An A-Z of campus trivia

Discover over 170 years of history

As Australia's first university, we have much to explore and uncover. Take a trip down memory lane and learn about the University of Sydney's weird and wonderful history.

Anderson Stuart Building 

Civil Engineering Building 

Anderson Stuart building

Anderson Stuart building under construction, 1883. (University of Sydney archives G3/224/0541_1). 

Anderson Stuart Building

You don’t even need to venture off campus to find labs where full-body human dissection classes take place.

And, in a cheeky homage to Anderson Stuart and his pointed nose, there’s a statue in the ornate courtyard of a raven with a rather prominent beak.

Civil Engineering Building

The Engineering precinct was fittingly a hub of industrial activity in the 1930s, home to both Joseph’s mattress factory and the Boxton and Carr’s box factory.

Fisher Library

If you’re looking for a particular book, don’t take your chances browsing ­– with around 5.2 million items, the University of Sydney has the largest academic library in the Southern Hemisphere, so the catalogue is essential!

The Graffiti Tunnel

Rumour has it that, fed-up with student Vietnam War protestors writing on the sandstone walls of the Quad, the University designated the area now known as the Graffiti Tunnel as a legal place to spray paint, write slogans and create street art.

Great Hall

Edmund Blacket (University Architect) and daughter Edith outside the Great Hall during construction, 1857. (University of Sydney archives 809_022). 

The Great Hall

It only takes one look at the Great Hall to figure out where our founders sought their inspiration from. The Oxford, Cambridge and Royal stained glass windows are imitated, as well as stone carvings of Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort.

Look up and you’ll see twelve carved wooden angels. They’re carrying books and scrolls, inscribed with symbols referring to the Arts and Sciences over which they preside.  

Institute Building

Once the New South Wales Institution for the Dumb, Deaf & Blind, the building kept only part of its name. The residential school for deaf and blind children was housed in this building from 1872 to 1957.

MacLaurin Hall

This beautiful, capacious hall was once home to Fisher Library right up until 1962 – we’ve accumulated a few more bookshelves since then.

Madsen Building

The Madsen Building was established as Australia’s first National Standards Laboratory, and was handed over to the Uni by CSIRO in the late 1970s. The Laboratory’s research into metrology, physics and electro technology was important to the war effort in World War II. 

Mallet St Chesty Bonds

The Chesty Bonds mural at the Sydney Nursing School, 2014. (Otto Cserhalmi).

Mallett St

National icon Chesty Bonds looks over the nursing school’s Mallett St campus, immortalised on a huge mural where he’s been presiding since the building was a Bonds factory in the 30s.

Manning House

Now a staple of campus life for all students, Manning House was originally built as a separate common space for the Women’s Union. It wasn’t until 1972 that the Women’s and Men’s Union merged to form the University of Sydney Union.

And in 2011, students swore they spotted Leo DiCaprio practicing his Great Gatsby lines. 

Nicholson Museum

Founded in 1860, the Nicholson Museum is Australia's oldest University museum. With nearly 30,000 artefacts, it’s home to the largest collection of antiquities in the Southern Hemisphere.   

Science road

OWeek on Science Road, 1973. (University of Sydney archives G3/224/1177_3).

Pharmacy and Bank Building

Ever wondered why there are no banks in the Bank Building? When a city bank (CBC in Martin Place) was demolished in the 1920s, the Uni stepped in to preserve the building’s façade. Spot the cracks where the sandstone was taken apart and reassembled.

(If you’re actually looking for a bank, head to the Wentworth Building).

Check out the stack and furnace room in the courtyard for a hint at the building’s milling and metallurgy past.

Science Road

This was the Eastern Avenue of the first half of the 20th Century; the bustling campus hub which included the Union Building (now the Holme Building) housed a tea room, billiard room, reading room and common room for men.

Sydney Nanoscience Hub

Every 68 seconds, all the air in the Quantum Lab is replaced completely. Vents along the floor suck out the old air, while fresh air enters through tightly controlled dispersion units. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean it perpetually smells like a new car.

Students in Quad

Union debating competition in Quadrangle, 1980. (University of Sydney archives G77/1/2075). 

The Quadrangle

Did you know there are only cloisters on half of the Quad? Or that there's a pump in one of the major archways, once used to draw water from an underground tank? The quadrangle certainly has some unique features! 

Before the days of the Manning lawn and Fisher courts, students also used to play tennis in the middle of the quad, where the very luscious grass now lies. 

The Round House

Despite its name, the Round House is actually octagonal, and was used in the 1920s as a pavilion to observe horses and other animals.

University grounds

The main campus of the University is built on the ancestral lands of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation.

Dig up a map from the early to mid-1800s and you’ll find the University grounds marked as Grose Farm. Yep, convicts once roamed here. It was used as a military camp, before convicts were employed to try and make English farming methods work here.  


We hold the oldest natural history collection in Australia, thanks to the collections of Alexander Macleay and his family.  Once housed in the Macleay Museum, these artifacts will be displayed in the new Chau Chak Wing Museum from 2018. 

Go back in time and see more images from the University of Sydney archives.

23 March 2017

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