50 YEARS OF THE GUILD: BUILDING A COMMUNITY WITH THEO NAARSTIG, OUR SECOND PRESIDENT
Can you tell me about involvement with Curtin University, which was then called the West Australian Institute of Technology (WAIT) and the Guild—I suppose the how and why of it all?
I wasn’t that involved with the setting up—my predecessor - Tom Silvan, did all of that heavy lifting. I came in at the, if you like, at the entertainment level. I came through the Activities Council.
At the time, the Guild was really small. I’ve been trying to remember what it was like, because it was fifty years ago, exactly fifty years ago when I was elected.
So Tom started it off in 68. He was appointed by the powers that be. And he did it all. I worked with him and organised the entertainment, because I was a part of a band in Perth. But it was just all very small, there was nothing much there, but Hayman Hall and a small admin building, and there was the physics, chemistry, pharmacy buildings. There were still students at the James Street campus at that time.
So basically I was just running the entertainment, and then they decided to have an election, and I ran for the President, and Tom and Jamie Morley ran too. We were all on the Council at the time, and I won the election, but those other two guys did a lot more work. But none of us took what we were doing at that time too seriously, especially not me.
So what were you studying back then?
I did pharmacy, and I’m still a pharmacist. Tom Silvan was also a pharmacist. At that time, the only people out there were pharmacists. And social scientists. Then over that period I was there, by the time I left they’d built the architecture building. But when I first started there were very few people at Bentley, all the architects, engineers and artists were still at James Street. I don’t know the numbers, but a few thousand students in total.
So how did it come about that you were in the Guild, was it because of Tom?
Well, basically, it was the pharmacy department, because we were the only ones there. The pharmacy students had their very own strong association, called the West Australian Pharmacy Association, and Tom was big in that. He was also on the national stuff, he was a real politician and really very good at it. And I was just interested in music and entertainment and organising festivals and parties and stuff like that—and I still do!
Well that was a really important part of the Guild, and still is—it builds community.
And we had lots of fun building that community.
So what were some of the challenges the Guild was facing in those days?
Well WAIT was split up, between the different campuses, as I said, so the challenge was bringing all of us together and forming a sense of community. But it was all kind of informal, and we set it all up for the future, which was good.
So the biggest challenge for the Guild was simply establishing everything?
Yeah, so we had two sort of areas, we had the Activities Council, which is where I came from. And we had the Sports Council, which a guy called Tim Dawe did, and they were the two things the Guild did first. And the newspaper—Aspect—and I think the newspaper was what started it all, it was really interesting.
Yeah, well all of that stuff has continued across the Guild’s 50 years—although Aspect is called Grok now—and been a part of the community on campus. We don’t have George James Week anymore, but it was a really big event—can you tell me more about that?
So it was the brainchild of Tim Dawe—I just implemented it. It was basically the Aspect guys who thought of it. Kim Throsell, who was the original Editor, and his good friend Craig Smith, who was the Assistant Editor. When Kim died in a car accident up in Kalgoorlie, Craig took over. So Tim, Kim, and Craig, and John Clarke, who was the photographer, they organised it. They thought of it, to bring the James Street students and the St Georges Terrace students to be involved in the Bentley campus. Because they were coming anyway, and it was a bit contentious because a lot of them didn’t want to leave the city. So then I organised the party. And I brought over a guy called Ian Channel, and he called himself The Wizard. He was actually an academic that went off the reservation, so to say, and he dressed himself up in wizard clothes. So we did this great montage that John photographed, based on the album cover of Abbey Road by the Beatles. George James Street was the most enjoyable part of my time. It was brilliant stuff. It was just my job to make it all happen. So I got to work with a lot of creative people which was wonderful.
So what might be the biggest achievement of the Guild at the time you were there?
I’d say it was getting a sense of cohesion from the various splinter groups. It was really exciting. I think I went two or three times to the School of Mines, you know. So I think it was the sense of—when you pioneer something, when you’re a part of a new thing. Well it’s now Curtin, which is world famous, and it’s got a great name and all the rest of it, and we were on the ground floor. A whole bunch of us—it was just lucky we were there at the time. So it was bringing all the bits together—James Street, St Georges Terrace. And homogenising science and the arts. Because we had straight scientists, physics, chemists, engineers, and then they connected with artists and architects and the sociologists. The Guild now, and the University by extension, found its foundations in those early days with all of us.
So if that was the biggest achievement, what is one of your fondest memories?
All of it, really, being a part of that exciting time, really. I enjoyed my time with the Guild and WAIT, I have very, very fond memories of that place, and I was very lucky to be there at that time, is all I can say. Sometimes you’re just in the right place at the right time, and I certainly was.