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Written by Luisa Mitchell
Jonathon Saw, centre, helping raise funds for men’s prostate cancer and mental health in Movember, at the Perth Radiological Clinic. 2012.
Tell me about when you were at Curtin and what you were studying?
I started off studying Physics and did that for a year, and then changed that to Medical Imaging, which I completed and which I now do [for a career]. I do cat-scans and things. I work at the Perth Radiological Clinic in the Bentley branch.
You were at Curtin for four years before you became the Guild President. Did you become the President suddenly or was it a gradual process?
I started in ‘94 doing Medical Imaging, and in ‘98 I got elected in as a student Councillor. Then in ‘99 I became a student representative. In the year 2000, I became Guild President.
I guess one of the guys I was friends with in Physics was involved in the Guild and I became friends with him, and was like, Aw, what are you doing? And he said it was great, and you can do this, and meet people, and I got involved in a couple of social clubs and with Guild stuff like that. I was never hugely interested in politics, but I kind of liked the people part of it and made friends. I guess I kind of got sucked in, in a way.
People asked me, “Do you want to be a Guild Councillor?” I said, Uh, I don’t know about that; but they said, “Look, it’s not that hard, you just go to some meetings, but it’s kind of fun”—and it was fun. One thing led to another and I enjoyed it more than I expected. I actually enjoyed going to the meetings would you believe it [laughs].
I just enjoyed finding out what was going on and having a say in what was going on. In hindsight, I don’t know how much of that we were really listened to, or if it was just lip-service, but I always felt really listened to by the people in the uni.
You’re not involved in politics now, but at the time did you think entering politics was a possibility?
I do think a lot about going into politics now still, and I’m at the age to do it. But I’ve got a family and I don’t like the idea of putting my family through some of the stuff that a lot of the families in politics seem to go through these days, which is ultimately what holds me back from doing that at the moment.
When you were studying, what did you see as being the biggest issues for students at the time?
At the time, from a Guild perspective, it was probably the Voluntary [Student Unionism] fees, and how we were going to keep the Guild alive financially, and stay relevant within the university, because it had no financial stability. We put a lot of effort into getting money and into membership drives as well. Basically, making sure we stayed on the university.
We went through a phase where we struggled to get enough people to get on the committees around uni, because the university was often trying to get students off some of them. You had to keep making sure someone turned up and that you’d find out about [the meetings] and hustle up people until you had someone to attend.
The Guild was at a stage where it would have been really struggling if the right things weren’t done. I know we sort of compared ourselves to Murdoch, UWA and even ECU, where UWA had sort of investments to get through, but ECU really struggled as a Guild and ran out of money, and had to re-start from scratch at that stage. Whereas Curtin’s Guild managed to stay afloat with the catering side of things, and with housing…
What are you most proud of achieving during your time at the Guild?
We did really good things with some of the shops and financial things, and keeping the Guild afloat. We did quite well with housing, we got a hold of that, because that was quite a good income stream back then. We did well with the retail side of things…
What we did really well for a few years was keep increasing membership. That was right at the stage when people didn’t really like the Guild, and the wider community didn’t like the idea of it because it was seen as a union, and unions were pretty unpopular.
We treated [the Guild] more as a membership thing and less of a union thing, that’s how we attracted people. We still had a really good Student Assist department and we had two or three full-time employees to help out with actual student problems as well, [which helped].
You oversaw the Guild entering a new century in the year 2000. Did it feel like you were seeing the beginning of a new era for the students?
There was this huge buzz to the year 2000, and everyone thought people’s computers were gonna die the year before; there was all that kind of worry, and when the new year came around there was this kind of pleasant surprise that life was going along per usual.
The year before, in 1999, I suppose it was a year of hype in some ways—everyone was excited about was going to happen next year. It did have a feel of possibility. It had this feeling of doom in some ways too, because people were worried about life being destroyed by computer bugs [laughs]. That was a massive deal, people thought bases were going to collapse because of it, it was in the news. I remember Guild’s IT department spending a fair high amount of time for a couple of months making sure things were going to work in preparation [laughs].
Did being the President influence your life in later years?
Definitely, that whole year of my life I learned a lot about who I was as a person, and I learnt how to handle things. Even now I’ve had pretty stressful times with life, and family, with work, and what-not. And I always think I’ve never worked as hard as I did back then in the Guild. There were really long working days and [work doing] such different things as well.
The Guild was everything to some students. You had to help them in some way when there was a change to an enrolment, perhaps to fix an enrolment, or something to do with marking, and you had to deal with that as a student Councillor, which in a lot of ways was quite pompous [laughs].
Even with the fun stuff and the parties, trying to get people to turn up and meet other people [was hard]. You’d often have these university meetings that would start at 7:30 for breakfast and coffee, and then you’d have these student club type things at 7:30 at night time, so you’d spend a lot of time there [at the Guild].
But I thoroughly enjoyed it and I’d do it again in a heartbeat… if I was at that age again [laughs]. Uni is what you make of it and there were so many people who were there at the time who just went to uni and went home as quickly as they could, and they missed out.
Looking back on your university days, what’s a memory that you’ll never forget?
I think one of the things I was quite personally proud of being able to do was give a speech at Orientation Day in front of 1500 or 1800 newly enrolled students, and stand in front of them talking. Seeing all these people in front of you who were so excited about going [to uni] was quite something in itself.
I can’t remember what I said [in the speech] but I can remember wearing this stupid white shirt with a couple of Chinese characters on it, which don’t know what they said either [laughs].
Do you have any thoughts on student issues or university education in 2019?
I believe in education-for-education’s sake. I know education’s costly and you’ve got to pay for it, and I work in private healthcare, which in some ways is poorly thought of—a lot of people don’t like the idea of paying for education or paying for health care, but at some point, you’re going to have to pay for it somehow, ‘cause you’ve got to pay for teachers, and lecturers, and infrastructure. But I think if you want to learn you should be able to learn, whether you pay for it upfront or with a HECS loan.
From what I see university is pretty accessible these days and there’s always a way to find a way in, which I think is pretty good.
If you were wandering around Curtin now, where would you go to get a coffee or go study?
I’d still like to finish my degree one day, but I can’t really see that happening… but I’d love to go to that medical imaging building again; and I’d go get a drink or a coffee at the Tav Cafeteria.