5   +   10   =  

After a final semester of 2018 that can only be described as traumatic, I was a bag of mixed reactions when I learnt that Curtin’s Student Guild wanted to hire me and other Grokians to work on another project over the holiday break.

Mostly the reaction was positive, because despite the million-and-one other jobs that I took on last semester, this work involved researching Grok‘s history, and looking at political, social and cultural events spanning the 50 years it had been in ciruclation: all things that I thoroughly love and enjoy exploring.

So, from December onwards, the Guild wanted us to work on a project to celebrate half-a-century of their organisation—under which Grok, our beloved student magazine, also resides.

I was about to go on a journey of discovery to figure out what Grok really means for students and local politics, from its inception in 1969 to now, in 2019.

Keep reading to find out what I learnt.

HOW MUCH LIFE HAS CHANGED SINCE 1969

As a student publication, Grok has covered Perth, Australian and international news and current affairs for 50 years. It has become a portal through which we can look back in time and see the shifting form of Australian culture and society.

After it moved away from its conservative beginnings under the title of Aspect, Grok became what it is now: a progressive, insightful publication seeking to tell diverse stories and increase our understanding of student issues, concerns, and lifestyles.

The 1970s were a completely different time; the Vietnam War was in full swing until 1975, and young Australian men were being conscripted into a violent conflict that many disagreed with. The growing death toll and atrocities committed against the Vietnamese people by the allied Western powers troubled many.

In 1972, Cole and the Guild Welfare Committee Chairman Paul Bridges wrote a call-out in Grok asking people to offer up their homes to hide people avoiding —people who were “dodging the draft”.

Despite the seemingly never-ending tirade of “bad news” that we see and read every day, the articles I read on life in the ’70s revealed  that we have come so, so far.

Women’s Liberation and Gay Liberation movements were only just finding their spark as conversations in isolated Perth, with Grok reprinting speeches by feminist groups like Dolle Mina, and reporting on birth control and the opening of women’s sexual health clinics in nearby suburbs.

Grok was the talk of pure revolution then.

Other topics included protests against police brutality and South African apartheid; the beginnings of Aboriginal land reform and political rights; support for the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and the complicated mess of Middle Eastern politics; the looming threat of the Cold War; and the unceasing, ever constant threat of continued funding cuts to education across Australia.

While we still have a long road ahead of us, there is much to be celebrated.

In 1984 the Federal Sex Discrimination Act became legislation, making gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment illegal. Throughout the ’80s and ’90s women took on senior positions in politics—like as Speaker of the House of Representatives, federal political party leaders, High Court judges, Chief Ministers, and Premiers, to name a few. Indigenous women, too, increasingly became involved in leading positions on a national level. All of this change culminated in Australia’s first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, being sworn in in 2010.

In 1972 Grok was reporting on the Aboriginal Tent Embassy being established outside of Parliament House in Canberra in 1972—the same year the White Australia Policy was abolished—and so much has happened since then.

The Racial Discrimination Act was passed in 1975, and Aboriginal Land Rights were formed, which began to recognise the dispossession of Aboriginal people. A Royal Commission was finally established in 1987 to investigate Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. Tens of thousands of Australians marched and protested on Australia Day on the bicentenary of the invasion of Australia, in 1988. A historic decision was reached in the High Court to overturn terra nullius, the idea that Australian land was legally uninhabited when European colonisers arrived, and in 2008, then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said “sorry” to the Stolen Generations. These are but a few of the ways that change has slowly but progressively culminated in a more egalitarian and just society for all Australians.

Unfortunately, while society at large has improved in many ways, life for students seems to have slowly gone down-hill, particularly since 1989 when the then Labor Government under Bob Hawke re-introduced university fees, or HECS, to what had previously been free education in Australia.

In recent years, funding for universities continues to be cut under Federal Budget changes while fees for studies continue to rise.

HOW MUCH GROK HAS CHANGED SINCE 1969

The first print run of Grok, then called Aspect, was 5000 copies, printed for $458.

In 1982, Grok and 6NR, Curtin’s Radio station, had a joint publication budget of $15,000, which would be around $40,000 today.

In the 1990s, many of Grok’s prior editors and contributors talked of it being the “golden era” of the student magazine. According to Adam Connors, the Editor in 1995, Grok was distributing around 7000 magazines on campus and around the city, with the magazine being one of the most prominent alternative publications in Perth, alongside X-Press. Flash forward to the present: Grok’s printing budget in 2018 was approximately $2800, with a distribution of around 600 magazines over the entire year. This is a drastic drop from previous years.

Taking into account that the internet is the main forum for news, publishing, and the spread of information in general, it may be no surprise that Grok only printed two print editions last year, as well as one special women’s edition, titled Athena (drawing the budget from the Women’s Department).

As former ’90s Grok Editor Tim Wallace relayed to me in our interview, Grok was supported by and invested in by the Guild back then.

“This was because,” Wallace explained, “some of the smarter ones [from the Guild] realised that Grok getting great exposure, meant the Guild was getting great exposure.”

