The Corporation of the Sisters of Mercy of the Diocese of Townsville v Queensland Heritage Council (No 2) [2017] QPEC 14

Strand Townsville


In the 1880s, the St Patrick’s Convent was erected on what is now The Strand, in Townsville. It is now part of the St Patrick’s School site. The building was of timber frame construction, but has been modified in a number of ways since its construction. Those modifications are not necessarily in keeping with its original style, or the style of timber buildings or convents generally in Queensland at the time of its creation. Modifications include removal of the Steeple, and cladding with asbestos cement sheeting (in the mid 1900s).

At its last occupancy, only four sisters of the Sisters of Mercy occupied the convent. They no longer do so owing to health issues.

The Convent has been entered onto the Queensland Heritage Register as a State Heritage Place. An application was made by the Sisters of Mercy to have the building demolished so that a newer and more suitable building can be built.


Does the convent satisfy the relevant cultural significance criteria in section 35 of the Queensland Heritage Act 1992 (the Act). Specifically, is the convent:

  • A place important in demonstrating the evolution or pattern of Queensland’s history; or
  • Important in demonstrating the principle characteristics of a particular class of cultural places; or
  • A place that has a special association with the life or work of a particular person, group, or organisation of importance.


There are typical patterns of development of settlements including the establishment of ports, pastoral or mining activities, and growth surrounding population centres commensurate with the needs of the community. Those needs include the creation of social and cultural institutions for the provision of education, and provision for the health and welfare of the community. As the Sisters of Mercy were primarily concerned with the provision of education, evidence of their development and presence within an area is important in demonstrating the evolution or pattern of Queensland’s history.

A place will demonstrate the principal characteristics of a particular class of places if it displays defining features of that class. In this case, the Convent is part of the provision of education and healthcare to the community by the catholic faith. The question is how well does the St Patrick’s Convent demonstrate the characteristics of Catholic convents general, and whether it is significant in understanding Queensland’s heritage. The alteration to the Convent over-time, unsympathetic to its original construction and style though they were, do not disqualify it from being demonstrative of a particular class of places. Those alterations were a response to changing needs of the occupiers. Crucially, the Convent retained sufficient adornment and style to identify it as a convent.

The Sisters of Mercy have an association with the North Queensland community that stretches for over a century. The Convent was a place of residence, and worship for many of them over that time period. Thus it was of special importance to the history of the work of the Sisters of Mercy in North Queensland.


To satisfy the criteria for heritage listing, structures and places need not be particularly famous, or exemplify distinct styles or features that set them apart from the wider fabric of the community. What matters is that the place has historical significance in terms of its connection to the history of Queensland.

Places may be substantially altered from their original forms, but provided they retain an essence of their historical past, they may be suitable for heritage listing.