19 September 2021

Former ANU residential hall to be repurposed as non-student accommodation

| Lottie Twyford
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Gowrie Hall at ANU

Previously known as Fenner Hall, Gowrie Hall will now become the Canberra Accommodation Centre. Photo: Google Maps.

A former ANU residential hall is set to become non-student accommodation run by an independent, commercial third party.

The building on Northbourne Avenue was previously known as Fenner Hall, before being renamed as Gowrie Hall after students were moved to a new on-campus building – also named Fenner Hall – in the heart of the new Kambri development.

It’s currently unclear who will operate the new building and under what conditions.

An ANU spokesperson said while the third party will invest in the site and refurbish it to ensure it is fit for accommodation purposes, “the university does not detail commercial in-confidence arrangements with third-party providers”.

“Any such arrangement will be consistent with the lease ANU has with the Commonwealth for the site,” said the spokesperson.

The ANU student newspaper, Woroni, is reporting that the building will become the ‘Canberra Accommodation Centre’, and offer both short- and long-term rooms, as well as fully serviced hotel rooms.

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In 2019, the reason given for moving Fenner Hall residents on campus was that the maintenance costs of the building had simply become too high for it to remain viable.

Residents of ‘old Fenner Hall’ had reported the dilapidated state of the building as being a concern.

ANU executive director of administration and planning Chris Grange estimated at the time that a minimum of $12 million of works would be required on the building during a two-year period.

At the time, students’ reaction to the move was mixed, with many worried that the hall would lose its specific, individual culture, while others were concerned about rent increases.

The ANU spokesperson said the new Fenner Hall provides “students with high-quality and affordable residential accommodation that gives them easy access to our safe and vibrant campus community and environment”.

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Throughout 2019 and 2020, old Fenner Hall was renamed Gowrie Hall and used to house first-year postgraduate students. While the hall was never intended to be used as accommodation again, a spokesperson for the university said the demand for accommodation throughout these two years had outstripped available supply on campus.

Minimal refurbishments and adjustments were made to the building in order to allow this to happen.

The building was used as a temporary measure to meet student overflow, and according to the spokesperson, was done at the request of students.

The ANU Postgraduate and Research Student Association (PARSA) has long advocated for more affordable on-campus housing for postgraduate students, and pushed for the use of old Fenner Hall to help fill this gap.

In 2021, the ANU spokesperson said the university has experienced a decline in demand for housing so moved to identify a suitable alternative usage for the hall.

The building itself was originally built as accommodation for single public servants and was acquired by the ANU in 1992.

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One of the characters who was a long term resident at the Macquarie was the late old school journo, Footscray and King O’Malley fanatic, Larry Noye who wrote a biography of the latter (with whom he shared an aversion to ‘stagger juice’), which despite the author’s partisanship is not a bad read, even if he chose not to divulge his sources.


Peter Graves9:58 am 21 Sep 21

It’s slightly off-topic, but Larry Noye did write the definitive biography of King O’Malley.

To whom we owe a great debt for choosing Walter Burley Griffin’s as the winning design for Canberra, and ensuring he was brought to the Federal Capital Territory to implement it. The bureaucrats of that time had made up their own plan, based on a mixture of the all the entries.

O’Malley returned as the Minister for Home Affairs (a very different portfolio, then), over-rode them and said Giffin’s was the one.

Peter Graves5:10 pm 20 Sep 21

Some very interesting memories here. Anyone’s go back as far as Reid House, Barton House (which wasn’t a Government one), Hotel Kurrajong (when it was ), Acton House, Gorman House ? ?

Tom Worthington2:38 pm 20 Sep 21

Fond memories of the old Gowrie Hostel, where I was put up as a new public servant in the early 1980s. We all congregated to watch Dr Who in the TV room on the top floor once a week. Hopefully the horribly inefficient heating system has been upgraded since then.

Peter Graves10:49 am 20 Sep 21

The former Fenner Hall was indeed a former hostel for public servants (Gowrie Hostel) – operated by the late Commonwealth Accommodation and Catering Company, which also operated the former Macquarie Hotel and Lawley House in Barton, plus others around Canberra. A unique part of Canberra’s APS and accommodation history.

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