Do you know who write this for Woroni?
When men look back on their lives, they don’t remember the drudgery of everyday existence of the boredom of the class room and workshop. Rather a series of Momentous Events stands out and as they reminisce it is these Bright Spots that causes them to exclaim: ‘That was a great year.’
Its a long time ago, but when I think back over first year, the Moment that made Political Science 1 memorable was the time the lecturer was hissed and booed out of the lecture hall. That doesn’t happen very often here, and for me that was a greater event’ than the hours of sheer boredom in the Childers Street Hall. But for everyone in the years to come, the Australian National University will hold some memories and they will be no more than what they make them now. For me, 1965 was The Year. And 1965 was Burton Hall. No one who survived that experience, (and not many did), can fail to regard it as a turning point of Great Moment. After a careful process of selection, where the warden siphoned off all students who were senior, intelligent or scholarship holders to Bruce Hall, 200 innocent little freshers were piled two to a room into the first third of Burton Hall. We moved in on top of the workers, and at 6.30 a.m. every morning the workers moved in on us. The lass who lived on the second floor typified the experiences of many that year. About to get dressed for breakfast one morning, she was startled to see a ladder and then a head appear at her window. In nothing but a pair of thongs, she advanced to the window, gave the ladder a hearty push and sent the poor man crashing to the ground, thus causing the ANU’s First Rift in Worker/Student Relations. There was no central block or dining hall until third term, which meant – all meals in the Union, including breakfast. Three miles a day for meals was good exercise, but there was no concrete path to the Union and no footbridge across Sullivans Creek. No student who dates himself ‘Burton 1965′ did not fall into the creek at least once that year. And, as well as two to a room, there were no desks, or carpets in the corridor, or lots of things. But trauma came when the carpets were laid. People were shifted from block to block and from floor to floor. One day the toilets read ‘men’ and the next they were ‘women’. By the end of the week ‘miscellaneous’ began appearing. Visiting hours were difficult to implement that year as the two sexes were separated from each other by only a few feet of concrete corridor. A circular from the warden prohibiting ‘ingress and egress by way of windows’ did not cure the problem, and prowlers and promiscuity increased. By second term you couldn’t put ‘Burton’ on your account at Cheshire’s for the looks you got over the counter. The name was on every one’s lips after a pamphlet was left on every door in the hall, warning against the dangers of VD A 15-year-old maid was sacked when she got pregnant and the stories that wafted around Canberra made ‘Burton’ the dirty word of the year. My Very First Humiliation however occurred in Orientation Week of that year. Alongside an official screed in our rooms on hall rules, was a similarly-typed circular directing all Burton residents to report in the Bruce Hall quadrangle for fire drill. We were to fill our waste paper baskets with water and bring them. So the Bruce Hall people found it very funny as 250 little straight-out-of-school freshers stood foolishly in the quadrangle holding their wastepaper tins. And I will never forget My First Demmo! That was inspiring! And that was the Burton Spirit! All of Burton Hall donned their gowns when the Vice-chancellor, Sir Leonard Huxley, announced that stu vac was to be cut from 2weeks to one. In what has become known throughout the Monaro as The Great March, we set out for the Chancellry across the waste land on the other side of Daley Road,
four abreast for as far as the eye could see, gowns streaming in the wind, singing that well-known refrain, since adapted to the tune of John Brown’s Body: ‘Oh Sir Len we do adore you, See Sir Len we won’t ignore you, Oh Sir Len we do implore you, Just to give us one week more.’ and the other verses were ruder. As a result of The Great Show Of Solidarity, when students of all sexes, ages and sizes joined with the nuns in occupying the ground floor of the Chancellry, there arose The Great Compromise. Whereby stuvac was changed to 1 Vi weeks, which it remains to this day, proving the legacy of that year. But a small incident at the Burton Hall gave that place its Legend. A female oriental studies student retired to her room suffering from the effects of alcohol, and at 1 a.m. fell from her second storey window with nothing on at all, just as the guests were leaving the ball. And lots more things happened that year that were all Momentous. They built the Oriental Studies building and forgot to put a toilet on the 2nd floor, so that Professor Fitzgerald had to walk down two flights of steps when he had to go. And Childers St. got a year older. And ANU students performed The Robbery Of The Year by swiping 7 Dobells from the War Memorial (Burton students as it happened) and so on. And two-thirds of Burton Hall failed in 1965, and only two people in the whole of Bruce did, but we had a great time. In 1966, in about May, a friend, in a
