WHICH BUILDING HAS MINERVA, GODDESS OF WISDOM OVER THE DOOR
Maryborough recognised the importance of education
WHENEVER I walk out of my office in Maryborough City Hall I look out across Kent Street to the School of Arts building.
This building is one of our finest buildings architecturally, but it also represents the ambition of early Maryborough and the recognition of the importance of lifelong education.
This wasn’t the first School of Arts building here. An earlier, timber structure had been erected in 1861. These institutions encouraged adult education, both technical and cultural, and were the forerunners of our public library system.
Reading the minutes of the early meetings in 1860 and 1861, it is apparent many leading Maryborough citizens were involved in the establishment of the society, with familiar names like Aldridge, Sheridan, Southerden, Palmer and Uhr.
Maryborough grew throughout the 1860s and 1870s and to the timber building could no longer meet the expectations of the School of Arts.
In 1886 a design competition was run for the new building. Thirty-one entries were received from across the Australian colonies, and on November 10, 1886 it was announced the design of architect John Grainger had won.
The plans he submitted for a two-storey rendered brick building with a classical facade would play a dominant role in the city’s streetscape for decades to come.
John Grainger was responsible for several fine buildings and structures including the Princes Bridge in Melbourne, the West Australian Parliament House and the Fremantle Town Hall.
His son, Percy Grainger, would go on to become a famous Australian composer and musician.
If you are in Melbourne you can visit the Grainger museum, which Percy established.
While a brilliant and creative architect, John Grainger was a heavy drinker and something of a cad.
After they were married, his wife Rose, learned that he had fathered a child in England before coming to Australia.
His promiscuous lifestyle placed heavy strains upon the relationship, particularly when Rose discovered shortly after Percy’s birth that she had contracted a form of syphilis from her husband.
By no means his most famous work, the reputation of the Maryborough School of Arts building was, and is, widespread. An article published in the Sydney Mail on January 26, 1895 referred to the Maryborough School of Arts as “the pride of every Maryborough citizen”.
“Outside of Brisbane it is the finest institution of the kind in Queensland – externally and internally,” the article read.
“It is the lion of the town, and every visitor is duty-bound to go over the institution and admire it with fervour. Its present state of blessedness is the result of many years of intelligent and discriminating labour.”
I regularly visit the building while researching local history.
The building remains, internally and externally, much in the state it has existed for well over a century.
The Maryborough Wide Bay and Burnett Historical Society now occupies the ground floor with their research rooms and museum.
The museum is a must-see as much for the exhibits as to take in the old-world splendour of the book-lined library with its mezzanine level.
This was a structure designed and built with the intention of furthering knowledge and personal development among the Maryborough population when Queensland was a remote colony of the Empire.
Its continuing presence in the heart of the city carries on this function through the excellent research undertaken by the historical society and the museum they run on behalf of the community.
While the world around her has changed significantly, above the building’s grand doorway, the bust of Minerva, Roman Goddess of Wisdom, strikes the same commanding presence she has maintained since adopting this prominent position more than 130 years ago.
School of Arts postcard. The building was described in the Sydney Mail in 1895 as “the pride of every Maryborough citizen”.
The Reading Room, 1908. The museum is a must-see today.
Minerva the Roman Goddess of Wisdom above the doorway of the School of Arts building in Kent St, Maryborough.
Architect John Grainger designed the School of Arts building in Maryborough.