UQ remembers Dr Robert Wensley, QC

1 Jun 2015

UQ alumnus and former Deputy Chancellor Dr Robert Wensley QC urged graduates at a 2005 UQ Graduation Ceremony to be “engaged with the issues of the day”.

“[Be] concerned and thinking citizens whose views and votes count and are important,” he said, after receiving a Doctor of Laws honoris causa.

“It will mean being principled, paying heed to the basic rules of civilisation, maintaining integrity, caring for your fellow men and women as well as for yourselves and applying the dispassionate rules of inquiry and analysis which have been the basis of your university learning, no matter what your discipline.”

Dr Wensley, who died on May 19, aged 70, lived by that very philosophy. Over a period of more than five decades, Dr Wensley made significant contributions to the UQ community. These began when he was a student and continued throughout his career as a staff member and subsequently as a lawyer. His connection to UQ spans generations and built on a family tradition beginning with his mother’s uncles, who attended UQ and lived in King’s College, and cemented when his parents, Doris McCulloch and Neil Wensley, met at UQ.

Born in Toowoomba on 15 March 1945 and schooled at Penrith High School in New South Wales and Battersea Grammar School in London, he gained three UQ degrees: a Bachelor of Engineering (Chemical) with Honours, a Master of Engineering with Honours, and a Bachelor of Laws with Honours. 

Between 1972 and 1976 he was personal assistant to the UQ Vice-Chancellor, Sir Zelman Cowen.  

Dr Wensley served as the alumni-elected Senator on the 22nd to 31st UQ Senates, from 1978 to 2009, with a short break in service in 1987.  He was Deputy Chancellor from 1999 to 2005, a member of the Audit Committee from 1994 and Chairman from 2002, and a member of the Discipline Appeals Committee from 1990. While on the Senate, he was a director of several University companies, including UQ Holdings and UniQuest. He was also a Senate representative on the Faculty of Business, Economics and Law, and the Senate representative on the Women’s College Council. 

He was active in community relations and fundraising through the Alumni Association executive and the Senate Development Committee, and as Chairman of the King’s College Foundation and President of the University's annual appeal.

Dr Wensley carried out his extensive, multifaceted services to UQ while maintaining a very busy and distinguished career as a Barrister. Dr Wensley was admitted to the Bar in 1976 and appointed Queen’s Counsel in 1993. His commercial legal practice specialised in building, construction, engineering and technology matters and he acted as counsel, arbitrator, mediator, appraiser and court-appointed referee on a regular basis.

He was an acting judge of the District Court of Queensland in 1998, and was a member of Queensland’s Criminal Justice Commission Misconduct Tribunal from 1990-93 and a member of the Queensland Building Tribunal and Chairman in 2000-01. Dr Wensley was appointed an Adjunct Professor in UQ’s TC Beirne School of Law in 1999.

As a student, he took an avid interest in theatre, and led proposals to build the Schonell Theatre. He performed in its opening production, an original musical called Bacchoi cast alongside a young Geoffrey Rush. He performed in and directed many other performances – including the College Players’ production of Macbeth – at venues including the Avalon Theatre and the original Festival Hall.

Many of his contributions to student life were made during his years living in King’s College, where he captained the debating team and was President of the College Students Club, and as the first full-time President of the UQ Student Union, elected in 1969. During the 1960s, as his young sister, Penny was also making an impact on campus, the name “Wensley” was assuredly linked to future leadership. Dr Penelope Wensley AC would progress to build an exemplary career as a diplomat and Governor of Queensland.

At King’s College, Dr Robert Wensley’s legacy is concrete and enduring. He gave the college the law library from his Brisbane chambers in 2008, and was a significant benefactor in other respects. The Robert Wensley Cultural Laureate Award is given annually to a student who makes outstanding contributions to the college’s cultural life.   Last month King’s College named a new wing in his honour, which will house students from the start of 2016.

A small private funeral was held in Sydney on Monday 25 May 2015 and a memorial service will be held at King’s College on 9 June 2015.  For more details, please see http://www.kings.uq.edu.au/announcements/memorial-service.

UQ will fly the Australian National Flag at half-mast on 9 June 2015, as a mark of respect for Dr Wensley, QC.

A speech delivered by Dr Penelope Wensley AC to the 2015 Annual General Meeting of the UQ Alumni Friends Association can be found here. In the speech, Dr Wensley speaks about the Wensley family’s long connection with The University of Queensland.