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By Jay Anderson
What years were you studying at Curtin, and what were you studying?
I was at Curtin 82 to 86, and I studied chemistry and biology. I returned in 92 to do post grad in health and safety.
What was campus like then?
Well, it certainly wasn’t as green as it is now. It was very brutalist, I suppose. It was buildings and grass. They had these huge big buildings coming out of the grass. That’s a lot of what I remember of the structure. It was still pretty active, there were a lot of people interested in what was going on with the Guild. Much the same as it is now, I suppose. I was there in the days of Don Watts, and towards the end is when they brought in the administration fees—the $250 fee for studying at uni—and that was basically the first step towards HECS debts. So when I finished uni I did a project with the Guild on a campaign against the administration fee.
It’s great that your relationship with the Guild continued after you finished uni. So how did you become involved with the Guild as a student?
I’m not terribly sure how I did! I think I just got involved and interested. I was bar staff at the Guild Tavern, for several years, so I think being in and around that area, and I would see the people in the Guild, and that probably got me interested. I think more than anything, I was studying science, but I was interested in politics. Not that I had interest in politics before uni, but I did when I was there. And I lived at Guild house for three and a half years. So I was in the thick of it!
So what were your roles with the Guild?
So I was a Guild Councillor first. I got elected with the Poor but Honest Party. Then the following year I was elected as the General Vice President.
So what did your role as Councillor involve?
I went to the meetings about representation of student rights—how do we spend the budget, how do we maintain the operations of the organisation. Guild House, which I obviously had a strong connection with, was, then, the only student owned accommodation in Australia. So I was keen on working on how we kept on operating, how we represented people to the University, that we got fair representation of student rights on campus.
And were you concerned with similar issues in your role as Vice President?
Yes, obviously housing, quality of education—you know, the introduction of fees became a really big issue. So we were trying to protect free education, which we didn’t succeed in obviously, but that was a very important issue on the table. In those days we also went through the introduction of computers. So we were in a space where we went from paper to digital. Which was a bit revolutionary! You know the rectangular box computers? We had them, and it was very futuristic at that time!
So there was a lot of exciting things happening, and a lot of challenges the Guild was facing during your time. What were some of the other issues? I know the Guild has run campaigns about student rights, but also human rights more generally—what were some of the topics going around campus at the time?
I remember we went to a conference at RMIT, representing WA, and it was at the time when there was a pilot strike, so there were no flights going. It was in Melbourne, so we managed to fly to Adelaide, then drove to Melbourne and back. Which took dedication, but as students, we just thought Road Trip! You’re definitely challenging my memory here, but we sat in the centre-left side of things, and we were definitely advocating for Indigenous rights, as well as women’s, representation and safety of women on campus. So there were a number of things going on, so it was about safety and security on campus, which was really relevant during those days.
What was the student engagement like during this period?
It was really quite active. I remember one of the big highlights of the year—I can’t remember what it was called, but we used to have a list of things for people to go and find, and then you’d get points for everything you found. It was a bit of a treasure pick. But it was big. That was an annual thing that was run and it was a really huge event. To give you an example, one of the things you had to get was the blue and white stickers on the side of cop cars. We had a lot of activities, fun sort of things that involved the students, but there was a lot of life around. As there is probably now, around the pub and food, and really trying to support students get through their studies.
Yeah, I was just talking to Theo Naarstig, who was the second Guild President, who talked about the initial focus of the Guild being to create a sense of community.
Well there was one really big issue that has probably continued throughout the Guild’s existence. The pressure to try and remove compulsory Guild fees. So for the whole time that was always an issue, because those fees always protected the Guild being able to operate, to make that community, so that was certainly a top issue. Because there was a lot of pressure, particularly from the federal government, to get rid of that.
So where did you go after uni? And did your time with the Guild impact who you became in both a professional and personal sense?
It certainly did. I initially went out and worked as a chemist. But it wasn’t long after that, that I went back to uni to study occupational health and safety. And I think the Guild really guided me to do that because while I was a scientist at heart, I was far more interested in the impact of people. I’m a risk manager these days, and the Guild really took me into thinking about how work impacts people. After I did my grad-dip in OHS, I got a job with Worksafe, as an occupational hygienist, so really looking into and investigating the chemical impact of people at work. That expanded into business risk and governance, so it’s more about decision making. I have been elected as a local government councillor, I was running, at one stage, for State Parliament. So my interest in politics has never waned, and I’ve always been very interested in the decision making that effects our society. And the Guild really gives you some great skills in decision making and processes. I’ve just been elected as the President of the WA Fibre and Textiles Association. It’s a great organisation but its struggling finding people to run it. You know, the agendas, the minutes, role definitions, accountability—all of those things are grounded in what I learnt with the Guild as opposed to what I learnt at university.
A lot of former Guildies have said the same thing. And it’s really interesting because most of them were really young, so they learn a lot really quickly, and take on a lot of responsibilities early on in their careers.
Yeah, and it introduces you to, at uni, a very different group of people. Because its cross-faculty, you know, a chemist doesn’t really hang out with a social worker, but I did because of the Guild.
What were your relationships with all of the other people at the Guild like, because, as you say, there is a diversity of students working there?
It was good. When you’re at uni you have a lot of fire in your belly, so there’s plenty of people who want to make change and get out there. And everyone at the Guild was like that. So it was a great time at the Guild. I spent a lot of time there, it certainly gave me, in a way, a home. Particularly to be at Guild House. It was all a part of my community.
So what might be the thing that your community at that time was most proud of achieving?
The campaign about student fees—it was an important milestone and it got a pretty big profile and it started discussions about how we want education in Australia. But you know, simply being brave enough to make decisions about where the Guild should go and changing our processes.
That’s big stuff. Those sorts of transitions are difficult for large organisations.
That’s right. The other thing was simply being able to work in a team environment. When you’re a uni student you have your colleagues and friends, but you’re still working on your own stuff to get it finished. But the Guild is collegiate, and it teaches you a different way to work, and its organisational management and governance. And that’s my career now, and I don’t think that would have happened if I wasn’t elected at Guild level.
What is your fondest memory, or one of them, with the Guild?
Oh, I still love election night! I quite like the campaigning and being able to talk to people and trying able to resolve real issues for them—that’s what you do as an elected member. They’re the sorts of things I probably recall the most, and most enjoyable. But yeah, the election itself was a pretty exciting time!