Culture //

I ran for Honi and I lost

Daniel Swain dreamed the dream of student journalism. Then woke up.

I write this piece in the gutter that I now call home, counting the track marks on my arm and wondering what could have been. I trace all of my failures back to those two weeks in September, many years ago.


Losing an Honi election is an unspeakable tragedy only in the sense that it is such a trivial defeat that one probably shouldn’t talk about it. But when I reminisce about the bizarre little drama of my own Honi campaign I do wonder why I ever did it.

I spent a whole evening making chalk from paint designed for submarines. I spent lots of money on industrial orders of poster printing at Officeworks. And every day, around noon, for two weeks, I would spend a few hours interrupting people having lunch in order to hector them about my own ambition. It’s bonkers.

We became habituated liars. (A dedicated engineering page? Over my dead body!) It was all one big lie: I knew those pasty first years weren’t really postgraduates, they knew that I didn’t actually care about their vision for student journalism. Because newspaper editors don’t usually run for elections our lies were even more baseless than the regular student politicians. We didn’t even have liars to emulate.

The two days of voting was an uneven blend of relief, anticipation, horror and sunstroke. You feel less like you’re campaigning and more like you’re stalking forty thousand people. Except regular stalkers are more effective and less driven.

But you have to choke back the self-loathing, turn your blistered heel and identify the nearest student who you think might respond to your harassment with pity rather than rage.

In the neurotic mental exit poll I kept over the polling period, I counted every vote cast for the opposition twice. But we were actually (very) narrowly ahead on primary votes but (very!) narrowly lost after preferences were allocated. No suspense there, I suppose. Note the headline.

I’d like to say that we thoughtfully consoled our campaigners, boozed through the night and got on with your lives, but that would be another lie. We actually took the winning ticket to the Electoral Arbiter because (we alleged, in a 30-page legal brief) they lied in their printed materials. Our ‘case’ was dismissed in about forty-five minutes. Afterwards, the ten of us went for a final drunken, sulky yum cha session and were collectively, gloriously, awesomely bitter.

I dreamt that the winning ticket’s Honi Soit would be like a misspelt newsletter for an aged care home. But democracy was vindicated and their editions were great.

The next year I edited the Bull, of course. I applied to prove that the Honi campaign wasn’t an arbitrarily selected outlet for my hyper-competitiveness. I wanted to show that I really did want to be a magazine editor. I didn’t.

I’m over it now. Much as a psychoanalyst might – with reason – treat this article as evidence to the contrary. First world angst has a half-life. Initially, SRC election season made me resentful, then anxious, then bored, and now, it appears, sentimental.

I wouldn’t presume to give the current tickets advice on winning. I’m a loser. But here’s my advice on losing: do it with grace and a sense of perspective. As you can see from the above, I’m not speaking from a position of smugness but contrition.

You’ll be fine. You’ll all go on to do interesting wonderful things at university. Hopefully, you’ll still be friends with everyone on your ticket. You’ll come to realise that it probably really didn’t matter that much. That it may not have been worth all of the fuss and dawn wake-ups and recriminations.

But then I would say that. I lost.