University of Western Australia: UWA’s historic Winthrop Hall celebrates 90 majestic years

It has played host to world-famous artists and actors, royalty, prime ministers, presidents, heads of state, as well as thousands of students and staff, and tomorrow The University of Western Australia’s iconic Winthrop Hall will celebrate its 90th anniversary.

The jewel in UWA’s crown and a prominent local landmark, Winthrop Hall is widely regarded as Western Australia’s most spectacular ceremonial space.

“Many of our graduates will remember the blood, sweat and tears lost in those examinations in Winthrop Hall as well as the splendour of their graduation ceremony.”

Emeritus Professor Jenny Gregory
Designed by Melbourne architects Rodney Alsop and Conrad Sayce, the grand Mediterranean-style hall with its imposing clock tower, marble and mosaic foyer and vaulted ceilings, was completed in 1932 and formally opened in a four-day ceremony beginning on April 13.

Nine decades after its opening it remains a central part of life on UWA’s Crawley campus, hosting graduations, concerts, formal dinners and countless examinations, said Emeritus Professor Jenny Gregory, Warden of the Convocation of UWA graduates.

“Many of our graduates will remember the blood, sweat and tears lost in those examinations as well as the splendour of their graduation ceremony,” Professor Gregory said.

“Winthrop Hall has been used for so many prestigious events including productions by the West Australian Opera and Oz Opera, the Choir of Kings College, Cambridge, and the West Australian Symphony Orchestra. It was also the venue for the 2011 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, attended by Her Majesty the Queen.”

UWA Vice-Chancellor Professor Amit Chakma said that Winthrop Hall played an important role in the University’s student life today, with graduations taking place twice a year and as a venue for many community events.

“Winthrop Hall can justifiably stand proud as a welcoming beacon to all who pursue the University’s motto, ‘Seek Wisdom’ and we look forward to seeing it stand as a prominent landmark for many years to come,” Professor Chakma said.

UWA visitors’ guide Terry Larder, who has conducted tours of Winthrop Hall for 30 years, said the foundation stone of the Hall was laid by Premier Philip Collier in 1929, as part of celebrations during Western Australia’s Centenary year.

“After employing many men during the worst of the Great Depression, UWA’s second campus officially opened in the heritage-listed Winthrop Hall,” Mr Larder said.

The Hall was named in honour of the University’s major benefactor and first Chancellor, Sir John Winthrop Hackett, who at the time of his death in 1916 was the editor and owner of the West Australian newspaper.

“His benefaction of £425,000 ($32m today) was wisely invested and included funds for the construction of these majestic buildings that we can all enjoy today,” Mr Larder said.

“On the day that Hall was opened, 13 April 1932, Sir John’s widow, Lady Hackett-Moulden was due to receive her honorary degree but, unfortunately, she couldn’t attend owing to the death of her second husband in Adelaide.

“At the opening ceremony, Patricia Hackett, the Hackett’s second-eldest child, accepted the honorary doctorate on her mother’s behalf.

“Lady Hackett-Moulden was the first woman to receive an honorary doctorate from the University and her laudation was written and delivered in Latin. UWA has awarded a further 51 honorary doctorates to women since 1932,” he said.

Mr Larder said the architectural detail of the Hall, often referred to as ‘Italianate Romanesque’ was a bold building choice and one not previously been seen in Perth’s urban landscape.

“Interestingly, the Tamla limestone blocks used in the construction are thought to be from a quarry in Coogee, where they were cut by hand, then loaded onto horse and cart for the journey to the Crawley campus site,” he said.

“You could only imagine the heavy traffic that ensued with horse and carts lumbering up and down what was then called Perth-Fremantle Road for up to six years.”

Winthrop Hall’s 49-metre tall clock tower was also put to good use during World War II. After Australia declared war on Japan in December 1941, students would conduct 24-hour watch from the top of the tower in all weathers and conditions.

“They were mainly looking for enemy aircraft, which became an important task especially after Darwin and Broome were bombed in early 1942,” Mr Larder revealed.

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