My friends and I, fresh from a lecture on the importance of public education, are breaking out the USU’s hottest new item of merchandise over lunch. I gaze upon it, bemused but intrigued. Apparently uninterested in funding clubs, the USU has instead moved into real estate, producing a University of Sydney-themed edition of Monopoly. Get in quick! Only $99.95!
The box advises the player to stay sharp, “because there is only room at the top for one.” Opening it reveals six tokens – a gargoyle, microscope, coffee cup, laptop, backpack and graduate cap.
I choose the gargoyle and we begin to play.
The first few rounds are normal enough. One friend picks up Carslaw, while another nabs the Charles Perkins Centre. I buy up the Chemistry Building and the Quadrangle so that my gargoyle feels at home.
Some of the Chance cards – rebranded as Campus Life cards – are too real, some not real enough: “You have failed statistics for the last three semesters and are now on Stage 3 academic progression. Pay $50.” Happens to everyone. “Honi Soit publishes your article. Collect $100.” I wish.
It is after my third stint in jail that I begin to wonder whether academic misconduct proceedings really justify the Supermax that Faculty Services has set up between PNR and the FASS Building.
I am amazed to discover what must be campus’ only Free Parking spot and trade off Chemistry to complete the Green set. The title deeds are piling up. Cash is flowing thick and fast over my lecture notes, which now lie forgotten at my feet. Passing Go is the only pass that I now care for.
Eastern Avenue quickly becomes a battleground of cutthroat auctions and corporate espionage. Students add $25 to their HECS debt every time they use the Redfern Run to get to class. Hapless residents run for cover as my bulldozers demolish International House, cheered on by senior management from the balconies of F23.
Disaster strikes! I’ve landed on the Great Hall – USyd’s own Park Lane – and the rent is $1,500. Lucky I’m not the Sydney University Symphony Orchestra, or I’d be forking out $6,490 to use our own facilities.
One by one, the weak, the poor and the paper-handed are eliminated from the game, falling victim to the unstoppable march of progress and development. Soon, the once-free market has become a deadlocked duopoly. I’ve forced my remaining opponent off the premium real estate of main campus and into the wastelands south of City Road, but I seem condemned to stop at his newly refurbished Wentworth Building on every lap of campus.
The situation is dire. I’m down to my last $500 and am forced to mortgage Fisher to survive. I consider transferring to a Commerce degree in the Abercrombie Building: at least the rent there could put food on the table.
But then my friend-cum-nemesis walks, foolishly, into the Quadrangle, newly adorned with a five-star lecture theatre – rent: $2,000. He can’t afford it. The Student Centre doesn’t respond to his panicked emails begging for help. The SRC refuses him an emergency loan. He looks up at me, tears welling in his bloodshot eyes as he searches for mercy in my ice-cold gaze. He finds none. It’s over.
I have become Mr Monopoly, bankrupter of students.
I think, briefly, of the friendships I’ve burnt in the last two hours. Of the price I’ve paid for the gleaming hotel now towering above the ruins of the Anderson Stuart Building. Of the cynicism of the USU producing a game in which your goal is to sell off university assets, after a year of cost-cutting and job losses.
But I banish such loser talk from my mind. The smell of money is in the air. And after all, there is only room at the top for one.