The More Things Change

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Words || Tess Connery

The old Macquarie student magazines are kept in the library storage area, and you can only get to them by putting in one of those irritating hold requests. And so, because I’m a horrible student who never learned how to actually do that in my three years here, I found myself asking one of the library workers to do it for me.

“How far back do you want?”

“The oldest you’ve got, please.”

Macquarie has had a number of student publications – the most recent is in your hot little hands right now – but until the late 90s, we had Arena. I took the broadsheet-sized green book that contained every issue of Arena published in 1969 to a quiet spot in the library and cracked open the cover.

I’m not sure what exactly I was expecting – 1969 wasn’t really that long ago after all. On the other hand, I was born in 1996, and anything before 1980 can feel like centuries ago. Maybe I’d find something about Woodstock? Or the moon landing? Whatever was between these pages, I was fairly convinced it was going to either reek of patriarchal bullshit or be endless flower power… stuff.

I found nothing of the sort.

Within the first few pages, an update was run about a media stir caused by an article that had been written by a student, Karl Evans, in Macquarie’s 1969 Orientation Handbook. The article included some outlandish ideas such as “non-virgin female students are in no way inferior members of the community”, “experimenting students should make a full and proper inquiry into the function and reliability of modern contraceptive methods”, and my personal favourite “an unplanned pregnancy can play hell with exam results”. Turns out The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, and The Daily Mirror had all ripped the article to shreds in their own publications.

There are also so many gems that seem like they could have been written yesterday. For example, the Student Council candidates all campaigned for “higher student participation”, there are several articles addressing and decrying racism in Australia (in light of South African apartheid), and even a how-to guide on pot smoking – complete with the instruction “Be cool, smoking is very illegal”.

The Letters to the Editor section is a goldmine as well. I lost count of the letters complaining about the “disappointment and boredom” that people felt in in various units, and how much they hated different tutorials (most complaints came from economics students). The SRC also takes a pretty severe roasting in these sections – frequently called “embarrassing” and “miserable”. The one that takes the cake for me though is the woman who wrote in asking what her legal rights were, as she’d somehow climbed up a lamppost as part of an “assignment on wind measurement given by the Earth Sciences Department of this University”, and wound up getting arrested because people thought she was making an attempt on her own life.

The one thing that struck me overall, however, is the sheer amount of student activism that was going on. There are little things like letters to the Editor accusing the SRC of being a “closed group” and demanding better representation, all the way through to mass arrests of Macquarie students at rallies opposing conscription and the apartheid – even an incident where around 200 students went and sat on the road intersecting Balaclava Road and Epping Road to demand traffic lights. On a single page of the March issue, there are three photos of students at an anti-conscription protest being dragged away by authorities, a headline screaming “All Coppers Are Bastards!”, and a story about a student who marched into an official university meeting only to throw hot coffee over the chairman whilst calling him a “bungling prick”. He then set off a bunch of firecrackers and left, presumably in the dramatic, badass cloud of smoke that we’ve all dreamed about at least once.

During my time at Grapeshot, I’ve heard a lot about the student activism of the past here at Macquarie University, but had never fully appreciated just how politically involved our student body once was. That’s not to say that there aren’t politically involved students on campus today – of course there are – but there’s also a hell of a lot more apathetic students than it seems we once had. I mean, can you imagine trying to muster 200 students today to go and sit on a road in a bid to get traffic lights put in? I can’t. It simply wouldn’t happen.

The times we live in today aren’t any more or any less political than in 1969, so what happened? Maybe the University pushed back against our protesting for so long that we got tired. Maybe students today are simply too busy trying to survive day-to-day to protest. Maybe we just don’t care anymore. I’m not going to pretend to be an expert in any case, but I do think it would be amazing to take a leaf from cohort of 1969’s book, and get a bit of that spark and passion back that they exercised.

They can keep the hairstyles, though.

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