Holding The Centre

Restoring the Centre

Since I have written of this critical period in my personal history before, readers may wish to skip it and move forward. It was in the fateful year of 1968 that I decided that if no-one else was going to do it I was going to use a combination of logic, love and levity to prevent the destruction of open debate in the universities in Australia. In 1970 a new generation of student activists, fired by the example of the Red Guards of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, were beginning to take over the student unions and their newspapers and to use their power and influence to censor all opinions and to ignore all radical actions other than their own.

 

As one of the first academic sociologists in Australia I was lecturing at the University of NSW in Sydney on the astonishing new youth movements originating from the West Coast of America and introducing new ideas about social action. I began to realise the importance of playful ritual not to create, nor to reduce but to resolve the tension being generated not only by the new power obsessed student leaders but also those reactionary academics who took no interest in the frustrations of their students. I started what I called the Fun Revolution, boosting morale and achieving significant reforms in the over-bureaucratic structure. However I found out that most of my fun revolutionary friends were unwilling to continue in the face of the withering hatred of the Maoists.

 

Abandoned under disgraceful circumstances by my thesis supervisor, whose left-wing political convictions led him to regard me as a loose cannon and “a distraction from the real issues”, I found myself out of a job and completely isolated. Instead of taking the university to court as the staff association recommended to do, or, as the leading campus radical, leading an angry protest movement and making things worse, I took matters into my own hands. Early in 1969 I approached the Vice Chancellor and the Student Union which had not yet been taken over by political fundamentalists. On the basis of what I had already achieved by being a catalyst for reform and introducing important debate about the future of the University, they jointly agreed to appoint me official Wizard of the University and to provide a small honorarium. I became a kind of “wizard in residence”.

 

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