An auditorium designed for multiple purposes invokes a wide range of observations from its users. For a university “great hall”, the generic term for where graduations and other ceremonies take place, some functions seem to fit naturally within its walls, while others might not.

Mayne Hall at The University of Queensland (UQ) was designed as a venue for both institutional events and those sponsored by external bodies. The broad consensus is that for 30 years, from its official opening in early 1973 until its final major performance in late 2002, Mayne Hall served its stakeholders’ diverse needs extremely well. Notwithstanding this general view, its legacy is a rather mixed picture, depending on memory and experience.

Since its refurbishment and reopening in 2004 as the James and Mary Emelia Mayne Centre, the building designed by local architect Robin Gibson has fulfilled additional functions, primarily as the main exhibition gallery of the University of Queensland Art Museum. With the passage of time, the story of its earlier iteration as Mayne Hall will inevitably and unfortunately recede. At the significant juncture of the 50th anniversary of its opening, it is timely to record and evaluate the legacy of what was formerly one of Brisbane’s major venues.

This project arose from several strands of investigation that I have pursued for more than four decades. The history of Queensland’s musical heritage, through the legacy of various educational or performance organisations, individual musicians and genres of artistic practice, remains a rich field for my primary research. Key in all of these contexts is the buildings where these activities took place, whether purpose-built or adapted from their original purposes.

My book on the history of the Queensland Conservatorium, Northern Lyrebird, examined how various types of building influenced its campus activities since opening in 1957. A different type of narrative pertained to my more recent book, It All Happened at Brisbane’s Albert Hall. This showed how a single centrally located venue facilitated a huge variety of events for nearly 70 years, commencing in 1901. In relation to the latter, a long-held goal of mine was to continue the story of Brisbane’s medium-sized venues by undertaking research into Mayne Hall. 

Every community has a need for flexible public buildings that can accommodate concerts, ceremonies, lectures, conferences and meetings. By the time Albert Hall closed in 1969, most of the local theatrical companies had moved to their own premises and UQ’s own new venue, the Schonell Theatre, would soon open. Furthermore, the emerging state opera, ballet and theatre companies would for many years, starting in 1970, base their seasons at the new SGIO (later Suncorp) Theatre, until the opening in 1985 of the Queensland Performing Arts Complex (now Centre). Therefore, when Mayne Hall opened it was not expected to support theatrical activities, though this occasionally occurred.

It has been interesting for me to discover how many continuities existed between Albert Hall and Mayne Hall, despite the change of geographical focus from the inner city to St Lucia. From its public lectures to its student musical societies and residential colleges, the story of UQ’s community outreach and public profile throughout the twentieth century can be traced, at least in part, by focusing on just these two venues.

Similarly, the history of some of Brisbane’s major community ensembles, schools and performance organisations cannot be told without reference to each of these halls.

The title of this book contains a direct quote from one of the prime movers for a great hall at UQ, Vice-Chancellor Sir Fred Schonell. At the launch of the Jubilee Appeal Fund in 1960, he concluded his speech by describing the proposed building as “a hall for all”. In doing so, Schonell drew together a wide range of aspirations and functions that could potentially be served by this single building. The word “all” is also deliberately inclusive of both UQ and the wider community.

The book commences with an overview of the genesis of Mayne Hall up to its opening in 1973. Then it focuses on its architectural aspects, the building’s rationale and intended usage. The university’s activities at Mayne Hall, for ceremonies, academic and institutional events, and also as a live auditorium for music and the other performing arts, are explored, as well as Mayne Hall’s role in the broader context as both a concert hall and a multipurpose venue for professional, community, educational and cultural organisations. Finally, I discuss the changes that attended Mayne Hall’s repurposing as an art museum and how the venue’s former users managed this transition.

A Hall for All is a historical account of a significant venue that contains many examples of shared cultural and social experiences. The legacy of a building is both visual, functional and experiential, so this story combines documentary evidence with insights offered by many familiar with Mayne Hall, including myself.

A Hall for All by Peter Roennfeldt, UQP ($39.99)

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