Dominic Knight doesn’t want you to read this book: he said as much at the Honi reporter induction. I can’t imagine Penguin is thrilled about his active dissuasion of the only possible market for a yarn about USyd’s annual SRC presidential race, but so strong was his campaign against his own book that they got a sale out of me.
Knight is not being humble: the book isn’t great. The terrace facades of the inner city streets are better sketched than the characters who traipse them, and the politicking reeks of a garden variety Canberra drama (which in effect, it is). Reading it feels like stepping into a tableau of early 2000s Sydney, when classes were on campus, rents were reasonable, and VSU only lived in the nightmares of hacks. This would all quickly become obsolete, if not for the one constant of campus life: student politicians. Libdependents rort college votes and trots plan fruitless protests. Hacks warp the rules of chemistry and campus security to chalk every footpath, and grimy share house living rooms become agoras in the blink of an eye. Sound familiar?
Ten years after it was published, and twenty after it’s meant to have taken place, the stupol commentary offered by Comrades feels as fresh as ever. This feels attributable, in part, to the keen sense of every student politician that their days in the game are always numbered. The spectre of graduation looms over the pages as it does over us, a reminder of the unshakeable transience of student life. The campaign becomes more heated, the factional friendships more intense, when you know with absolute certainty that none of it can, or will, outlast the short years you spend here.
Looking up from the pages, it takes a second for my eyes to adjust to the physical differences between our world and Knight’s. The Redfern terraces are now filled with gentrified tennants, the lecture halls sit empty, the faculties gaunt and stretched. Though shyness has taught me to avoid them, I know the similarities are there: on the Eastern Avenue pamphlet rat run, behind the ABS Liberal corflutes, in the Groots contingent on the Law lawns and hawking Red Flag at every junction. Everything changes, nothing changes. Is there enough time to contemplate anything more than that?