It is disappointing to see that despite Grok’s growing quality, size and recognition at Curtin, we continue to be undervalued. Over the years, our budget has risen, only to fall again, and the size of our paid staff members continues to diminish. Only three staff members were paid for working on Grok last year: the Editor-in-Chief, the Deputy Editor-in-Chief (myself), and our Artistic Director.

Previously, Grok not only had its own office, but had multiple editors and reporters who were all paid Guild employees. Melissa Davey, 2007’s Editor, referred to their working space as a kind of “rogue side office”, with “stacks of CDS and film passes”.

Now, Grok’s area is one desk in a cubicle-style room full of Guild employees; certainly not our own office where our independence, and independent reporting is encouraged.

Matters were made worse when the Guild held a council meeting last year and implemented a “Grok Charter”, which stated that the Guild President should have final say over Grok’s content. Last year’s Editors were not informed of the meeting or invited to attend, and the decision was made without allowing them a chance to dispute the decision.

While many join Grok for the experience, it is imperative that the Guild understands that for Grok to continue improving its journalistic content, it must be supported and valued. This should mean increased funding and distribution opportunities, and an understanding that for Grok to be a democratic, quality magazine, it must be independent from the university and Guild administrations. Our only loyalties lie at the side of the truth and of the students on campus.

As Graham Senders, Grok’s Editor in 1986 wrote: “Grok is the newspaper of the Student Guild. It boasts this quite proudly and openly. It is not, however, the mouthpiece of the Student Guild, something quite different. Contributors to Grok may criticise the Guild, they may laud the Guild, or they may ask what the Guild is and what it is doing.”

Grok is the newspaper of the Student Guild. It boasts this quite proudly and openly. It is not, however, the mouthpiece of the Student Guild, something quite different. Contributors to Grok may criticise the Guild, they may laud the Guild, or they may ask what the Guild is and what it is doing.”

Such was the Guild’s support in 1987, that Grok was able to pay not just its staff, but also unemployed and irregular contributors, at a rate of $12 per every 100 words, with an $80 limit (at current adjusted rates).

If anything, looking over the history of Grok has enforced in me the belief that Grok is a highly important, historical archive on West Australian life, and should be encouraged by the Guild to remain so.

HOW IMPORTANT GROK AS A COMMUNITY HAS BEEN FOR STUDENTS AT CURTIN

Those who I spoke to said that the newspaper was often their strongest memory of their time at university.

The 1972 Sports Editor, Garry Feeney, said that the paper’s staff was a group separate from everyone else:

“Then there was us: the people who were in everything. We did the parties, the drugs, the protests and demos, student politics, the student newspaper and the dramatic society. There was a lot of crossover… It was heady and exciting because you really felt like you were a part of what was happening in the world. It was an illusion. This was Perth—the second most isolated city in the world. Nobody gave a damn what what we did or said, but for a while there it felt like they did.”

Connors viewed Grok in the highest regard, stating that what set the publication apart was that it was “the get-yourself-in-trouble, push-the-boundaries, tackle-the-hard-topics-around-student-unionism-and-sexuality, and hold-the-Guild-accountable [magazine].”

Although throughout the years Grok’s sense of community has fluctuated, what hasn’t changed has been our tendency to self-idolise; we have always loved to party and celebrate ourselves, and so over the decades various ceremonies have been organised to enable this. Most recently was our own ceremony, “The Golden Groks” of 2018; but who could forget the “Golden Wang Awards” for journalism students in the early ‘80s?

Under the leadership of Jay Anderson in 2018, Grok has been transformed from the skeleton frame of its former glory, into a renewed, thriving community of passionate writers and close friends.

“Then there was us: the people who were in everything. We did the parties, the drugs, the protests and demos, student politics, the student newspaper and the dramatic society. There was a lot of crossover… It was heady and exciting because you really felt like you were a part of what was happening in the world. It was an illusion. This was Perth—the second most isolated city in the world. Nobody gave a damn what what we did or said, but for a while there it felt like they did.”

When I first gained a sense of the history of Grok, it was when I told my Mum that I was going to write for their Art and Film Department in 2017. She laughed and told me that she remembered Grok  from “back in her day,” and couldn’t believe it was still around. She was an Arts student at Curtin (then known as the West Australian Institute of Technology) and had submitted a couple of drawings to the paper herself.

It was then that I realised that Grok has contributed to and changed so many people’s lives; at least for those who came into contact with it regularly and particularly those who wrote, edited, and designed for it.

There are some traditions, like Grok, that we should continue to treasure. So, as I sit back and reflect on this time, first as a writer, then editor, and now as a researcher, I feel thankful that I have been able to be part of this great experience: the student magazine, the Great GROK!

I am now reminded of the origin of the word grok” and it’s meaning: “to understand thoroughly or intuitively… to have full understanding”.

As we propel through another year at Curtin, and I prepare to say goodbye (at least for now) to the paper  I have come to reach a certain level of grok —and I couldn’t have done it without this magazine or the people who run it.

Head to Issuu to read a digital version of Grok, issue#1, 2019—which is where this article was originally published.