Remarks at the Roundhouse Launch

Thank you, Ed Bartolo, and welcome all. I too acknowledge the Bedegal people on whose land we meet tonight.

What a joyous occasion this is. The Roundhouse is officially back and open for business. And we’re delighted to welcome Arc back to the venue for the launch of their student program.

To our Estate Management team; architects Tonkin, Zulaikha, Greer; the builders, Multiplex; and, of course, refurbishment champion, Emeritus Professor John Niland – congratulations.

I am extremely pleased that the heart of UNSW student life beats again. This unique building has been called many things over the years. John Niland once described it as a ‘concrete pancake’. Some thought it looked a landing pad for a space ship. While a seven-year-old David Gonski recalled it looking like a donut the day his father brought him to the campus during its construction.

The Roundhouse, in fact, holds the honour of being Sydney’s first ever circular building. It has been the scene of milestone events like debutante balls, alumni wedding receptions, and, just recently, the 40th anniversary of the Law faculty.

Over the decades, this venue has played host to some of the most recognisable names in music – Australian jazz greats like Don Burrows and Galapagos Duck; local and international acts like Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, Nick Cave, Marcia Hines and even the Foo Fighters before they hit the big time.

There have been tales of students being locked in liquor storerooms overnight and having to consume whatever was on hand in a ‘gallant bid to survive’.

And a Roundhouse staff member stopping a student as he arrived at the Bacchus Ball because his toga looked suspiciously like one of their tablecloths. A postscript to that is it was, in fact, one of their tablecloths which he was allowed to wear for the duration of the event but had to return before leaving the building. One can only hope it was a warm evening for his walk home.

Those employed as wait staff were not as fond of the round building as others, complaining that the lack of corners and angles meant they had nothing to identify their tables by. This led to much wandering – quite literally around – with plates of food in search of their hungry owners.

However, by some accounts, missing out on the food in the early days of the Roundhouse may have been a blessing. It is always a giveaway when you ask former students to recount their memories of the food and their only reply is ‘it was cheap and we were grateful’.

The function menu always included peas, potatoes and what was described as ‘rubber chicken’ and one of our alumni remembered everything at the cafeteria tasted like the meatloaf – even when meatloaf wasn’t being served!

Alumni are, of course, central to The Roundhouse story and we will be holding special events over the year so they can celebrate the reopening with us. It will also be our chance to thank them, particularly some of our former international students who have so generously donated to the refurbishment fund. The affection our alumni hold for UNSW speaks volumes for the social aspect of university life.

The life lessons gained through interaction of students from different disciplines, different backgrounds, cultures and countries is as important as what is learned in the classroom, the library or the lab. The people who have passed through The Roundhouse – the conversations that have been had, the meals that have been shared and the friendships and memories that have been made here – are what makes it truly iconic.

Again, my congratulations and thanks to all who brought this wonderful venue back to life. Let’s hope it’s next 50 years are as memorable as its first.

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