Lifestyle & Culture > A New Life For Queensland's Old Government House

A New Life For Queensland's Old Government House

By GREGG CALLOW
Published: June 8, 2009

It is Queensland's 150th birthday and it is bringing out all of its historical artifacts, educating Queenslanders about its history and refurbishing a few of its old buildings such as Old Government House.

Queen Victoria separated Queensland from New South Wales in 1859 and it became its own colony. The Queen needed a house to accomodate her Govenor and so work started on Government House in 1860. It was Queensland's first purpose built govenment building and it was designed by the state's first government Charles Tiffen.

It took 18 months to build, using local materials like Helidon sandstone, Red Cedar and Hoop Pine. The site was chosen at Garden point to make the best use of the views of Brisbane River and the Botanical Gardens near by. It has a classical revival style combined with Queensland verandahs.

The first Govenor Sir William Bowen moved in with his wife Diamantina in April 1862. The house had its first public funtion on June 16, 1862 with around 300 to 400 guests. They danced until 4 am and it was a good test for the venue which held many of these functions.

As the colony grew and the functions became larger it became obvious that Old Government House was too small. It did not have a ball room and in 1909 it was decided to build a new Government house. In the mean time a larger house called Fernburg was leased out for the Governor's residence in Bardon. Then for some unknown reason after the plans were drawn up and the foundations were laid they decided not to build it and instead bought Fernburg which is still the Governor's official residence. The last Governor to live at the old house was Sir William Mc Gregor, the 11th Governor of Queensland.

The old Government House was then used to house the new University of Queensland at the time until it too out grew the site. Over the time it was used for the Queensland branch of the National Trust and in 1978 was the first building in Queensland to be placed on the protected buildings list by the Queensland Heritage legislation. This was invaluable during the 1980s when many of Queensland's heritage buildings were ripped down indiscriminantly.

In a way its a gift to the state. One which was nearly destroyed by termites and was nearly two years away from an implosion due to structural neglect. Now it is ready for yet another purpose which will keep it maintained and utilised by more people than it was originally built for.

After 15 million dollars and and three years the Old Government house has been opened to the public. It is a major part of the state's 150th celebrations. It is still owned by the Queensland Government but is used by the University of Queensland. Its new purpose will be for education and a venue for conferences, weddings and other functions. It will also have public tours and interactive displays.

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