University of Sydney Union

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University of Sydney Union
Institution University of Sydney
Location Sydney, Australia
Established 1874
President Alisha Aitken-Radburn
Vice president Olivia Ronan
Honorary secretary Shannen Potter
Treasurer Edward McMahon
Affiliations University of Sydney Students' Representative Council, Sydney University Postgraduate Representative Association

The University of Sydney Union (USU), established in 1874, is the student-run services and amenities provider at the University of Sydney. The USU's key services include the provision of food and beverages, retail outlets, live music and other entertainment, festivals and events including the biggest Orientation Week (OWeek) in Australia, and Clubs & Societies

The University of Sydney Union provides student services and amenities and supports the university's strong debating, dramatic, and cultural traditions, through over 200 clubs and societies. It was the 2007 World Debating Champion and 2008 Australasian Debating Champion, and in recent years has dominated the finals of the Australian and Australasian Championships. In 2014, the Mandarin debates team won the Fourth Australian Mandarin Debating Championship, and placed second in the prestigious International Chinese Debating Competition in Beijing. USU team captain, Charles Yuchen Zhang, was also awarded the top prize in the individual competition.

Also in 2014, the USU debaters placed second in the Worlds Universities Debating Championships (WUDC). Eleanor Jones (USU B team) was awarded World's Best Speaker.[1] Former debaters include the former Prime Minister John Howard and Justice Michael Kirby.

USU also boasts some of the oldest political clubs in the country. The Sydney University Labor Club is the oldest political campus club in Australia and Sydney University Liberal Club was established in 1933[2] well before the founding of the Liberal Party of Australia.


The Sydney University Union (SUU) was established in 1874 for debating, at a time when the University had fewer than a hundred students; graduates and staff were thus dominant. In 1884, the University's Senate provided a common room for the union, and in 1906, it decided to provide a building for the union's use. This building is now known as the Holme Building.

Holme Building

A separate Sydney University Women's Union (SUWU) was formed in 1914. The Senate also agreed to fund a building for the Women's Union; Manning House was opened in 1917. It was at this time that the University made membership of one of the two Unions compulsory.

Until the 1970s, the Unions' headquarters were an important meeting place for staff and students; however, with the establishment of a University of Sydney staff club and the growth in size of the university population, the influence of staff in the activities of the Student Union decreased. The amalgamation of the two student unions came after the decision in 1971 to jointly fund the construction of the Wentworth Building, named after William Wentworth, one of the leading figures in the colony of New South Wales. The two unions amalgamated on 1 January 1972 to form the University of Sydney Union (USU).

The USU today[edit]

The USU operates numerous programs, from facilities located in three main buildings, Manning House, and the Wentworth and the Holme Building. These buildings house the large proportion of the university's catering outlets, and provide space for retail outlets, an art gallery, meeting rooms, game rooms, bars, cafes, restaurants and function centres. One of the more prominent activities organised by the union is the Orientation Week (or "OWeek") festival, centering on stalls set up by Clubs and Societies along Eastern Avenue, the main University thoroughfare, and events and entertainment at the beginning of the semester each year to welcome new students to university. The clubs and societies programme is a key part of the union's activities, with over two hundred clubs to cater for the university's diverse student population. The union also has an extensive art collection, and until 2006, it maintained the Sir Hermann Black Gallery. In July 2009, the Verge Gallery opened in the Jane Foss Russell Plaza as a new student art space on main campus.

The USU award-winning startup accelerator and entrepreneur program, Incubate fosters a proactive community of entrepreneurs on campus.[3]

Today, the union is operated as a business, with a board of directors elected by the students at the university. Consisting of 14 members, the board is composed of:

  • 11 directors elected for overlapping two year terms by members of the union, with 5 elected in even-numbered years and 6 elected in odd-numbered years;
  • 2 directors appointed by the University of Sydney Senate; and
  • The immediate past president, who is non-voting.

Student media[edit]

Sydney University Radio Group stall at Orientation Week

There are a number of publications on campus supported by the USU. The University of Sydney Union's literary magazine Hermes was first published in 1886 and is the oldest journal in Australia. Distinguished former editors have included Thomas Bavin (1874), H. V. Evatt, John Le Gay Brereton, James McAuley (1937), Jock Marshall (1941), and a duo of Les Murray and Geoffrey Lehmann in 1962.

Arna is also an annual literary journal published by the University of Sydney Arts Student Society. First published in 1918, it was disbanded in 1974. It was relaunched as Arna in 2008 by Rebecca Santos and Khym Scott, alongside the revival of the Sydney Arts Students' Society. The journal contains creatives pieces as written and edited by students.

Student publication the Union Recorder was first published in 1921, showcasing writing from University of Sydney students. The Bull, formerly The Bulletin, was a daily print outlining the events of the day on campus, which had been since rebranded BULL Magazine, which is edited and written by students. In recent years, the Recorder became a monthly publication; however, due to rationalisation in the face of VSU, it was announced in the November 2005 issue that it would become an annual publication as of 2006, with BULL Magazine taking its place as the primary repository of student content to be published monthly. In 2015, it was announced that BULL Magazine will be re-launched as an online only site for student created news and content.[4]

Presidents & Office Bearers[edit]

Notable past Presidents & Office Bearers of the University of Sydney Union include:

See also[edit]


  • USU 2004 Annual Report Summary
  • Williams, Bruce. Liberal education and useful knowledge: a brief history of the University of Sydney, 1850-2000, Chancellor's Committee, University of Sydney, 2002. ISBN 1-86487-439-2
  • Wilkie, Janet. "Amalgamated, But The Same: a brief history of the first 25 years of the University of Sydney Union 1972-1996", The University of Sydney Union, 1996.


External links[edit]