Radical intellectuals deplored the University’s failure to join the democratising tendencies of the age; its disgruntled students felt unable, as Hermes put it in July 1911, foreshadowing the student power rhetoric of the 1960s, to ‘share in the management of themselves’.
Then loads of wood and coal. Then the postman bought an extraordinary big mail. Then the telephone worked overtime. Streams of taxis passed and repassed, firing salutes as they got broadside on. At last Sir Normand MacLaurin felt that the joke had gone far enough. He determined to run the gauntlet, and bring reinforcements.
The police mobilized, cordoned off Macquarie Street and the demonstration was over.
But not the repercussions. Within a few days both the Professorial Board and the Senate met to consider how to punish the students responsible for the Chancellor’s ‘molestation’, as Professor Tom Anderson Stuart called it. At the Board meeting he proposed that those responsible should be ‘rusticated’ for two years, i.e., suspended from their degree candidature. The Profs wisely rejected this, resolving instead to summons the committee of the Students’ Association for an explanation on the following Friday. The Senate issued a similar summons. On Wednesday, at a meeting attended by one thousand students, called together by the Students’ Association, the response was clear and militant: if any students were rusticated, the entire student body would strike for as long as the rustication continued. They voted to meet again on Friday to hear the decisions arrived at by the Board and the Senate. The Sydney Morning Herald predicted an angry demonstration if the University authorities decided to punish any students.
|Barefoot historians at the Free U- Lesley |
Johnson and Terry Irving
In fact, by January 1969 the Free U had evolved into something that the founders had not expected. We had thought of it as a proper university, working at the same intellectual level as existing universities, but with a number of distinguishing features. As our manifesto, ‘The Lost Ideal’, expressed them: Free U would study issues and subjects frozen out of the regular curriculum; it would break down the division between students and staff; it would be based on co-operation not competition; and it would experiment with teaching methods.
The main impetus for the change came from outside. During 1968, inspired by events in London, Paris and Prague the New Left in Australia embarked on more dramatic forms of mobilization. At the same time, government agencies and corporations were exploiting the attraction of the counter-culture to young people who would otherwise been caught up in generational revolt. Inside the Free U we soon felt the effects. There were two lines of criticism: first, suggestions that we should have closer links with the student movement and left organizations, and second, calls for ‘creative live-ins’ and courses on personal relations. While Raewyn Connell continued to emphasize that radical thinking at Free U should centre on education, in practice our thinking was increasingly framed by the discourses of the wider radical movement and the youth culture.
|Free U at The Manse|
In retrospect, it is just as well that Free U was not alive a year later, for it would have been disrupted, perhaps fatally, by the emergence of the women’s movement. In truth, Free U was a very blokey institution – as an institution. There were plenty of young women around: in 1968 40 percent of the enrollees were young women, and they did most of the typing and administrative work. But in 1968 there was only one course with a female convenor and in 1969 there were only three. As one of those 1969 courses was convened by Ann Curthoys, who became a prominent member of the Sydney Women’s Liberation Group in 1970, it is pretty clear in retrospect that Free U would have been a legitimate and deserving target for the struggle against sexism in left-wing organizations.
The story of the University Socialist Society can be followed in the University magazine, Hermes, in May 1910, December 1910 and July 1911, and there is an account of the inaugural meeting in Sydney Morning Herald (SMH), 13 April 1910. Jensen’s book, The Rising Tide was published in Sydney by The Worker Trustees, (1909).
The Commem affair and threatened student strike can be followed in SMH 2 May 1910, 22 April 1911, 15 May 1911, 18 May 1911 and 20 May 1911.
Terry Irving posted the following piece online (on the 'Radical Ruminations' page on this blog) on 16 November 2013. As it relates to his paper (above) on student radicalism, it is also reproduced here.