higher year, said he was standing for the SRC. Well, gasped I in awe, how courageous, how ambitious! And he got in un opposed as did most other candidates, so I forgot about the SRC for another year, which was fairly easy to do. The next year I found out the difference between the Union and SRC and I wasn’t impressed. It was another year before I heard about the University Council and then I was really confused. In 1966 I decided to work instead of doing extra things, and I stopped joining clubs and societies so I could get good exam marks. And that was the Least Momentous Year, and the Greatest Blank in my recollection and thus The Greatest Waste of Time, even if I did do a trifle better in the exams – big deal! In 1967, some-one said I should stand for Oriental Studies for the SRC because no one else had and the election went un contested. First I thought it was a joke, then I stood and took it very seriously for a while and then I got crapped off with bureaucratic student politicians who thought they were little tyrants in their little offices. What crapped me most of all was that I had funny ideas that students were- in a position to retain just a little of the ideal ism that the older generation had obviously forsaken, but these student politicians were just like the cynical oldies who wouldn’t change anything because they were so settled into their own little niches of power, that they felt a cosy part of a society that was blatantly unjust and discriminatory. The last straw came when the machinemen at the top decided that they would refuse to try and reform society or to criticise it or to take a lead in making that generation of students a better one for the future. So the decision of the SRC to refuse to take part in politics or to have anything to do with the outside world lead me into My First Great Crisis. Very dramatically eight of us resigned from the SRC and the news made headlines as far afield as the Melbourne Herald. Polemics, daily Woronis, harangues and heated debates culminated in the Great Meeting where 400 students jam med into the Union, and the ANU reasserted itself as the most conservative university in Australia by voting 220-130 for staying out of politics. And during this whole time I became more and more cynical and YOU, no matter how idealistic you are now, will also become cynical before you leave. Sub-consciously, I did, perhaps until last year, always feel that there were kings and rulers who laid down the standards of life at the ANU – dictators that you could resist in the same way as you resist nasty high school teachers by putting gum on their chairs. Knowing all along that you couldn’t really break their power, but it was fun spiting them and anyway, sooner or later, you’d be one of them and you’d be able to be as authoritarian as them. Here they are the Vice-chancellor, the Wardens of the Halls, the SRC and the Union Board, the Professors – these our dictators, and no one realizes how they rule our lives. In my erratic ramblings, and by the way, I am writing this at 3.30 in the morning, because the editor is short of material for Woroni, I’ve forgotten to talk about the Academic life at the ANU – after all that’s what your parents send you here for. I’ve always found lectures, especially in Pol. Sc. 1 very very dull, and I used to fall asleep very often. There was the lecturer standing out on the platform in front delivering this sermon, (I also find church dull), and there was everybody taking everything down, because the lecturer spake the truth. And then we had tutes and it was just the same. The Man Who Knew Everything sat at the head of the people, and we just knew that he was right. After all, he marked the exam papers. And didn’t the exam paper prove how educated you were? And there were the essays. The only Momentous thing I can remember about essays in that in four years at the ANU, I never had a single essay in on time, even in the subjects where it was most compulsory. Getting extensions was always pretty humiliating – crawling to the lecturer and making up false excuses to get an extra few days. And staying up all night, hating every minute of it, and knowing that you had to have it in the box by 9.00:a.m. And they were all so boring, taking lots of dreary notes. Really last year was my first awakening, and I don’t know why it took so long. But people started questioning all this authoritarianism and bucking against it, and saying that they wanted power like the kings of the University. And the kings resisted, some by good-naturedly talking to us as you talk to naughty kids and tell them to come now, they can have an ice-cream if they’re good, and others by kicking us in the teeth. Anyway, I’m dead tired now, and its nearly four o’clock and Charlie won’t be happy because this isn’t long enough for Mm to fill up all his blank spaces – (no doubt he’ll pad with plenty of pictures) – and also because this is all nonsense. But I want to go to bed, so I’m going to write one more paragraph, which I think will be moralistic. This may sound like a platitude, but students forget it unconsciously over the years: Never forget your ideal society, no matter how much you get caught up in the system – don’t say, well, that’s the way the world ticks and I’m part of the world so I’ll stick with it. As soon as you get a job, there’s an enormous amount of subtle pressure to get you to stop thinking,- and university is like that too. A lot of you new students are only doing a degree so you can earn a few hundred extra bucks a year in a few years from now. But to those who haven’t sold their souls yet, listen to a cynical old man’s ravings and make this year MOMENTOUS. It’ll be the more momentous, the more you are inclined to look back on it ten years from now. And its got to be momentous if you want to live and not exist. The Australian National University can be a landmark in your life too, if that is what you make it.