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So tell us a little about yourself.
I moved to Perth when I was 11, so I did all of high school here. But I grew up in the country—Bunbury and Geraldton. My dad’s a pilot, so he had an aviation business in Geraldton. Then we came to Perth, I went to Corpus Christi College, and then came straight to Curtin after I finished year 12 to do a Bachelor of Arts with the idea of being a journalist.
So what year did you come to Curtin?
That was 1991.
And when did you start working for Grok?
That was 1993. My third year of uni.
What was the process for getting involved like back then?
So at that stage they had two dedicated subeditors—so an editor, two dedicated subs, and two dedicated writers. The position was advertised in Grok. So I applied for a position as a reporter.
By that stage I had worked at community newspapers since the beginning of second year—I was writing their advertorials actually. I imagine that not many people who applied had much experience, so when my friend and I applied—we were both working for community newspapers at that stage— we both got jobs as reporters. Which was great, and I think our pay was $50 a week. And I remember some weeks I was like “I think I’m getting paid a dollar an hour,” because I did spend a lot of time in that Grok-office-space, I probably wasn’t always as productive as I could have been, I know there was a lot of distractions and interactions with other people (and we did spend a lot of time in the tavern), but it did seem that I was there a lot to be earning $50 a week.
If it makes you feel better, I don’t think the few paid positions at Grok are worth much more these days. The Chief might get $100 a week and the Deputy slightly less than that.
Oh, really, God so maybe less than what we were getting paid!
So how big was Grok back then?
At this point everybody read Grok on campus. Like people would comment all the time like “I read that in Grok” or “I saw that in Grok”.
So how many copies were you printing back then?
That’s a good question. I’m not actually sure. But it was everywhere on campus.
That’s the dream for the Grokians of today!
Yeah, of course.
So what sort of content were you producing in the ‘90s?
It was really news oriented. So there was a lot of campus news—like the perennial issue of parking.
Oh, yeah, that’s always a hot topic!
Yeah, we always covered stuff like that.
We did a lot of reporting of the Guild. And we were very careful, or I was in particular—I was obsessed with being very independent from the Guild.
So we’d go to the Council meetings and say “This Councillor yelled at this Councillor and this Councillor said this,” and we’d go to the Guild President and say “The students want more of this and why aren’t you doing this.”So the idea was that Grok was meant to be a bit of a watchdog for the Guild as well as the University. So not just to have a go at the University and to keep the administration to account, but it was a Guild publication being paid for by the Guild because we had student unionism then.
So there was a lot of news stuff. You could also pitch ideas for features. So I remember I did a big feature on student activism and where we were at—which is another thing that comes up often in student publications. People did all sorts of different features—about rave culture, which was obviously big in the ‘90s. And then there was a lot of reviews, so we did movie reviews. We got lots of free tickets to films. The pay wasn’t great, but you would get lots of tickets to events and gigs and we got free copies of CDs to review—this is very historical! Interviewing musicians—I really loved doing that, I interviewed a lot of musicians which was great. So it was a combination of those sort of things. The focus was more on news, with the other fun stuff there to balance it out. But we were definitely there to scrutinise the University and the Guild.
So how many people were working for Grok at this stage?
We had a student editor, two subs, two reporters, a receptionist and a designer.
So, a decent sized staff. And we needed that, people were busy doing this work.
What was the atmosphere like working with that group of people?
Oh, it was great, we had heaps of fun. When I started the Editor was Kate Malkovic. She was great, she was crazy, and very generous and fun. She was so encouraging. If I ever came to her with an idea she was like “I love it”. But she must have gotten another job because she didn’t stay on for too long—there were three editors in the year that I was there. But often people who are doing that job are close to graduating so that wasn’t uncommon. One of the other subeditors, Stuart Dawes, he became a really good friend of mine, and he moved to Sydney later. And Tim Wallace, he had been at Grok before he was with the Guild, and he also moved to Sydney and was a good friend. So my Grok connections continued through my journalism career. But the other reporter, Andrew Burrell, he’s one of my really good friends still, and he went to Melbourne and then Sydney and now he’s the Chief Reporter for The Australian here. So I still have those connection from Grok today. It was a really good way to get a better understanding of the University and politics.
