For Westgarth it was a memorable, if ‘comfortless’, scene, but one with a greater meaning. He located the camp at the heart of what would later become the University of Melbourne, close to where its first major building, the Quadrangle, would be built. He claimed that this showed the dramatic change brought about by the University, the height of ‘civilisation’, as it brought ‘enlightenment’ to the ‘primitive colony’. He missed the irony that on this occasion it was the Wurundjeri people who provided the light and who obligingly pointed the hapless Westgarth down the hill towards his home.1
Westgarth’s story reveals some of the dichotomies of the University and its purpose. On the one hand, the University was an undeniable agent of colonisation and dispossession, and of the imposition of European ideals onto an Australian setting. On the other, it was a local institution, with practical requirements in a developing colony. These ambiguities were reflected in the architectural fabric of the Quadrangle and in the long process by which it developed and changed over 165 years.
The Quadrangle is a building that has been constantly reimagined, renovated and extended to follow the changing nature of the University. Far from its presentation as an unchanging stone edifice, harking back to the earliest British universities, it is a symbol of renewal within an evolving institution.
The original plans for the Quadrangle are now lost, and the designs were amended several times during construction. From indicative etchings commissioned by the architect, Francis Maloney White, the intention was to erect a stone building around a central courtyard, with a short tower in the southern wing. It was modelled after recently constructed buildings, including St David’s College in Lampeter, Wales, and the Belfast and Cork campuses of Queen’s College, Ireland.2
The building was situated on the east–west ridgeline of the campus, amid surrounding terraces in the middle of an open park, which was created by workers who dammed the creek to create an ornamental lake and dug meandering pathways through both native and exotic plantings.3
The building was designed in Tudor Gothic style, which simultaneously denoted tradition and a connection with the historic seats of learning from which the University recruited its professors, and signalled its secular modernity, particularly in its avoidance of ecclesiastical features.4
At the ceremony to lay the foundation stone, on 3 July 1854, the first Chancellor, Redmond Barry, and the Lieutenant-Governor, Sir Charles Hotham, stressed the same theme: the University’s importance in providing a public good and helping to civilise the colony, while also responding to the colony’s immediate needs.5