The University of Western Australia

Winthrop Hall

Further information

  • UWA Archives Collections
  • Winthrop Hall Organ

Winthrop Hall was opened on the 13th April 1932 and is located at the southern end of Whitfeld Court, contributing a great deal to the impressive nature of the University’s entrance.

  1. Description
  2. Clock tower
  3. Acoustics
  4. Interior
  5. The Hall
  6. Undercroft
  7. Reflection pool
  8. Acknowledgements


The Hall is one of the Hackett Memorial Buildings funded by the "munificent bequest received from the first Chancellor of the University, Sir John Winthrop Hackett".(1)

Winthrop Hall measures 135 feet long by 60 feet wide with a height from floor to ceiling of 50 feet. The Hall features a Clock Tower, a glazed terracotta gryphon’s frieze that circles the building just under the roof eaves, an undercroft and a reflection pool at its front.

It seats 1069 people in the body of the Hall and 150 or more on the dais.(2) The Hall, as well as other Hackett Memorial Buildings, is permanently entered into the Register of Heritage Places.(3)


Clock tower

At its highest point Winthrop Hall’s clock tower measures 150 feet. As well as the clock, it has six rooms that originally accommodated staff and research students.

A Melbourne company, Messrs Ingran Bros, installed the first clock in 1929. The dial was made of 'opus sectile', an enamel finish on tile. After 1945 Ennis and Sons rebuilt the master clock. The dial was replaced in 1953 with one made of terracotta. In 1964 Mr Ron Ennis installed a new electric master clock.



The Hall was designed to ensure optimum acoustics for events such as public speaking and concerts.

Architectural design features including layered walls and the use of sound absorbing materials, particularly Australian Coogee stone, were used to ensure the best sound quality. It included a specially designed ceiling that allowed sound waves to escape and not reflect back into the building. This was achieved through the use of strips of matting placed between the ceiling beams to allow the sound waves to escape.

Other features used to enhance acoustics, particularly a speaker’s voice, were a reinforced jarrah screen and the use of pine-wood as the construction material for the dais floor. The jarrah screen, within which the Henry Holiday’s Cartoons were framed, sat on the dais but was later replaced by the Winthrop Hall Organ in 1965.

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The most impressive entrance into the Hall is through the doorway located under the Great Gateway.


A set of wrought-iron gates lie at the foyer entrance. The foyer features a marble floor, a stained glass memorial window and a gilded mosaic panel to the right. To the left is a bust of General John Winthrop Hackett, son of one of the University’s most noted benefactors.

Marble floor

The marble floor is made from European marble as Australian marble found to that date was too soft for this purpose.


The gilded mosaic by Walter Napier was commissioned in memory of Sir Alfred Langler, administrator of the Hackett estate.


Placed alongside the mosaic is a stained glass window in memory of William Hancock, pioneer radiologist and former member of the University Senate.

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The Hall

The Hall itself is reached by ascending marble steps into the upper foyer and passing through one of the triple doors.

On entering, there is the impressive sight of the Organ and the Rose window located above the dais at the opposite end of the Hall. Jarrah panelling lines the lower half of all other walls, which bear the Coat of Arms of other Australian and some overseas universities.

Ceiling decoration

The beams of the Great Hall have been decorated in true Renaissance tradition. However, the theme for the decoration is uniquely Australian.

Artist George Benson based his motifs on symbolic and totemic Aboriginal designs representing them in earth tones such as red, yellow ochre, black from charcoal and pipe clay.

"The soffits of the main beams are alternately a series of diamonds and squares copied from a shield of a south-western tribesman, while on the others is a running pattern of lines derived from the shield" of a local [Aboriginal] West Australian. "On the longitudinal beams there is an alternating pattern of circles from a chilara, and an unfinished drawing by a south-eastern [Aboriginal]."

Refer to the Holiday Cartoons and the Winthrop Organ for information on these.

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The term undercroft is usually used to describe an underground space or vault, particularly that of a church. In this case, the term Undercroft is applied to the lowest floor of Winthrop Hall (it is above ground level).

This area was originally an open-air area that was intended to serve as a forum and meeting place for students. It was dedicated "to Socrates and the spirit of fine discussion and inquiry from which universities first arose."

The Undercroft was closed in during 1960 and was first used to house a library, followed by the University Art Collection. Since 1990, it has been used for examinations, graduations and by the Festival of Perth Club during the summer months.

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Reflection pool

This pool goes by many names, ‘the reflection pond’, ‘the moat’, ‘the reflection pool’ or just the University ‘Pond’. It was designed by Rodney Alsop to enhance the beauty of Winthrop Hall by giving the impression of greater height.

It was completed only just in time for the official opening of Winthrop Hall in 1932. This was largely owing to the efforts of the student body who volunteered to provide the labour force if the University provided the material. The pond was completed just hours before the ceremony took place and filled with water even though the cement was still wet (it was later drained to allow the concrete to set properly).



(1) Women’s University College Fund Committee. (1935). The Hackett Memorial Buildings. Perth: SH Lamb Printing House. p. 1.
(2) Women’s University College Fund Committee. (1935). The Hackett Memorial Buildings. Perth: SH Lamb Printing House. p. 8.
(3) Office of Facilities Management. (1999).

Other sources

Women’s University College Fund Committee. (1935). The Hackett Memorial Buildings. Perth: SH Lamb Printing House. p. 8-9.
Alexander, F. (1963). Campus at Crawley. Melbourne: FW Cheshire. p. 186.
Office of Facilities Management. (1999). A walk through the University of Western Australia. p 8.
Office of Facilities Management. (1999). A walk through the University of Western Australia. p 3.
Shervington, C. (1987). University voices traces from the past. pp 32-33.

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