I find Guild politics fascinating, because I wasn’t invested in it before Grok. And I loved all the infighting. And then there were things like, you would go to NUS meetings and young Labors and Liberals were screaming at each other—and that was great from a reporter’s perspective [laughs].
But it was eye-opening for me, and it was interesting to see students who were so interested in the politics because my friends weren’t into that, they very much came to uni to do uni. So it was great to see that and report on it.
Yeah, I went to the AGM last year which was so wild.
It is wild! And the Guild elections is really fascinating too.
So what was Grok’s relationship like with the Guild? Because you were holding them accountable, reporting on their in-fighting, but they were your paymasters.
They were pretty good actually; they were generally really good at being hands-off. I mean there were occasions—like when they were trying to figure out what we were writing, and information was shared. But generally, it was fine. And we would write critical stories of the Guild, and I don’t know that they liked it, but they accepted it, and they didn’t come around saying “You shouldn’t have said that.” Sometimes individual Guild Councillors would come around saying “I didn’t say that at that Guild council meeting.” And I’d say, “Well, you say you didn’t, I say you did, where do you want to go from here?” There were no official minutes so they couldn’t confirm whether they had said this or that, so it was interesting. But no, they were pretty good.
So where have you gone since you left Grok?
The year after I worked for Grok, I did an exchange. I had gone part-time so I could do my last semester overseas. I went to the US and did a semester of exchange. And that was great because over there they produced a daily newspaper on campus.
Yeah. It was amazing. It was all student-run, really incredible.
Then I came back and I got a job working for The West Australian at their Bunbury newspaper, The South Western Times. Then I came back to Perth and worked for Post newspapers for three years in Subi. Then I went to Sydney and worked for the Sun Herald. And then I came back here and worked for The Australian. And I was working there when my old head of school called me up and asked me to teach journalism here at Curtin. And I had a one-year-old then and I was trying to balance a family with daily news journalism which was quite challenging. So, I decided to come back here, to Curtin, to teach. And I’ve worked here now for 14 years. And my undergrad was three-and-a-half years, so I’m very familiar with this campus.
So if you could select your favourite memory of your time at Grok, what might that be? I’ll tell you mine first: last year we had the Golden Groks to celebrate the work we’d done. So we had awards for our collaborators and punch and it was a huge get-together. it was really great.
That’s so great. Well look, I think for me it has been the friends I’ve made through Grok. That’s been the most enduring thing for me. That I’ve maintained those friendships over the years.
I think working together is a bit different from studying together. Working together was another step-up in intensity. When you’re working to a deadline it can get a bit crazy. But yeah, it has been lovely to have stayed friends with them.
Like my kids are friends with Andrew’s kids, and he’s friends with my husband, and I’m friends with his wife.
What would you like to see from the Guild in the coming years, now that they’ve celebrated 50 years.**
I would like to see the Guild to continue to support Grok, because I think that Grok is hugely valuable, and has a really important place on campus. And I think the Guild more broadly has to continue to put student interests first, because they’re best posed to do that. I really support student activism and student politics, but student politicians have to make sure they’re thinking of the students they represent.
Do you have any advice for the writers at Grok, or students considering pursuing a role at Grok, or a career in journalism?
Any opportunity you have to have your work published in a reputable source, like Grok, do it. It might seem like a lot of work now for not much payment, but in the long run it will be very good for your career and job prospects. Employers want to see that you are keen to get your name in print and to have the opportunity to write your stuff. So I think that’s really valuable. Having said that, be a little careful about what you write, especially with social media these days.
Yeah, it’ll come back to haunt you now.
Well yeah, the first thing an employer will do is google you. So be careful, and if you’re writing news, you need to be as neutral as possible. If you’re writing op-eds, that’s fine. But if you want to be treated seriously as a prospective journalist you can have fun in those reviews and those opinion pieces, but be careful when you’re writing news.