It’s not the most aesthetically pleasing structure on a campus built around a Gothic wonder in the Great Hall, but the HK Ward Gymnasium holds myriad memories for the thousands of sportsmen and women who’ve used its facilities.

Conveniently located adjacent to the University’s two main ovals on a pathway leading to the Faculty of Veterinary Science, St. John’s College and Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, the HK Ward building is due for demolition, making way for a $385 million state-of-the-art Centre for Obesity, Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease (CODCD) building.

The clubs using HK Ward and the facilities it houses are to be relocated to a new $9.5 million addition to the Sports & Aquatic Centre at Sydney Uni Sport & Fitness’ (SUSF) Darlington campus.

Excavation work for the new CODCD building was progressing well when the HK Ward building seemed to heed the credo of the man after whom it is named and refused to go down without a fight.

During the excavation work at the immediate rear of the building, the material being excavated and some of the ground adjoining the gymnasium started to give way.  Excavation was immediately stopped and engineers were called in to provide an opinion.

They found that the material being excavated was of a very poor quality and was likely old landfill, possibly including car wrecks and old rubbish. They concluded that while the HK Ward building was not in immediate danger of collapsing, the excavation on the CODCD site could not continue without causing major cracking to the building rendering it unsafe.

This led to a call for the users of HK Ward to be moved out ahead of schedule, and that has caused a short-term relocation problem for SUSF as the extension to the Sports & Aquatic Centre at the Darlington campus is not scheduled to be finished until early 2013.

The HK Ward Gymnasium was completed in 1967 at a cost of $112,000 after the Sports Union had decided to erect a large, brick sports hall surrounding the existing corrugated aluminum gymnasium – also known as the HK Ward Gymnasium – which was then divided in two to provide facilities for judo and weight training. A basketball court took up most of the space in the new hall which was also available for badminton, volleyball, karate and tennis.

In its early days, the gymnasium housed one of the first free weights rooms in Sydney, attracting many elite weightlifters to the facility. Other long-term users have been the Boxing Club and martial arts clubs. It also houses a group fitness room, an international standard sports hall (used as a training centre for the Australian handball team during the 2000 Olympics), and an ergonometric training facility. It also once housed a sports store.

Serge Martich-Osterman is one of the longest-term users, having first trained in the original HK Ward gymnasium – then constructed of aluminium – in 1962, during his first year at the university.

“I have fond memories of judo training on mats made of felt glued to sheets of timber, butted up together and covered with canvas,” he said. “In 1965, I was instrumental in setting up the Kempo-Karate (Shaolin) Club.”

“We trained in the old HK Ward until it was dismantled and re-built in its present incarnation. While reconstruction was under way, we trained (on concrete) in the refectory room under the old grandstand. When the present gym was built, we trained on the timber floor downstairs until the administration moved us to the martial arts room.”

The Boxing Club held a grand farewell to the building last October, with Intra-Club and Intercol Sparring Night. Among those of the pugilistic profession to grace the hempen square at HK Ward have been Paul Miller, a Sydney University Arts graduate who won a super-middleweight Commonwealth Games gold medal at Manchester in 2002, and trainer Johnny Lewis, mentor of a host of champion boxers.

When the present sports hall was officially opened in March 1969, the continuing association of the name of HK Ward was in recognition of the long service given to the building and grounds committee by Emeritus Professor Hugh Kingsley Ward.

Ward came to Sydney University and St. Paul’s College from Sydney Grammar School. He gained a Blue in rowing, as stroke for his college in an inter-collegiate race, was a member of a winning inter-varsity crew, stroke of the winning crew in the champion fours of NSW and later a member of the victorious NSW eight.

Ward graduated with first-class honours in medicine in 1910 and the following year won a Rhodes Scholarship. While at Oxford he rowed in the winning crew in the annual Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race and was then selected in the Australian eight at the Stockholm Olympic Games in 1912.

When the First World War began, he was already commissioned in the Royal Army Medical Corps Special Reserve and was soon serving in casualty clearing stations and the field ambulance in France and Belgium in 1914 and, from 1915-19 as Regimental Medical Officer of the 2nd Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps.

Ward was wounded at Loos (1915), the Somme (1916) and Zeebrugge (1917), was a prisoner of war in Baden, Germany, for eight months and, on returning to duty he was gassed at Arras in 1918. He was awarded the Military Cross and two Bars for his gallantry.

After the war, Ward returned to Oxford until 1926 and spent time as a Rockefeller Fellow at Harvard University before taking up duties at Sydney University in 1932 as Professor of Bacteriology. He became chairman of the Sports Union grounds committee in 1937 and continued in that role until 1951, giving much of his time to the promotion of sport at the University. He died in 1972, aged 85.

Wounded three times and always returning to the fray, Ward didn’t go down without a fight. The old gymnasium is literally living up to his name.