The Guild’s story is, of course, inextricably tied up with Curtin University’s—formerly known as the West Australian Institute of Technology. Founded in 1960, WAIT opened on August 17, 1966 and shortly after the Student Guild was born.
In these formative years WAIT was focused on establishing itself as an institution and, as such, developing a sense of community would require time. Designed architecturally for development, the second stage of expansion at the Bentley campus included Hayman Hall, student common rooms, and a larger cafeteria—which provided a focus for student socialising. But the majority of students during this period were part-time, mature-aged students, and many others were already in the workforce or on cadetships that entitled them to “day release” study on campus. This made the concept of “community” difficult to identify amongst the bulk of students.
It was against this background that Dr Haydn Stanley Williams—WAIT’s Director from 1967 to 1979 - worked to establish a student union. In July 1967, the Management Board called a meeting of student representatives from each department to explain WAIT’s intention to delegate responsibility for the management of student facilities to a properly constituted student union. In September, a working party of six students headed by Assistant Director Harry Nash, with the assistance of Administrative Secretary Howard William Peters and Administrative Assistant Bob Gardiner, created an interim constitution.
There were a number of meetings in 1968, which resulted in the substantial modification of the constitution—including an amendment to give the School of Mines a seat on council, since they had initially been forgotten. On September 19th, then-Education Minister Edgar Lewis introduced legislation in the Legislative Assembly providing statuatory authority for the formation of a WAIT student body. However—reflecting his party’s abhorrence to the term “union”, which had unacceptable potential political overtones—Lewis forced WAIT to adopt the name “Guild”.
At the December 1968 meeting the institute Interim Council approved the Student Guild constitution which provided the establishment of a student council that could levy fees and two associated bodies—the activities council and the sports council. At this time, the first clubs were forming, including The Debating Club, Football Club, Dramatic Society and Rowing Club.
The following year, on February 11, a “Meeting of Guild Interim Council with Institute Officers” resulted in the first Student Guild taking office at 6.45pm—elected through the college system. The first Council included Tom Silvan (Guild President), John Booth (Vice President), Jamie Morley (Secretary), Kevin Collins (Treasurer), and Craig Smith (named the Editor of an unnamed student paper that would later be titled Aspect, and eventually become Grok—which is still operating today).
Silvan was particularly influential in the first year of the Student Guild since he had three primary priorities: binding together students separated on the Bentley, James Street, and Kalgoorlie campuses; promoting pride amongst students of WAIT; and obtain representation for students on WAIT councils and committees.
The Guild made rapid progress: a typewriter was ordered, a typist was advertised for, furniture was bought for their make-shift office which was located in what’s now the bookshop, and planning for the construction of a Student Guild Centre began while they
worked to establish their voice on campus. The first Gulild office was the Pharmacy reading room.
It was during these early days that Steven Drake-Brockman and Tim Dawe instigated George-James Week to unite the students across the three campuses in Perth—which Silvan described as “a week of student frivolity and bonding to rival the best that the [University of Western Australia’s] ‘Prosh’ could generate”. It became an annual event enjoyed with some trepidation by WAIT authorities.
From their office, Smith and his subeditors—John Clark and Kim Throssell—produced the first issue of Aspect with a print run of 5,000 copies.
In 1971 the Student Guild’s voice reached a level of formality when amendments to the WAIT act granted student representation on WAIT Council and some boards. Student Guild President Michael Megaw and Geoffrey West were the first to take their place on the WAIT Council—which gave them direct access to decision-makers during a period of political turbulence on campus.
A slew of extremist leaders—elected by the minority of WAIT students who cared to vote during a period of student apathy towards Guild politics—headed the Guild during the early 1970s. Radical causes included Vietnam, police brutality, the Palestine Liberation Organisation, apartheid, and gay rights.
The Guild organised a protest occupation of the Robertson Library in ’71 when the administration rescinded on extended access hours—and quickly won concessions. This paled in comparison to the protests organised in regard to parking across ’71 and ’72 which resulted in every sign on campus being torn from the ground and ceremoniously dumped into the lake.
Notwithstanding these arguably more difficult incidents, Guild Council responsibility for administering student facilities invariably won WAIT Council support. Loans for student amenities were regularly approved with respect to commercial enterprises like the licenses Student Tavern, child-car facilities, student accommodation, and the Guild building complex. In 1977 the recently elected Court Government introduced legislation to enforce voluntary membership of university and college guilds to restrict their ability to spend money raised by compulsory fees. Tertiary institutions—WAIT included—bypassed this legislation by renaming the guild fee a recreation and amenities fee.
In 1979, when the government reviewed laws regarding voluntary student unionism, then- President Ken Gibbons took the extreme step of closing down all Guild facilities to make the State government and students aware of the Guild’s importance. His actions galvanised students which led to a protest by 1,000 students, 500 of whom later marched on Parliament House to protest the Court Government’s approach to Student Guild controls.
