Carving a history:
a guide to the Great Court

Discover UQ’s iconic Great Court carvings with a guide that will help you easily navigate this heritage-listed landmark.

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About Carving a history

Carving a history: a guide to the Great Court is a comprehensive guide to the sandstone centrepiece of The University of Queensland’s St Lucia campus – the Great Court – navigates the reader effortlessly through the site’s iconic carvings and their history.

In 2016, UQ’s Marketing and Communications office released a major update and restructure of the existing publication A Guide to the Great Court, first produced by UQ's Media and Information Services (now M&C) and published by UQP in 1979, then revised and updated in 1992.

This updated guide is designed as an easily accessible reference and navigational tool for staff, students, or visitors to UQ, so they can easily discover the carvings in the Great Court and identify the date each was carved, as well as their history and meaning.

It also aims to explain in an easily accessible format what the Great Court carvings represent (several new carvings have been added since the book was last updated), and to provide a souvenir for visitors engaging with UQ.

A fully illustrated book is now available for purchase at the School Locker.

UQ teams can order multiple copies for events or gifts directly from M&C. Email with the quantity you require, what they are for, and the contact information of your finance officer (note that a small charge per item applies).

About the Great Court carvings

The Great Court carvings

To “alleviate the severe simplicity of the outer walls”, the original planners called for extensive sculptural adornment of the Great Court walls and columns. Their objective was to record in stone:

  • the most important events in Queensland’s history
  • Queensland’s principal flora and fauna
  • a fully representative collection of Aboriginal customs and social life
  • the coats of arms of all universities in the British Commonwealth and other principal universities in the world.

They also added key figures and names in the history of scholarship to portray aspects of the University’s academic traditions.

Carving began in 1939 when the first University Sculptor, John Theodore Muller (1873–1953), and his associates interpreted the designs of Hennessy, Hennessy & Co principal architect Leo Drinan (although the subjects of the grotesques were his own). Muller produced several hundred carvings in a range of styles until his death in 1953, after which work on the Great Court carvings languished for more than two decades.

In 1976 the University Senate invited several artists to submit a sample grotesque and awarded the second commission of University Sculptor to Dr Rhyl Kingston Hinwood AM (1940–). Over a 35-year period, she too completed several hundred diverse carvings, mostly of her own design.

Carving styles and types

The carvings on the walls and columns of the Great Court comprise a variety of subjects and styles – from low-relief historical friezes to stand-alone statues and wall-mounted grotesques.


Decorative bands or features on a wall, mostly bas-relief (low-relief), these carvings depict Indigenous life, historical scenes, scientific pioneers and noted literary authors


Located at the top of the three- or four-sided columns within the cloisters, these generally represent university coats of arms


Located on the three-sided columns within the cloisters, these carvings depict Queensland flora


Located on the outside walls of the cloisters, facing the Great Court lawn, these low-relief carvings depict Queensland flora and fauna


Decorative panels, round in form, these are mostly flora and fauna, but also some individual heads of people


High-relief three-dimensional carvings, either free-standing or attached to walls, these depict famous scholars, writers and scientists, as well as books


These are words carved into sandstone that depict academic quotations or the names of significant learned figures in history


Possibly the most popular of all the carvings, these projecting sculptures on the cloister walls were created to introduce an element of humour to the Great Court and include UQ academics, fictional literary characters and other mythical creatures (note: despite some having open mouths, the grotesques are not gargoyles, which are water spouts for carrying away rainwater)

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