The University of Western Australia was originally located in the centre of Perth.
A group of buildings situated between St Georges Terrace and Hay Street, bordered on the eastern side by Irwin Street, made up the original University campus.
It was commonly referred to as ‘Irwin Street’ or ‘Tin Pan Alley’ as many of the original buildings were made of corrugated iron.(1)
A T-shaped jarrah building constructed in 1913 provided the University’s original accommodation on this site. It was not quite complete when teaching started on 31 March 1913.
Professor AD Ross, Foundation Professor of Mathematics and Physics commented that:
"...the first building we got was certainly original in more senses than one. It was a jarrah shed, 110 feet long by 20 feet wide … We estimated that the building would be ready for a start on the 16 March, then 21 March, then 23 March, and finally it must be 31 March. Members of staff, at the risk of their lives, would go in and pin up notes on doors: ‘Department of Geology’ or the like. Since one of the little rooms had already been commandeered for the janitor, the telephone, electric switchboard, brooms, mops and buckets, it was evident that eleven departments must share six rooms." (2)
Buildings were slowly added to this site to accommodate the growing University. They were primarily lightweight in structure and came from as far afield as the Workers’ Hall from Coolgardie, 360 miles from Perth.
Interestingly, this building accommodated "the first colonial congress in 1899 to draw up the platform and constitution of the Labour Party of Western Australia".(3)Buildings were also relocated from the Pensioners’ Barracks, and Oddfellows Hall was moved to the Irwin Street site from Oxford Street, Leederville.(4)
These buildings remained at the Irwin Street site until the Hackett Memorial Buildings were completed in 1932. They were then transported to the new University site at Crawley.
The original Irwin Street Building was put to various uses during the ensuing years, its occupants including the Faculty of Law, Departments of Botany and Psychology, Extension Services, Festival of Perth and the University Radio.
Hew Roberts’, (1906 – 1979) family were instrumental in beginning the initiative to restore the Irwin Street Building. Mr Roberts had been Director of Adult Education at the University from 1957 – 1981 and at the time of his death was Warden of Convocation.
Convocation submitted a plan to the University Senate in 1981 which resulted in the University Architect Arthur Bunbury preparing a report (1982) that recommended the Irwin Street Building be reconstructed and placed on James Oval where it 'could be used as a meeting place and a cricket pavilion.'
The Irwin Street Building was fully restored and officially re-opened on 15 February 1987 by then Governor His Excellency Professor Gordon Reid who concluded his opening speech by saying:
"I am delighted this most evocative example of the times and circumstances in which the University of Western Australia had its origins has now been restored to the style that the original architect originally planned, and I hope that it will recapture the spirit of W. Hackett and others, and that on this University site at Crawley, the building will continue to contribute to the broad education of the many people who will enjoy the privilege of using it."
The Irwin Street Building currently provides accommodation for the Convocation Council Room, the University Archives and the Cricket Club. Both the National Trust and the Australian Heritage Commission have it listed as a Heritage Building.(6)
(1) Shervington, C. (1987). University voices traces from the past. p 3 - 9.
(2) Shervington, C. (1987). University voices traces from the past. p 8 - 9.
(3) Crowley in Alexander, F. (1963). Campus at Crawley. Melbourne: FW Cheshire. p. 62
(4) Ferguson, R.J. (1993) Crawley Campus. The planning and architecture of the University of Western Australia. Perth: University of Western Australia Press. p. 2
(5) Plaques of dedication located on the walls of the Irwin Street Building.
(6) Facilities Management. (1999).