Old Government House was the hub of colonial life in the early days of Brisbane. Constructed between 1860 and 1862, shortly after Queensland achieved separation from New South Wales, the House was Queensland's first public building. A rare surviving example of the domestic work of Queensland's first Colonial Architect Charles Tiffin, the House was both a private residence and official state office for Governor Bowen, the colony's first governor, and continued to be the home of Queensland's governors until 1910.
More than simply serving as a vice-regal residence, Old Government House played an important symbolic role in the early years of the colony. Its grand design and location high on the promontory at Gardens Point made it an impressive sight for visitors and immigrants arriving by ship: as they circled the point, it came into view as a stately palace against the backdrop of Brisbane's ramshackle wooden huts scattered throughout the bush. It was a bold exemplar of the colony's potential prosperity.
Eleven governors and their families lived in the House over a period of almost fifty years. Many key moments in Queensland's early development took place within the walls of the Governor's library. The House and its gardens saw some of Brisbane's most magnificent social events with countless balls, receptions, dinners and garden parties taking place. But as Queensland's population grew, it became increasingly apparent that the House was simply too small to accommodate the extensive hospitalities demanded of it. In 1909 the controversial decision was made to move the governor out and a chapter in the life of the House came to a close.
Old Government House successively became the University of Queensland's inaugural building (1910–1972) and the headquarters of the National Trust of Queensland (1972–2002). As one of Queensland's most significant historical buildings, it was the first building in the state to be heritage listed in 1978. In 2002, QUT accepted custodial responsibility for the House and undertook a lengthy restoration project. This included the delivery of an interpretative multimedia centre to highlight the cultural and historical significance of each part of this landmark colonial building.
Old Government House was reopened to the public in June 2009 as an historic house museum, a gallery housing the works of renowned Australian artist William Robinson, and an elegant venue available to hire for private functions. Located centrally in Brisbane adjacent to the City Botanic Gardens, the House stands with renewed grandeur within the Gardens Point Campus of QUT.
In 1960 Old Government House was identified as a vital part of Queensland's built heritage. Demolition threatened until 1969 when the newly formed National Trust of Queensland identified the House in its first list of significant buildings. The important heritage value of the building was officially recognised in March 1978, when the National Trust listing was ratified on the basis of its historical and architectural significance. Old Government House fittingly became the first building to be protected by heritage legislation in Queensland.
Major external and internal restoration work was carried out by the Trust throughout the 1980s and the House was the opened to the general public to visit. The National Trust of Queensland was the sole custodian of the building until October 2002, when a three-way Heads of Agreement between the Trust, Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and the Department of Public Works was signed. This agreement ensured the future conservation, management and use of Old Government House and established a secure long-term future for the property. QUT accepted the custodial responsibilities and completed a major conservation and enhancement project on the building and surrounding grounds in June 2009.