Student rag still fighting the good fight at 70

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Part of the “Woroni” seven-metre-long timeline feature wall showing past covers, an overview of the history of “Woroni” and separate walls devoted to activism and outrage.

OUTRAGE, depravity, Menzies, Hawke, the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, the Telstra Tower shown as a phallus – they’ve all appeared on the covers of “Woroni”, the ANU’s student rag.

Not a rag any more, as present-day “Woroni” editor Isobel Lindsay-Geyer and deputy editor-in-chief Josefine Ganko are quick to point out.

These days, “Woroni” is an elaborate empire involving a six-times-a-year glossy publication, a radio station and, since 2017, a TV station.

And instead of a few friends cutting and pasting pages in a back room, its editorial and content team now comprises about 70 people, bringing a more professional approach along with the gloss.

But, Lindsay-Geyer and Ganko stress, while it may have lost its grungy edge, it’s still an activist paper, designed to hold the ANU to account. 

“It still surprises and still pisses people off,” Ganko says.

That’s being celebrated in an exhibition at aMBUSH Gallery in the ANU’s Kambri precinct.

Featuring a seven-metre-long timeline feature wall, it also shows full-colour reprints of past “Woroni” covers, an overview of the history of “Woroni”, and separate walls devoted to activism (feminism, indigenous rights, LGBTIQ+ issues, politics, free speech), outrage (sex, drugs, nudity, profanity), as well as “Woroni” Radio and “Woroni” Television.

What started off last year as a glint in the eye of “Woroni” business team member Ben Lawrence was picked up when Lindsay-Geyer became editor, secured a budget and volunteers, and gained support from aMBUSH Gallery, particularly gallery co-ordinator Elisa Donato.

The “outrage” side of the show is front and centre, seen in the paper’s keen pursuit over the 70 years of issues such as the war in Iraq, HECS fees, sexual harassment on a campus notorious for its night-time dangers and the increasing corporatisation of the ANU. 

Puns are a favourite device, with the masthead once adjusted to read “Moroni” and in a repeated joke, the Australian American War Memorial characterised as “Phallus in Wonderland”.

There’s the “Depravity” issue, the “Disorientation” edition where a man in vice-chancellor’s robes is captioned: “This man is an academic, this man is your enemy”, and an O-week edition featuring a naked man, one of many, the editors say.

Although it began modestly in the 1950s, “Woroni” has given a leg up to some well-known journalists, such as former “Canberra Times” editor and student activist Jack Waterford, “Sydney Morning Herald” crime reporter Fergus Hunter and Asian affairs commentator for the ABC, the BBC, “The Economist” and “The Straits Times”, Kean Wong, who edited “Woroni” in the ’80s and, after it, Canberra’s arts magazine “Muse.”

Wong sees the essential difference now and when he worked on it as the advent of the internet, but he also feels that while the fee-driven commercial arrangements at the ANU have made campus life more inequitable and led to a more fractured student body, there must still be plenty to report on.

In Wong‘s view, the ANU used to be more collegiate and the campus more compact, so that music gigs and arts events all took place within a two-kilometre radius of campus, a big difference. 

Coming out once a fortnight in his time, he believed the paper served a very important function, since Canberra was more isolated than it is today, although it drew bright young people from all over the country under the NUS scheme and was, too, “very global in outlook”.

The paper, Wong says, was brought out using manual, analogue cutting and pasting, with dashes to harass the typesetters at “The Queanbeyan Age” into making last-minute changes. 

“CityNews” writer and arts advocate, Meredith Hinchliffe, though not an ANU student, has described the magazine/paper as “so important…it captured the energy of life on the campus, a bit leftist and a bit activist and with good photos”.

“Woroni” – 70 Years of Outrage and Activism”, aMBUSH Gallery Kambri, until November 1. Details at ambushgallery.com

 

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