A new digital exhibition explores the creation of Griffith University, in the leadup to official celebrations for the University’s 50th anniversary in 2025.
“A New University for Brisbane” marks Griffith University’s formal founding on 30 September 1971, with the passing of the Griffith University Act by Queensland Parliament. Official construction of the University got underway in October 1972 and 451 students were welcomed onto Nathan campus on 5 March 1975.
The university’s founders – Chancellor Theodor Bray and Vice Chancellor John Willett – worked to establish a progressive university based on equality, inclusion and fair access to tertiary education.
Named after the lead author of Australia’s constitution, Sir Samuel Griffith, it was only the second university in Brisbane and the first to focus on emerging fields like Modern Asian Studies and Australian Environmental Studies.
Griffith Archive Officer Michael Banks curated the exhibition, which features a treasure trove of photos, oral histories and archival documents. Mr Banks said it was important to tell the first chapter of the Griffith story as the University approached its 50th anniversary.
“The idea was to have a look at how the university was conceived,” he said.
“It’s a look back at that period, from around 1963 to 1972. Where did the idea come from? Who were the players? How did it all get off the ground?”
Mr Banks said Griffith University was first conceived as an off-shoot of the University of Queensland, as the 1960s saw a rapid upturn in demand for tertiary education and put pressure on space at UQ’s St Lucia campus.
An exhaustive search for a suitable site began. At least forty-one sites around Greater Brisbane were considered from Redcliffe (north of Brisbane) to Moggill and Inala in Brisbane’s West to Capalaba in the east and Woodridge in Brisbane’s south. There was even consideration of a ‘vertical’ institution within the Roma Street Station railway yards in Brisbane’s CBD.
After the committee’s recommendations to the State government in September 1965 – a 437-acre area of land in a cemetery reserve at Mt Gravatt within Toohey Forest, was purchased from Brisbane City Council. This site is now Griffith’s Nathan campus.
Funding wrangling meant the State Government decided that the new institution be established as a self-governing entity, rather than an extension of UQ.
The Government tasked recently retired Head of Queensland Newspapers Theodor Bray with taking charge of a planning committee for this re-imagined venture.
“The first Chancellor, Sir Theodore Bray, was a man who got things done,” Mr Banks said.
“He was convinced that we should be producing graduates with an understanding of Asia and was a big supporter of the interdisciplinary model, which was quite unique for an Australian university.
“People wanted to come here, because we were offering something different.”
Mr Banks is a Griffith University alumnus and his role with the archives has made him the unofficial expert on the University’s history.
“Trawling through the archival material is like a treasure hunt – you don’t know what you’re going to uncover from one day to the next,” he said.
“Depending on what people ask for, or what someone might want to know, the chances are you’ll find a hidden gem in the archives.”
“A New University for Brisbane” is available online.