Once upon a Stupol . . .

Not all Stupol stories have a happily ever after...

Art by Shania O'Brien.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of truth, it was the epoch of lies, it was the season of Left, it was the season of Right, they were going direct to Heaven, they were going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest hacks insisted on its being remembered, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.


Pride and Preferences:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a campaign thirsty for a win must develop preference deals. This was becoming a growing reality for a group of editor hopefuls who, fresh off an election loss in 1997, were raring to edit in 1999. With the taste of Honi glory on their tongues, this group of creative friends concocted a plan like no other, and so, the Frankenstein’s monster of Honi tickets was born.

What better way is there to win an election than to have representatives from every faction on a single ticket?” thought the enterprising crew. So they took to the streets to find their ideal melting pot of political opinions, identity groups, and other campus niches. By the time elections rolled around, the team known as QuarkXPress for Honi (affectionately named after the then-dominant lay-out software) was almost impossibly diverse and absurdly large. The now 16 person ticket had members from the Labor Left, Labor Right, the far left, the Women’s Collective, college boys, debaters, revue types, engineers, they even had a secret weapon – someone that could speak young Liberal.

The plan went off without a hitch! An endorsement from almost every ticket on campus was claimed, and over 80% of the vote was won. But the real battle started in the SRC dungeons, as 16 people with opposing styles and tastes were forced to actually produce a newspaper together. The team splintered, only four editors worked on an edition at a time, and by the second semester, a few threw in the towel. A ten person limit was imposed on future teams running for Honi, and no Stupol ticket since has ever looked quite so diverse.

The popular saying goes ‘keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.’ I fear that the sage who proposed this fine idea had never spent a night in the windowless confines of the SRC …


The Campaigner’s Guide to Props:

Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of Eastern Avenue lies a graveyard of unregarded Stupol props. The top commodity of the pre-internet era ­­— if you didn’t have an exuberant visual spectacle, you pretty much didn’t have a campaign.

Whilst chalk, flyers, and posters were all respectable shows of Stupol savvy, 1999’s­ QuarkXPress for Honi had a more enterprising vision. Gone were the days of socialists pasting over your witty campaign posters! These humble visionaries (or perhaps misguided fools, the findings are inconclusive) used a ladder to erect giant wooden billboards atop the existing four-sided notice boards near Fisher Library. Whilst an undeniable safety hazard, the boards remained intact for the election period, and did not bear an advertisement for any other organisation or event. I wish anyone attempting such a feat in these modern times luck — your boards may be strong, but Safe Work NSW are stronger!

Even still, 2013’s Jam for Honi proved that the internet is no match for the beloved prop! They decided to commit to creating outlandish objects that could be displayed on Eastern Avenue. The only criteria? The item had to be somehow connected to the colour red. Reverse Garbage was a hot spot for prop finds, as the team came home with a map of Queensland (that was later painted red) and a giant cake (a jam cake, of course). The latter was the real showpiece, with those strolling down Eastern Avenue encouraged to take a photo with the cake and a sign that read “I took a photo with the Jam Cake and survived!” But all good things must come to an end … One fateful morning, the Jam team awoke to the confronting image of their beloved cake in fragments at the bottom of the New Law stairs. A bandit had struck in the middle of the night, destroying their prized possession! I guess this is why we can’t have nice things …

No one was harmed in the building of the billboards, nor in the crushing of the cake … But the frantic atmosphere of Stupol is not always so kind. Many a time, it has not been a prop being pushed down the stairs, but a candidate. The Jane Foss Russell stairs have seen many a twisted ankle, broken bone, and scraped knee. In the frenzy of it all, remember to push cakes, not people.


The Great Campaign Spruiker:

In my younger and more vulnerable years, an older and wiser student gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. Never let yourself be won over by a campaign spruiker.

We’ve all met at least one. Perhaps we even pretended to listen to them, as they gallivanted into our first-year lectures, waving flyers above their heads like a flag. Most have posters, some even have slides, all have a degree of confidence that is unrivalled.

But there was one lecture spruiker – the People’s Spruiker, if you will – who holds a firm place in the hearts of many. Lurking in the lecture halls of 2010, this individual could be found playing Tetris on the screens until they were booed out by the peanut-crunching crowd for their pitiful performance and underwhelming scores …

Little is known about this eclectic individual. It is even unclear precisely what campaign they were spruiking for, as their performance art was entirely non-verbal. But perhaps the humble spruiker of the future ought to abandon their shouts for support and become one with the student body.

