By Lucy Czerwinski
Newspapers and magazines have long been an integral part of university life. Whether it be serving as a channel for the student union to communicate the dramatic events of a particularly raucous council meeting, a place to find bizarre short stories, or simply a vehicle for drink vouchers and student deals. To take full advantage of this particular kind of deal, you find yourself in a sticky carpeted establishment, far too early in the night, with a crackly PA and a glowing blue drink which is only allegedly alcoholic. Many of the publications attached to the sandstone unis have continued to be printed for decades. Honi Soit has come out of Sydney University since 1929 and has published incredible alumni such as Germaine Greer (she was relevant at the time) and Clive James. In anticipation of the newest QUT student guild magazine, GLASS, I delved into the history of publications at QUT. I started out with two found copies of Utopia, dozens of copies of Universe and the naïve expectation that our student magazines would have been archived somewhere.
The most comprehensive information that exists anywhere is a Wikipedia article about student publications in Australia, filled with dead links and even deader lines of inquiry. Definite Article is the first publication listed, and try as I might, I know nothing about it. According to the skeletal Wikipedia entry, Utopia came next in the rich history of guild magazines at QUT.
Utopia was a pretty standard, nonetheless interesting, student magazine. It had a street magazine feel to it. Think Time Off from yesteryear. It had loads of contributors and very early 2000s graphics. It had ads for flip phones and pre-paid mobile plans. Adverts for bars that no longer exist in Brisbane and drink prices that now must violate RSA laws. $2.50 for a schooner? What a time to be alive. The guild election edition of Utopia from 2005 features the manifesto of Jessica Pugh; former presidential candidate, now state member for Mt Ommaney. Next, according to trusty Wikipedia, was Cirqutry. How Utopia became Cirqutry you ask? I don’t know.
The only traces of Cirqutry I could dig up were a mention in a blog post from 2006 and an article on the Scarlett Alliance website. This article was written by someone who had previously written for Utopia, so I gather political disruption to the guild had limited effect on the publication. It’s about brothels in Brisbane and the writer’s preconceptions about sex work. It’s well written and well researched. Sex worker rights have never really been in vogue but this article, although over 10-years-old, does a pretty darn good job at reducing stigma. Another reminder that students have always been one-step ahead of the national conversation.
Universe, as the most recent student mag, is the one I know the most about. With a team of journalism students as interns, this glossy magazine was full of photos from club and guild events. Overheard On Campus and far-fetched horoscopes were popular recurring segments which sent up our often overdramatised struggles. But Universe once had a different look and feel. Universe was once a cross-institutional magazine with contributions from QUT, UQ, Griffith University Gold Coast, Gold Coast TAFE and Alexandra Hills TAFE, hence Uni-verse. These magazines are filled with profiles on influential figures, articles about issues that affect students like sexual health and drug awareness, and somewhat unfortunate fashion. However heinous white leggings paired with oversized, low-slung belts may seem in hindsight, these issues serve a critical insight into student life in the 2000s. A very young Yassmin Abdel-Magied even features on a cover.
At some point of which I’m not sure, Universe ceased to be a cross-institutional publication and fell solely in the hands of our Guild. Cirqutry and Universe must have coexisted at some point based on the very scarce information I could exhume.
What bothers me most is that these publications existed in my lifetime, in the era of technology. So why is it easier for me to get my hands on a copy of UQ’s Semper Floreat from 1953 than it is to find out what was important to students only a few cohorts ahead of me. I have no idea whether there were magazines which were published during the existence of the various institutions that came before QUT.
Every edition of Griffith’s uni rag is archived online with extensive background. What’s not there is in the process of being digitised. In 1975 The Gryphon was published before it soon became Griffiti. There is a lot of whinging about the campus and associated confusion, as well as complaints about faulty door knobs and lifts. But these articles are such good insights into a group of guinea pigs entering unchartered territory at a brand-new university.
I eagerly await the responses of previous editors and contributors to my desperate LinkedIn messages and I’m determined to piece together the somewhat confusing fragments of our magazine history. To be continued…