university itself. As Malcolm Thomis explains, the university foundation for Queensland had a long arch (1870-1911). Thomis refers to Ross Johnston’s ‘call of the land’ thesis – “[in] the years 1891-1921 the rural areas of the state received more immigrants than the urban, and in 1911Brisbane contained no more than 23 per cent of Queensland's population” (Thomis: 3). It was a hard fight to justified the creation of a university for Queensland to the agrarian society (in imagination if not by the demography). The University Act (1909) was only achieved by combining the adoption of the American state university model, with matters of agriculture and landscape studies, into the traditional British model with Classics and Languages at the fore.
The first classes for the university began in March 1911 at the Old Government House, now the new university campus at Gardens Point. The first registrar, Cumbrae Stewart, was the part-time librarian, who oversaw a very limited collection in a confided space. The lack of having important texts and the size of the reading room (accommodating fewer than 24 persons) marked the early challenges. By the end of 1916 the library had 15,000 volumes. The establishment of the university’s small Department of Correspondence Studies furthered the work of expanding a literary and reading culture across the state. The beginnings were modest. In 1912 twenty-one external students had been enrolled, and twenty were examined. The first permanent library collection and building was opened in 1938, thanks to the Darnell Bequest of £5,000 and the Forsyth Gift of £10,000. The most significant collection for the university was the Fryer Memorial Library of Australian Literature. In 1929 the Fryer Library began as a reading room off from the study of its founder, F.W. Robinson.
Evans, Raymond. A History of Queensland, Cambridge University Press, Port Melbourne, Vic, 2007.
Fitzgerald, Ross; Megarrity, Lyndon; Symons, David. Made in Queensland : a New History, Special Q150 commemorative edition, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, Qld, 2009.
Helen Gregory, Vivant Professores: Distinguished Members of the University of Queensland, 1910-1940. University of Queensland Library, St. Lucia, Qld, 1987.
Johnston, W. (William) Ross. The Call of the Land: a History of Queensland to the Present Day, Jacaranda Wiley, Brisbane, 1982.
Shaw, Barry; Metcalf, William James. (ed) Brisbane: Training, Teaching and Turmoil: Tertiary Education 1825-2018, Brisbane History Group, Salisbury, Qld, Boolarong Press, Moorooka, Qld, 2018.
Story, John D. The Spirit of Caledonia in the Formation of the University of Queensland, Emmanuel College, St. Lucia, Qld, 2011.
Malcolm I Thomis, A Place of Light & Learning: the University of Queensland's first seventy-five years, University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia, Qld, 1985.
Unnamed. The University of Queensland, 1910-1935, Published by Authority of the Senate, Brisbane Qld, 1935.
Ceremony of Inauguration of the University of Queensland held in the Exhibition building, Bowen Park, Brisbane, 1911. Photographer: H. W. Mobsby; Archive: Brisbane John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland [https://hdl.handle.net/10462/deriv/210586]