Why sound battle cries when you could play Tetris in solidarity?


The Years Of Magical Promising:

Promises change fast. Promises change in an instant. You rock up to vote and life as you know it ends. But there are some election promises that, although undoubtedly broken, remain lodged in the public consciousness.

To do justice to one of these promises, you must cast your mind back to the time before lecture recordings — when students had to trudge into physical lecture theatres, actively listen, and take notes out of fear of missing out on a crumb of knowledge. One young USU candidate was an ideas man, hell bent on shooting USyd students into the future with his election slogan, “This is the man who will bring you universal lecture recording.” ‘How could one get their hands on a lecture recording before the days of Canvas?’ I hear you cry. The answer: from a man in a dark trench coat, who bore cassette tapes of all your favourite lectures. Listening to the cassette of a torts lecture on the drive in to Uni? I could think of nothing better!

But the unhinged election promises don’t stop here! There are always students with an eye for efficiency, and an ear for a slogan hiding around campus. One such student saw the poetry in Lenin’s season greeting, adopting the campaign slogan “Peace, Land, Bread” ­— to endorse what is not entirely clear … Another was tired of walking from Bosch to Merewether, and maintained that the only solution was a campus rickshaw service. If you’ve thought of an idea, no matter how insane, it’s likely that someone probably built an entire campaign around that very thing in a year gone by.

We look at Federal election slogans and chuckle at the absurdity of the prose. But it all started somewhere, and the likelihood is, that somewhere was Eastern Avenue.


One Angry Board:

The USU Vice-President was a young man with big dreams, who was impressed by the authority he had and handled himself quite formally. But such formality appeared to have broken down when the powerful young man was plunged into scandal — leaking confidential documents to the humble Honi Soit editors about the presence of police on campus.

Whilst it sounds like this tale could have been ripped from the storybooks of 2020, the scene must be set almost a decade before that. A major staff strike was taking place, and picket fences surrounded campus, preventing students and staff from entering. Police appeared in droves and brutality ran rampant — one observer even detailed a scene where two police officers arrested a student, held them down, and kicked the back of their head against the road.

And so enters the noble knight of the USU, armed with documents suggesting that the police had collaborated with the University in response to the strikes. Hero of the hour, they were named and celebrated in the pages of Honi Soit. But such glory did not come lightly to this young Assange … Having breached internal secrecy rules, the USU proposed disciplinary action, with rumours of expulsion on the cards.

What followed was nothing short of a spectacle. $50,000 in legal fees, a trip to the Supreme Court and many years later, the knight atop his steed had lost every legal fight possible. The decision was now in the hands of the mighty Board …

After all the drama, the young man was never kicked off the Board. But rumour has it that the USU were in steady pursuit of the steep legal fees that the lauded knight had cost them for many years after … Whether a penny was ever paid to the Board for the trouble remains unknown …

Murder in the first degree — premeditated homicide — is the most serious charge in our criminal courts. But in the court of Stupol opinion, betrayal holds a much graver sentence …


The Wolf of Eastern Ave:

The insanity had quickly taken hold, and by the spring of ’13, there was this eerie feeling on Eastern Avenue that aspiring lawyers thought they were starring in one of those reality TV shows, before they were even elected. The Law Society Elections, despite being of little consequence, were absurdly hotly contested, and it appeared that the $750 campaign budget wasn’t enough for one team of big spenders.

An apology appeared on Facebook from the team’s prospective treasurer, saying that they had breached the cap by getting some ‘mates’ rates on printing. The reality was much more sinister. Sydney’s own Frank Abagnale had been caught doctoring receipts on InDesign to convince the electoral officer that their spending had been well within the limit. Disqualification ensued.

It appears that this was not enough to deter the young tycoon! A year later, The Wolf strikes again, running for the USU, only to be disqualified for once again breaching the election rules.

