75 William Street The Neville Bonner building 1998 to 2017

75 William Street, the Neville Bonner Building, (1998).

Demolition of the Neville Bonner Building, formerly at 75 William Street, began in January 2017 to make way for the Queen’s Wharf re-development being undertaken by Destination Brisbane Consortium.

The building was named after Senator Neville Bonner (1922–1999), the first Indigenous Australian to be elected to the Federal Parliament.

The building of the Riverside Expressway in the 1970s divorced the land and government buildings along William Street from the Brisbane River. Completed in December 1998, the Neville Bonner Building was the first major government building constructed in what had become an unused area.

The building’s architects, Davenport Campbell with Donovan Hill and Powell Dods Thorpe, had to manage a challenging site, bounded on two sides by the Riverside Expressway and the Margaret Street off ramp, with their attendant noise and fumes. On the upstream side was  the former Department of Agriculture and Stock (later DPI) building, which had opened in 1866 as an Immigration Depot. To contend with also was a drop of nine metres between William Street and Queen’s Wharf Road.

At the time of its construction, the Neville Bonner Building was considered to be architecturally intelligent and original, with its related spaces establishing new and demanding standards for future government developments. The architects collaborated with artists Barbara Heath, Ron Hurley, Gwyn Hanssen Pigott and Yenda Carson so that pieces of their art could be included in and around the building. The most visible of these is The Net by Barbara Heath. Until its removal for relocation, The Net was fastened to the wall outside the entrance. It referenced related themes of the area’s original Indigenous inhabitants, including connections between the land and river, and their associated fishing practices. Hence the idea of a net. In November 2016 it was removed for cleaning and will be relocated to 1 William Street early in 2017.

Writing for Architecture Australia, Professor Michael Keniger (then head of the Department of Architecture at the University of Queensland) noted that, ‘The simplicity of the planning is masked by the complexity and staccato tactility of the elevations, which are enlivened by an interplay between the inner layer of glass cladding and suspended external screens of precast concrete panels and metal mesh blades’.  Not everyone agreed. Jim Soorley, then Brisbane’s Lord Mayor, described it as ‘ugly’.

The building, however, won two architectural awards for design:

The RAIA (National) Commercial Award 1999 and the

RAIA (Queensland) F.D.G Stanley Award & Regional Commendation 1999.

During the course of 2017, the Neville Bonner Building is being demolished as part of the Queen’s Wharf Integrated Casino Development. At a cultural closing ceremony held in the building in August 2016 it was announced that the yet-to-be-constructed bridge between Queen’s Wharf and Southbank would be named the Neville Bonner Bridge. The artwork from the building will be distributed between Parliament  House and 1 William Street.

Additional Reading

Architecture Australia, May 1999, vol. 88 no. 3.

The story of Neville Bonner on the Historic Queen’s Wharf website

Explore Queen’s Wharf