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Kurilpa Library

  • 602461
  • 178 Boundary Road, West End


State Heritage
Register status
Date entered
5 February 2007
Education, research, scientific facility: Library
6.3 Building settlements, towns, cities and dwellings: Developing urban services and amenities
8.2 Creating social and cultural institutions: Cultural activities
Construction period
Historical period
1919–1930s Interwar period


178 Boundary Road, West End
Brisbane City Council
-27.4824379, 153.01208537


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Criterion AThe place is important in demonstrating the evolution or pattern of Queensland’s history.

The Kurilpa Library is important in demonstrating the development of public lending libraries in Queensland. Purpose built by the Brisbane City Council in 1929 before the Libraries Act of 1943 and the establishment of the State Library Board, it illustrates a transition between 19th century subscription services, such as that provided by Schools of Arts, and the modern library network. The quality of the building and its prominent position illustrate the importance given to encouraging literacy and to reading as a recreation in the early 20th century

It is important for its association with the development of the West End district, and is evidence for the provision of civic amenities in response to its growth in the early 20th century.

Criterion BThe place demonstrates rare, uncommon or endangered aspects of Queensland’s cultural heritage.

The Kurilpa Library is rare as the first municipal lending library in Queensland.

Criterion EThe place is important because of its aesthetic significance.

The Kurilpa Library has aesthetic value as a handsome and well-composed public building in the neo-Georgian style. Its clock tower and prominent position on a major road contribute to its landmark qualities.

Criterion GThe place has a strong or special association with a particular community or cultural group for social, cultural or spiritual reasons.

The Kurilpa Library has strong social significance to the community of West End and the surrounding area as a public lending library and meeting place for over eighty years.

Criterion HThe place has a special association with the life or work of a particular person, group or organisation of importance in Queensland’s history.

The Kurilpa Library is important for its association with the life and work of A H Foster, Brisbane city architect between 1925 and 1932.


The Kurilpa Library is a two-storey brick building with a projecting central clock tower and addresses the main street in the inner Brisbane suburb of West End. It was constructed by the Brisbane City Council and opened in 1929.

The provision of libraries by municipal councils in Queensland is a relatively new phenomenon, with most libraries currently operating having been established since the late 1940s. Previously, Schools of Arts and privately owned Reading Rooms provided books for loan by subscription. Schools of Arts or Mechanics Institutes were established in Britain in the early 1800s with the declared intention of assisting self-improvement and promoting moral, social and intellectual growth, by providing lectures, classes and lending libraries to a rising middle class. At the time there were no public libraries and books were expensive, so that providing access to them for a moderate subscription was an important educational and recreational service. Local councils had sometimes subsidised Schools of Arts and were granted authority in the Local Government Act 1878 to establish and operate libraries, although this was very uncommon until the twentieth century. Kurilpa Library was the first publicly funded municipal library in Queensland and a similar library was opened in South Brisbane soon afterwards. However, local councils did not become seriously involved in the construction of libraries in Queensland until after the Libraries Act 1943 was passed which provided for the establishment of a State Library Board and the improvement of library services throughout the state.

South Brisbane was at one time a municipality in its own right, but was amalgamated, together with the other local government authorities of the Brisbane area, into the Brisbane City Council in 1925. The South Brisbane Council urgently requested that its scheme for building a library at West End be progressed. They had been approached by the committee of the West End School of Arts for £2,000 in order to erect a new library with accommodation for a caretaker. Ernest Barstow, Alderman for Kurilpa, supported this request and the City Architect was requested to prepare plans and estimates.

Kurilpa was the name given to a locality covering South Brisbane, West End and Hill End by local aborigines. European settlers borrowed this name for a small township that grew up within West End, near the existing library and this name is inscribed on the library building.

The City Architect was A H Foster who served in this position from 1925 until his death in 1932. Alfred Herbert Foster was an articled pupil of noted architect G H M Addison. He trained and worked in London for six years before returning to Brisbane and forming the practice of Stanley and Foster in 1902. He worked for the Queensland Government, and then became Architectural Assistant to the City Engineer in 1913. During his time as City Architect he designed several well-known municipal buildings including the Fortitude Valley Baths.

The building was completed in 1929 and was the first purpose built municipal library in Queensland. The clock and tower formed a distinctive part of the building, emphasising its civic nature.

The construction of the library helped to reinforce and define the commercial and civic centre of West End.

The building is still in use as a library and the upper level rooms are used for meetings. Little change has occurred other than the enclosure of the rear verandah to both floors in late 1959.


Kurilpa Library is sited on Boundary Street, close to the intersection with Vulture Street and the commercial centre of West End.

It is a two-storey brick building with a central clock tower that also contains a peal of bells. It is neo Georgian in style, symmetrical in form and with classical references. The ground floor is higher than the first and rests on a rendered course contributing to the visual solidity of the base of the building. The openings on the ground floor are all of arched brickwork with moulded keystones. The main entrance has a pair of timber doors with a fanlight above and a prominent keystone.

The division between levels is emphasised by a moulded stringcourse and cornice. This carries the wording 'KURILPA LIBRARY' above the entry in bronze lettering. Otherwise it consists of alternating moulded rectangles separated by circles.

The tower continues above the entry with plain pilasters supporting a moulded classical pediment with a dentilled cornice, and flanking another arched opening with a moulded keystone. The windows to each side of the tower on the first floor are square headed, as are those on the sides. Above them the eaves of the terracotta tiled hipped roof are decorated with a supporting row of brackets. The tower penetrates the roof form and continues up to a third storey. On each face it has a recessed arch with a hood mould containing a clock with Roman numerals above two smaller arches of fixed louvers. Plain pilasters run to either side of recesses from a heavily moulded base to a crisp cornice line. The copper dome has a small cast finial.

Inside, the small entrance lobby contains a bronze honour board on the right hand side. It opens onto a high-ceilinged room that occupies the whole of the original ground area and contains the library. To the rear of this is a narrow room created by the enclosure of the verandahs, which contains library support facilities. The upper floor has a large room used for meetings and two small offices. There is a tearoom to the rear in the enclosed verandah space. The clock tower is reached by an access hatch and contains a full peal of bells as well as the clock.

The front fence is designed to match the building, having pillars with moulded tops incorporating rosettes. The base of the fence is brick with a capping mould above, which is an iron railing of crosspieces with central circles similar to that of the entry balustrade. A low hedge is situated between the building and the fence.

The land behind the building is enclosed and contains a landscaped area directly behind the building and small car park.

Image gallery


Location of Kurilpa Library within Queensland
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Last reviewed
1 July 2022
Last updated
20 February 2022