The early ‘80s were an unnerving period since the Liberal-Country Party Coalition government tried to legislate more effectively for voluntary membership of student associations. Steve Wakeham and Adrian Fisher, Guild Presidents in 1981 and 1982
respectively, were heavily involved in fending off the threat of government interference in Guild affairs.
Student politics extending into the ‘80s became less radical, and were marked by internal faction fighting within the Guild and general apathy outside of it. Adrian Fisher, Peter Fagan, Paul Grove, Stewart Sturgess and James Best—President in ’82, ‘83’, ’84, ’85, and ’86 respectively—battled to attain quorum at meetings, reactivate student interest in elections and keep solvent the various Guild enterprises.
In August of 1984, stage three of the Guild Building was opened, adding to the financial responsibilities of the organisation. Meanwhile, debates were raging in parliament about the cost of higher education. So, in 1988, when free education was threatened, the Guild organised a cross-campus rally in the Atkinson forum with 1900 attendees in support of accessible, free public education. Following this, a letter was drafted to the Prime Minister requesting the government address student conditions on campus, repeal the student administration charge, abandon plans to introduce tertiary fees, and to invest in students to a level one per cent of the country’s GDP. Despite this period of uncertainty, the Guild continued to provided support for students and
extended services through various projects. A hairdresser—called Campus Cuts—was opened and a health food shop was leased along with an optometrist and health appraisal centre. The Guild also sponsored a WAIT interdepartmental competition and initiated a WA intervarsity challenge.
During the 1990s the Guild’s responsibilities for, and services to, students were increasing, but the government persisted with anti-guild VSU legislation. So, on August 31, 1993, then- President Simon Johnson closed all of its facilities again to demonstrate to students what would be lacking if the Guild didn’t exist. Unfortunately, in 1994, VSU was passed in the state government which meant previous sources of funding from students would be dramatically reduced since students were no longer required to be members of the Guild. In preparation for this legislation, the Guild had taken precautionary measures pre-empting the decline of student funding and spent the first few years following this developing alternative methods of funding—primarily through commercial services—and became a member driven organisation. The structure of student representation was amended to focus on separate representation issues into division of study.
The Guild ran numerous campaigns, including the infamous “no up-front fees” campaign in which approximately twenty calm students scared the Vice-Chancellor into organising police patrols on campus. There was also an Austudy operation that targeted prominent politicians so students could directly express their concerns, a student poverty campaign, an Aids campaign, an antiracism campaign, and a rally at Parliament house protesting the Federal Higher Education budget and Youth Affairs budget.
Other developments during this decade included refurbishment of the Tav and Guild courtyard, development of a Members Service Officer role, and creation of the Guild website which, along with a grape-vine newsletter, signficiantly improved communication between the Guild and students. In 1999 then-Vice President Bridget Kinlay formed three Guild collectives: Education Action Group, Environmental Collective of Curtin, and Athena Women’s Collective. In the midst of this VSU period the Guild celebrated its 30th anniversary and calculated that, at this time, Guild Representatives had sat an around 19,5000 boards and committees, organised over 100 rallies and petitions, and written over 10,00 reports.
The 21st century saw the Guild facing problems it had faced in the past—primarily increased tertiary education fees. The Guild was heavily involved in campaigning against increased HECS fees, which included an on-campus protest in 2002 against Education Minister Brendan Nelson that led to a number of students being pepper-sprayed and assaulted by security and police officers. Although the legislation was passed in favour of increasing student fees, campaigns at Curtin helped lead the university to a positive decision for students, by keeping the status quo for 2005.
The Guild complex was redeveloped towards centralising office space for Guild personnel and creating a more student friendly second courtyard. Separate offices were developed for the Postgraduate Student Association, International Students Committee, and Indigenous Department. he Women and Gay and Lesbian collectives were formed, and Guild retail outlets continued to expand.
Today, the Guild continues to fight for students as it has for the past 50 years. The University now has a long-standing agreement with The Curtin Student Guild to provide 50 per cent of the Student Services and Amenities Fees to the organisation and, for that reason, Guild membership has been free for students since 2015. Negotiations with the University lead to parking being free during exam periods, and in 2016 the Guild succeeded in stifling the University’s plans to increase parking fees for 2017.
In 2017, when the Federal Government proposed cuts to higher education the Guild organised protests, and a campaign for a “yes vote” for marriage equality was run. In 2018, following the 2017 Human Rights Commission report into sexual harassment and assault at Australian universities, the Guild set up a steering party—led by then-Education Vice President Nicola Gulvin—as the first step toward developing a consent and appropriate
behaviour education module for students and staff at Curtin University. The Guild also organised a series of protests when the University announced potential changes to the academic calendar.
Although 50 years have passed since the establishment of the Guild, the vision, values, and objectives remain the same. Student representation will always be a core focus of the Guild.