What happened on August 26th, 1998:


In High Street:
I ran to catch a city-bound tram, hoping that today's history class is not very important to attend.

In Front of the State Library:
I arrived in time to catch some speeches. A bunch of Liberal moron students were on the scene, trying to upset the rally and divert media attention away from the real issues -- but they were outnumbered. The protesting students (from the left-wing) march off in a southward direction. I may have a cold, and a slight headache, but I'll do the chanting just the same. The weather is fine. The students are enthusiastic. We are here to be seen by all.

At V.C.A.:
A speech from the Gay guy. What exactly are we protesting against here? Is it the fees? The cuts? The amalgamations? The privatisations? Yes -- all those things. It adds up to a general feeling of being denied the right to an education because of our lack of money. I don't really care -- I just want to occupy something. Let's retrace our steps. The journey to Melbourne University is long and arduous -- many people drop out along the way.

At Kay House:
There are two lines of cops at the entrance to Kay House, not including the mounted ones. They're ready for us this time. There's no way we'd get into there -- not that we'd want to. That would be too predictable. What ARE we going to invade then? What if there's cops waiting 4 us at the new invasion target? Get to the back of the line -- there could be a violent incident. Who knows -- this could go down in history as the day the police used excessive and unnecessary force. Keep chanting, or you'll start trembling.

At Melbourne University:
We've left the cops behind, yay! We're making our way into the law building. The doors are locked -- oh well, let's go home. No! Let's smash the door down! Smash, smash. But we still can't reach our target room. So we go up onto the roof. We climb around on the roof for a while, wondering if this is the place we're going to spend the night. There are twenty-eight people up here.

On the Roof:
We have a meeting. It slowly becomes obvious that there is a larger group of students who are still inside the building. We try to follow democratic procedure to decide whether to abandon the roof and join them, but eventually the decision-making process breaks down and we just go.

Inside the building:
We have seized control of a corridor. It's not a very important corridor and if we stay here then the university council is not going to give a dang. We can't even have a proper meeting in here because it's not big enough. So we make the decision to leave. But first we have to rescue the gay guy who has been locked in the toilet.

In the Courtyard:
It's not over yet. The students are deciding to create a "tent city" in the courtyard -- in other words they're going to camp here. Not everyone is in favour -- the RMIT union, for example, is making polite farewells. But there are still enough people here to make it happen, and I have no reason to leave. On this well kept lawn, students are never allowed to walk, so we are defying the authorities just by standing here. Soon there are people bringing equipment and setting up tents. The tents are provided by the union. I'll bet there's room even for hangers-on like me.

In Tent-City:
The sun has gone down behind the law building and our camp-site is taking shape. It's hard to tell exactly how many students are with us all the way people are passing through, bringing food, bringing tents, stopping to talk. This is the union organisational machine in action they have many leaders but very few followers at the moment. I am blending in, as I always do. I stand beside the tents as they rise, looking on with interest, helping out when they ask me to, but never saying a word. Everyone else seems to know eachother, except one girl who's sitting over there on the grass doing nothing. Quietgirl she's a follower like me. All we have to do is stay here the union will respect us for that. One guy is wearing a top hat he's quite the comedian. One girl is noticing me her name is Amy and she asks me where I'm from. It's nice to be known to one person at least. But Amy is not staying the night. After putting in her share of set up, she's off.

Now I'm getting cold. When is that fire starting? They said there'd be a fire. I shall freeze. I take a union blanket and wrap it around myself, but be careful we don't want to appear greedy. Everyone's cold. Everyone's responsible only for themselves. Finally the large wok-shaped fire bowl arrives. Did Anya say she was going to get some wood? Well she's been gone a long time. The union members are having a meeting off to the side they are only discussing the coming election, but I sit and listen anyway. They're so impressive.

Finally the wood arrives, and the kindling is placed in the wok. The men are on hand to light the fire, but they seem to be incompetent. The big methylated blaze quickly dies down and the big logs don't catch. The Big-guy only laughs. What now? No more kindling have they given up? I saw a standard university rubbish bin around the corner I'm not pretending I'll be able to get the fire going by myself, but that bin is bound to have waste-paper in and paper looks pretty when it burns. The men think it's hopeless they see me putting paper on the dying embers and blowing, and they think I'm nuts, but the paper catches. When one piece finishes, I put another piece on. And another. One man has faith he starts putting sticks over my flames and pretty soon we've got a fire going under the big log. It's resuscitated. I have saved the fire. Now I'm a respected camper. They won't mind me using a union blanket now.

The students are around me, sitting and talking to eachother. THIS is what I came for the listening. There's no revolvermusic here I have the opportunity to sit and listen to intelligent conversation without feeling like a stranger. And these are fascinating union people who have opinions and get involved in the issues. I can't believe they're letting me sit so close and watch their faces. I've hit the jackpot. I want to tell the Smartgirl "You're so smart, I love listening to you." But as usual silence is more acceptable.

At midnight we trek down to the Vice Chancellor's on-campus house and yell insults at him through the megaphone. Insults like "Hey Alan! We're yellin'! You're a melon! F--- off!" among more intelligent critiques. Then, back at the campsite, they're singing along the Big guy is not such a yobbo, for he's into the Beatles, and the Hat guy is into Bob Dylan. He sings solo in his Dylan voice, and the fire burns. Later still, people are retreating to the tents including me. But I have no blanket now and it's cold. Maybe the cold is not the problem I'm just not tired.

It's after 2am. After half an hour I get up and seek out the toilet in the underground carpark, then back to the campfire. I'm not the only one who's having trouble sleeping as the bell chimes 3am there are still people gathered around the fire. It's our only source of warmth. Our life-support. But still people retreat to the tents, and by and by there are only two people left out here the Quietgirl and I. She's silent. I'm silent. She's just like me. What was it that made her stay in this campsite was it the fees? The cuts? The amalgamations? Or was it just the opportunity to feel like a part of something? She gives no clue. Maybe I should ask her if she shares my apathy about politics, but as usual silence is more acceptable.

We sit and stare into the fire for hours. Then she looks at her train timetable. I ask her when the first train leaves. She says four-fifty. That's the one she'll catch. I don't know which train I'll catch, but logically I'll leave at the same time as her. At four-fifteen the fire has precious little heat left, and there are no logs to throw on the remaining hot coals. Quietgirl says she's leaving. Should I leave with her? Should we walk to the station in silence? No. I grab my bag and leave before her. Striding out of the university grounds, walking fast to fight the cold, I know she's following somewhere behind. Don't look back I will never see her again. Keep walking. She has nothing to give me now.