Forgan Smith Building

University of Queensland, St Lucia

The right-hand side of the Law Entrance to the
Forgan Smith Building, University of Queensland
[Photograph by Geoffrey Cox (January 2009)]


Historical Documentation by Geoffrey Cox
© OHTA 2009, 2014 (last updated February 2014)1


The foundation stone of the Forgan Smith Building was laid in 1937, and the building was officially opened in 1949, although not completed until 1952. Sandstone carvings are a feature of the Central Court as well as on the façade of the building around the Law and Arts Entrances. These depict historical scenes and figures, the names of great thinkers and teachers, coats of arms, grotesques and carvings of Australian flora and fauna. The chief sculptor who began to sculpt the sandstone carvings in 1939 was John Theodore Muller, working in partnership with Frederick James McGowen.2

The friezes around the Law Entrance depict secondary industries that were considered important to Queensland at the time the campus was planned. Printing, brewing and engineering are depicted on the left-hand frieze. The right-hand frieze depicts sugar milling, machinery for making rope and twine, along with organbuilding - despite the fact that the manufacture of organs was not a big industry.3

Detail of the organbuilding frieze at the Law Entrance,
Forgan Smith Building
[Photograph by Geoffrey Cox (January 2009)]

The frieze is actually a collage of images from two or more photographs taken around 1941 inside the workshop of Whitehouse Bros at Musgrave Road, Red Hill. The photographs are obviously 'posed' and were probably taken specifically for the purpose of creating the sculpture.

Photograph 1
[supplied to Kelvin Hastie by Rachel Hocking (c.2009)
and subsequently to Geoffrey Cox by Howell Whitehouse (January 2010)]

In the foreground of the first photograph, supplied by Phil Collins (son of Bob Collins, who worked for Whitehouse Bros in the 1940s), is the console of the organ for St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney, which was opened in March 1942. On the right is the organ for the Church of England Grammar School, East Brisbane. The latter was installed in the chapel in October 1942 after standing completed on the showroom floor for some time. The people in the photograph were identified by Phil Collins on the basis of information supplied by his father, as follows:

Anticlockwise from the right: Joseph Whitehouse, Snr (1874-1954), described as 'the boss', well dressed and holding an organ pipe; Les. Langham among the pipes, whose father Arthur Langham also worked for the firm; Arch West, low in the background, who was described by Collins as organist at Holy Trinity Church, Fortitude Valley; an unidentified lad [possibly Ian Porter] working with the flexible drill, drilling holes in a soundboard under construction; and Bob Collins beside the console, connection some wiring to the contact board behind his left hand.4

Photograph 2
[supplied by Howell Whitehouse (January 2010)]

The second photograph depicts Darrel McMullan in the foreground, wiring up an electrical switch unit. McMullan worked for the Whitehouse firm between 1927 and 1941.5 In the background is Arch West, drilling holes in a soundboard.

The frieze seems to incorporate the St Mary's Cathedral console and (left to right) Bob Collins from Photograph 1, Darrel McMullen from Photograph 2, Arch West from Photograph 2, together with an unidentified person, possibly from another photograph.


1 An earlier version of the material in this article appeared as: Geoffrey Cox, "A Snapshot of Queensland Organbuilding, c.1940," in OHTA News, vol. 33, no. 2 (April 2009), pp. 15-20, and OHTA News, vol. 33, no. 3 (July 2009), pp. 17-18.

2 Brian D. Pascoe (ed), A Guide to the Great Court, rev. edn (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1992), pp. 4, 7, 11.

3 Loc. cit., p. 88.

4 Geoffrey Cox, "A Snapshot of Queensland Organbuilding, c.1940: Whitehouse Bros and the Electro-Pneumatic Age," OHTA News, vol. 33, no. 2 (April 2009), pp. 15-20.

5 Interview with Mr Darrel McMullen at OHTA conference, 30 September 1989.