But, as they say, third time’s a charm! Not even a decade had passed before our favourite deep-pocketed bandit struck again. But the playing ground was suddenly much larger than the Law Society, or even the USU — this time, it was a real estate venture. The company entered administration with debts of $3.6 million. But most cutting of all, the company had been referred to ASIC for possible legal breaches, including falsification of accounts …

I guess old habits really do die hard …


The Curious Incident of the Reps-Select in the Night-time:

It was late in the night at a RepsElect that should have finished many hours before. The year was 2015, a fuse box was tampered with, lights were turned off and a phone was thrown in the bin, all in the name of disrupting a crucial vote. The police were called to the scene, and the entire event became a public spectacle — reported on in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Three years later, RepsElect made the news once more, but this time, the police were replaced by the fire brigade, who were called to the meeting after someone had triggered the fire sprinklers to go off, with suspicions arising that this was once again a ploy to distract participants at the time of a crucial vote. Water began to flood the hallway opposite the Refectory, and artefacts from the Nicholson Museum were in danger of water damage. The RepsElect meeting was cancelled and rescheduled. Another win for Stupol efficiency!

But it appears that Stupol has something of a track record of releasing substances during important meetings. During a 1970 meeting of the SRC, a can of tear gas was rolled across the floor of the poorly ventilated Gosper room, leaving many of the 50 meeting participants with breathing problems, nausea, temporary blindness and irreparable lung and heart issues.

What they fail to teach you at school is that the whole business of being human just gets messier and more complicated as you get older. But even this realisation neglects to mention that Stupol is perhaps the most messy, complicated, and dangerous beast of them all.


The Secret Stories:

Questions about USU funding were brewing, and some questionable articles on the subject had been sent to print several hours before the editors came to understand the gravity of the situation. The budding little Woodwards and Bernsteins, hunkered down in the SRC dungeon, had managed to slide the articles past the SRC lawyers, only to find themselves in a tense meeting with the USU board of directors.

4000 editions of Honi, fresh off the press and piled high in the SRC offices, were awaiting distribution. But not before the USU lawyers had their say! Before any paper hit the stands, a page had to be stripped and shredded from every copy by the editors that had facilitated the debacle in the first place.

The process of redaction following print has become something of a rite of passage for editors at this illustrious student rag! Perhaps the most famous case was that of 2013’s ‘Vagina Soit’, where editors were forced to guillotine off the cover of the edition, which featured 18 vulvas. Lawyers later concluded that the papers could be circulated with the original covers, so long as they were sealed in plastic bags, rated 18+, and collected directly from the SRC offices. Many a student discovered the location of the hallowed hole hidden beneath Jane Foss Russell that week.

Funny as it is to recall drunken nights in the office with a shredder, or a feminist moment misconceived by members of authority, not every secret story is as jovial. Hidden behind the lines of print, or left in a compost heap to rot away from prying eyes, are stories that people don’t want to tell.

Stupol is a minefield — one step in the wrong direction and things blow up. Some are just lucky enough to avoid the shrapnel wounds.  


The Paper in the Pond:

The sun had just risen, but on every display, there was no sign of Honi on that fateful day. A mystery surfaced, and suspicion did grow, 4000 copies, where did they all go?

A scathing overview of candidates was set to be published in the lead-up to the USU elections, and suspicions had arisen that a rather geeky, but notoriously Machiavellian young Liberal was not happy about how they had been portrayed … But just as everyone was raring to collect the latest edition of Honi Soit, not a single copy could be found. The publications officers had confirmed that it had been circulated. The crowds were stunned – Honi was popular, but surely not THAT popular!

Later that day, the people had their answer — all the Main Campus copies had been collected, presumably by someone driving their car around at dawn, and dumped in the Victoria Park pond. The Honi team rushed down to the park to investigate, only to find groundskeepers fishing sodden copies of Honi out of the water with a large net. This sinister image, mirroring an iconic scene from the film Blue Murder, became not only an iconic Honi Soit cover in 1999, but also a staple in the USyd canon of tales.  

Despite their monumental efforts to change the election narrative, the supposed mastermind of the pond dumping only won a smattering of votes in the low double digits. Their reputation was not cleaned by the baptismal font of Victoria Park pond. But at least no fish are believed to have perished in this wanton act of environmental terrorism.


The End of the Tale:

Since I knew of Stupol, I have been troubled by a remorse that I thought would never reproach me again, and have heard whispers from old voices impelling me upward, that I thought were silent forever. I have had unformed ideas of striving afresh, beginning anew, shaking off the legacy of gag orders and spitefulness. A dream, all a dream, that ends in nothing, and leaves the sleeper where he lay down. But I wish you to know that you inspired it, and that this dream, for many, is more often a nightmare.

These tales are adapted versions of real stories sent in by and discussed with Anna Boucher, Max Chalmers, Oscar Coleman, James Colley, Avani Dias, Dominic Knight, Michael Koziol, Hannah Ryan, and David Smith.

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