50 YEARS OF THE GUILD: IN CONVERSATION WITH FORMER GROK MUSIC EDITOR, CRAIG REARDON
Written by Luisa Mitchell
Now a virtual and business marketing specialist, Craig Reardon was once the music editor for Grok Magazine in the early 1980s, when he studied and lived at Curtin University. He contributed to Grok from 1981 until 1984, before moving to Melbourne and pursuing a career that has spanned music video production, web branding, and marketing management.
Reardon spoke fondly of his time at Curtin and the experiences he learnt there that pushed him on to bigger and better things. His reflections on his uni days are currently being written down in his upcoming autobiographical novel, ‘Westside Stories.’
Grok picked Reardon’s brain for more memories of being a student, writing for the paper, co-hosting shows on the Curtin Radio, 6NR, and still managing to hand in his assignments on time.
When were you at WAIT and what were you studying?
I started in 1980 and I did the Arts course. I went to do Journalism originally, but then I discovered the film and television studio and fell in love with it. So, then I made Film and Television my major, with Credit Writing as my minor.
The years that you were at Curtin, there was a lot of discussion and protest against the increasing cuts to education in Australia. What are your memories of that time and student politics?
It was a real eye-opener. What was critical to all of our lives at the time was that tertiary education was free. The Whitlam government introduced free education; that opened up the door to a lot of people who wouldn’t have had that opportunity normally, including me. They didn’t have any HECS system then. University was essentially free and you got an allowance. There was no way I could have studied without that, so I have Gough Whitlam to thank for my tertiary education. It gave me brilliant opportunities and a lot of fun as well.
The Guild and its politics were really intense and that had two parts to it: one, was the student politics and the various factions that were going on, and how active that was… and that was like, woah…
Then on the other side of it there was the national education policy. Because of course, Malcolm Fraser had come in and he was reintroducing fees, and we were all pretty rampant about that. So, we did a march through the city and it ended at the WACA. That was full on. Perth didn’t have many marches at the time so that was really quite high profile. Several thousand people took part in that.
How did you get involved with Grok?
It was almost too hard to ignore. My general career direction was around music and media; basically, I wanted to be the next Molly Meldrum [laughs].
Once I saw that Grok was there and that it did music reviews, I was like, where do I sign up? They had a budget to buy and review new records, so I started reviewing and then they advertised for the Music Editor probably about 6 months later. I was amazed that I got it because I wasn’t quite left-of-centre like most reviewers, and I thought I would be too conservative, but the Editor Ray Brindal liked my stuff and liked me.
So, it really did set up my career, and out of that I became the Perth music correspondent for Duke, which was a national music newspaper at the time. I also contributed to the music section for the Daily News, which was Perth’s second major newspaper, alongside The West.
Grok really paved the way for my writing and music writing career, which was pretty full on for quite a while, before I went into the world of the web, for better or worse.
What was your experience within the Guild?
My whole world was centred around the Guild in that first year. I was at Guild House; I was working with the Housing Officer there who was a lovely fella; I wrote for Grok; I was involved with 6NR [Radio]—there were obviously student broadcasters there through the Guild as well—and obviously, the Guild Tavern was my hangout [laughs].
I was a naïve little thing and I just thought everyone were alcoholics compared to me, and quite quickly I caught onto what it was all about.
The Guild was front and centre of my entire existence really; I was tapping into all their services. Then in second year I moved out into this share house, which is also what my book is about—growing up, basically.
You called the music column in the newspaper ‘Grok Sessions.’ Where did that come from?
Yeah, ‘Sessions’ was the radio program we had on 6NR, so it was local, Australian music, and 50 per cent was local, Perth music. There were a couple of co-hosts who shared that with me. But I think it was happening quite some time after I left, ‘cause I returned to Melbourne in ‘84 and it was still going on when I came back; they invited me to be a guest on that program when I did. We tried that with Grok as well… there was a bit of multimedia going on before it’s time [laughs]. It was all a brilliant experience, very rewarding.
Were you chasing something different or alternative for students then?
Yeah, you know, there’s only so many papers you could fill with music, ‘cause I was constantly trying so much content. Grok almost became a music paper in a way.
What was really interesting though, was how the record companies really looked after us, ‘cause they knew we were probably the only outlet for the student market. They were incredibly helpful, and I built some long-term friendships as a result of that.
Each of the major labels had a Perth office and so I would jump in my old HR wagon and do a round trip and went and saw them all. Of course, this was all pre-Internet, so you’d have to call them and organise it, and we didn’t have mobiles. So, it was almost a military operation to get to the record companies dotted around Perth. They were all really lovely people.
Given the leg up it gave me, I often think back and wonder Craig, why did you move out of music? I got such a head-start because of WAIT. I think I took it for granted, that was the problem… I didn’t really realise what a head-start it had given me. It’s interesting in hindsight to reflect back.
