History of the Student Union


The Student Union was formed in 1884 to promote the common interests of students, provide resources for pursuing public life and assist social interactions between its members.

The Student’s Representative Council was created in 1907. It then took over the management of the University’s various clubs and societies and the move to the old National Museum building in 1910.

Social Conscience

In 1939 the Student Union successfully fought to exempt lecturers from the draft and gained the support of Prime Minister Menzies in July 1940 for insisting the University remain open throughout the war. Later, in 1958 a student poll condemned the White Australia Policy. By 1971, in protest against the Vietnam War, students turned Union House into a safe haven for conscientious objectors. In this same year it hosted the first interstate conference of Women’s Liberation groups.

Cultural Tradition

In 1954 both George Fairfax and Barry Humphries both premiered work at the Union Theatre. A year later Ray Lawler produced the Australian classic Summer of the Seventeenth Doll. In 1961 the Union Repertory Company moved to Russell Street becoming the Melbourne Theatre Company in 1968. By the mid-1960s student groups had performed David Williamson’s first full-length play and premiered work by Jack Hibbard. Other performers and creators over the years have included Zoe Caldwell, Noel Ferrier, Steve Vizard, Barrie Kosky, Graeme Blundell, Germaine Greer and Cate Blanchett.

In 1975 the George Paton Gallery in the Ewing Gallery Complex of Union House became Australia’s first avant garde gallery with institutional support. Also a publishing gallery, the George Paton began publication of Arts Melbourne in 1976 that became the highly successful Art Almanac as well as producing Agenda Contemporary Art Magazine in 1988. Notable artists and curators have included Howard Arkley, Janine Burke, Juliana Engeberg, Fiona Hall, Patrick MacCaughey, Mike Parr and Stelarc.