An aboriginal elder was invited to open the conference of the New South Wales state branch of the National Union of Students on November 23. With actual white hair I can only assume that the title of 'elder' was not just decorative. Opening with a little morality note on land reclamation he went on to regale the enrapt crowd of student politicians with a tale involving a dolphin and a man.
Man feels unable to feed his family. Overfishing of the mullet from the waters will starve everyone. Dolphin befriends Man and offers to help him feed his family by showing him when to fish and to fish only what they need. Sea eagles are seen hovering above the waters. Dolphin points out that they are eating the surface fish. There is some finger pointing. Man is able to feed family based on dolphins rounding the fish for harvest. Man reaches into water; Dolphin comes up to kiss it.
That's the tale, which at the time seemed more cohesive, to the best of my recollection; I can't read my notes for all the beef satay sauce has stained them so. I don't know how the sauce managed to seep in that far across the week.
In loner type fashion I was there to witness a sample of the activities of those who would rule this country, the student politicians. On unofficial terms I was an observer and nothing else. Yet, by just sitting in the camp of the National Organization of Labor Students I committed myself to being a participant. There were three major factions: NOLS, the Broad Left and Unity. NOLS looked like it was made up of the leaders of the conference, the Broad Left filled with the traditional hippie types so often associated with activism and the comedians formed Unity. Gareth Ward, an albino with blue eyes lurking somewhere in the back of the building represented the Liberals. The camps pretty much stuck to themselves. I was unaware of the fact that I presented an air of pity. Several people introduced themselves to me while I was certain I had been giving off a look of disdain and/or boredom. Can't tell whether or not it was their human nature or the political front. I'll just assume it was the former.
Registration for the conference was to have closed an hour prior, but as there was a missing minivan of students from Newcastle, it was held over until they arrived - a couple of hours after the scheduled start. In an hour between the opening and the actual commencement large groups wandered off and caucused. One group, the Broad Left, decided to inhale the car fumes out in the parking lot. Either that or they went to smoke some serious weed and at least were considerate enough to not fumigate the fly ridden shell of a building.
Noon. And finally proceedings were underway. The State President, Daney Faddoul, moved a motion in which saw him replaced by the National President, Moksha Watts to chair the conference. Presented to the conference floor by NOLS was a move for the main crew of NUS 2003 to get better pay for their expected hard work and to empower the collectives. Another offer, which came from the Broad Left, was to slash pay in order to pay more people. These extra payroll additions would have gone to people that weren't actually doing their job right in the first place.
Case in point: There are collectives in the organization and these are headed by convenors whose jobs are nothing more than making calls to set up meetings. That is all. And yet there was a Steve Urkell look-a-like and someone who looked like she'd just finished a volunteer shift with the SES who tried, in vain, to argue that the money they were paid for the year 2002 was deserved. They claimed that their positions were just as onerous as the President's and Education/Welfare officers. Their argument constantly fell apart when they were reminded about their actual job parameters. Seems stepping out of these lines for no reason is reason enough to demand compensation for time spent doing things that other people are already in charge of. Urkell, the over-paid Anti-Racism convenor asked the NOLS and Unity camps to look at themselves for "slashing funding" for something they didn't care about, Anti-Racism and Queer Student rights. It would have been a fine observation had it not been for the fact that both camps weren't all white heterosexuals. I was also told about the oppression felt by these marginals. Frankly, I think I've been doing quite a lot of the oppressing myself, so I couldn't understand the ludicrous claim.
One. Lunch was served to the long line of hungry and starving students. Potato salad, pasta salad, salad, chicken chippies, vegan rolls, curry triangles, chicken wings, potato wedges, shish kebabs, fish wedges and various slices of meat. Earlier on the 3-metre table sat a solitary plate of cheese, crackers and sliced red-jacket franks. There was orange juice, water, tea and coffee. No alcohol. So those being jerks were sober. During lunch the camps caucused again and I remember filling out about twenty nomination forms for NOLS. The flies, so many damn flies, a tiresome nuisance in their unwanted presence. The manure was far below the hill, probably a half kilometre away, but that didn't deter them. Which reminds me of the hippie types. Those that cannot decide between wearing skirts and pants/jeans and go with both only project this inability to make clear and simple decisions. But it was good to see dreads making an appearance.
Sometime before three it started up again. Though lunch was supposed to go for only an hour it ended after 90 minutes from the break. The logistics of operating the collating and stapling feature of a photocopier for the President's report proved quite an entrance maker. Just a few seconds into his report, Faddoul started to apologise for being unable to present them with a copy when lo and behold, a tired and apolitical being walks in with said report. I wasn't in the mood to be helpful so I just threw them on the stage to which they were quickly snapped up.
The actual office bearers: President, General Secretary, Education/Welfare, Women's and Northern Regions presented their reports. So did the Anti-Racism, Queer and Environmental convenors - someone from the Unity camp asked if the acronym ARC was in reference to the nightclub. The Queers started off their report with a note that they'll be gone next year. Read: Unable to manage money. The floor would occasionally shout out "SHAME!" There were spontaneously unplanned yet coordinated standing ovations. Questions asked from the crowd often followed little comments and statements that went off on tangents; A piss-poor banner from the Environment collective, held down on one end by a bottle of milk, opened their report. Later on the "shame"-ing gave way to the finger clicking of the beatniks from the Broad Left.
"harriet. harry-ette. hard-hearted harbinger of haggis. beautiful, bemused, bellicose butcher. un-trust... ing. un-know... ing. un-love... ed? "he wants you back," he screamed into the night air like a firefighter going to a window that has no fire... except the passion of his heart. i am lonely. it's really hard. this poem... sucks"
I fell asleep once throughout the entire thing. Anna York, co-Education/Welfare officer for 2002 (Monika Wheeler being the other) pretty much had the 2003 Presidency sealed given the numbers. Voting for the 2003 office bearers, which had been going on during the reports, closed out the day at 6:50pm. Not bad considering it started a couple of hours after the expected.
They had it all: bickering, infighting, insults, the corrupt, the clean, sleepers, whingers, detractors, distractors and there for the free food. For what the day was all about it was surely a sign of things to be if a majority, if not at least some of them, wind up in parliament. It was telling and it was depressing. Things don't look different.
I disappeared for the train ride home. Alone.
Published on Monday, 25 November 2002
By Ethan Switch
Well doesn't that just look tasty.