Photos of 6NR radio hosts at WAIT in 1985, from Grok’s second edition that year. This was a year after Craig Reardon had left the university.
What was it like being involved with the Curtin Radio, 6NR, then?
I was quite conservative, and a hard-rock music fan. My first show on 6NR was called ‘Alternative Metal’—it took a few months to get it on. That was a massive thing; it was a week before my 18th birthday that we started that show.
But during that first year I was exposed to a whole bunch of new stuff, which was like radical, alternative stuff [laughs]. All the broadcasters and all the writers were really into it. I’d never had exposure to all of that. I was from the country, and in Geraldton for two years prior to that. So that was a massive eye-opener.
But over time, I got to understand it, I saw music as art; whereas before I knew music as entertainment. They’re two different genres, really. As I went on, I got my head around it and finally became a part of that, because I was reviewing records, and on radio. I started to embrace it and eventually I knew what I was doing. Between first and second year I kind of got my head around it and understood it.
But then I evolved to be really interested in local music and entering local talent.
Yeah, I saw that you did some interviews with a band-member from INXS. Were they big yet then?
Not quite, no; INXS were bubbling, but they were certainly coming along. I interviewed them for what was only their third album. That album was basically their breakthrough album. They were the loveliest guys. Michael Hutchence was the singer and the Farriss brothers were on drums and guitar; they were just so lovely.
Album cover of ‘Shabooh Shoobah’, INXS’ third album, released in 1982.
What’s your book all about?
It’s all about student life and that seg-waying into adult life, and house sharing with other students. It covers that entire period from when I arrived, to the time I left in 1984, when I went to Melbourne.
The experiences were astonishing for a young person, they really were. The stories that come out of a household and finding your way are amazing, and hopefully the book will reflect that. The entire book is about student life, my time at Guild House, the Guild Hall dances [laughs]…
In the chapter that you sent me, ‘Magazine Madonna’, it was quite an emotional part of your life; obviously, you write about discovering Grok and becoming a writer there, but you also discuss feeling like you didn’t belong at uni and being afraid for the future. Did that change over the years?
Yes and no, I mean, it is about growing up. 17 is an incredibly young age to be going to uni by yourself. With that came a lot of insecurity, both financially and mentally, so the book covers multiple journeys: career, growing up, friendships, the household. It covers that journey in all those ways. Hopefully I find the humorous side of that though.
Photos of an unknown man by student Bruce Daly. Grok 1981, Issue 9.
Do you think your time at Curtin and at Grok set you on a particular path in your life that you otherwise wouldn’t have taken?
Without question. I basically revolved my whole world around music media, for which my course was a springboard; so much so, that I didn’t finish the course ‘cause I was off to work before I finished. I actually got a bit of notoriety, ‘cause I was the first student to be broadcasted on state television with a film clip for a local band. Out of that a New Zealand band called Mother Goose heard about it and offered me their next film clip while I was there. That actually appeared on National Countdown and national television while I was still a student.
So, Grok absolutely was a springboard to earn money and enter the music industry in a fairly high-profile way. By the time I had finished there I had all these quite high achievements in the real world. They all stemmed from going to Curtin.
Image of Mother Goose’s video clip for their 1983 single, ‘Find A Way Out.’
Who do you think is hot in music at the moment?
You know Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? As time goes on those priorities change. At the time, music was at the top of that hierarchy and was so important to me, but as time goes on, it falls down the ladder a bit. I’m certainly not in as much touch [with music]. I was just getting given all that music at that point for free; but I still love it.
There’s some great stuff out there at the moment and I do follow them at arm’s length. There’s one band called Saskwatch, which are a Melbourne band, and a local soloist called Clairy Browne, who’s amazing. I hope my tastes have expanded now somewhat since those days, but yeah, there’s some really cool stuff out there. It’s more of a pastime now though; back then it was my entire life.
What can we expect to see of you in the future, and when will your book be out?
I’m about a third of the way through the book. It’s been tricky juggling it around with my day work; I’m a web producer and designer. But interestingly the web [work] has tapped into all of that experience in turn. Just by that music experience too, I got the dream job of being Manager of Music Services at Telstra, of all things. It was very cool. I got to work with all the record companies all over again, it went full circle. That was a really exciting job and that all started from back at Curtin.
So yeah, I’m still working in the communications area, but I’m really strongly wanting to get back into music someday. I adore writing and this book is my first attempt at a novel, or a semi-autobiographical novel. Hopefully a few people might show some interest in reading it.
‘The Glad Bag Trio’ performing “that old favourite, ‘Tie Me Hamburger Down Sport’” at the No-Talent Night in the Guild’s Social Club. 1981, printed in Grok Issue 9.