Protesting about ‘important’ things

You may have noticed that there is a certain amount of turmoil in our universities at the moment, in the same sense that there is a certain amount of bats running around inside Donald Trump’s head.

That turmoil seems largely due to the fact that the only person in the world still capable of calm, rational discussion is King Charles, something he achieves by never really voicing an opinion on anything other than organic farming and the possibility that the world will be over-run by sludge formed by nanobots (which would still be preferable to a second Trump presidency).

Before anyone – especially my editor – panics, let me assure you that I have no intention of going anywhere near the subject of that turmoil. Partly that is because it is beyond the remit of a frivolous column such as this, and partly because I don’t want anyone – not even King Charles – camping outside my office.

In the interests of full disclosure I should point out that my own student days were not free of protest. For example, I regularly protested the unfairness of my low exam results, which were especially egregious given that the only counter the lecturers could raise to my protest was the thoroughly irrelevant fact that I had got most of the questions wrong. Thankfully, these days most universities have seen the error of their ways and will now award a credit in Equity for answers that consist largely of a picture of a cat sleeping under a Christmas tree, drawn in green crayon.

Also, I did attend a protest at UQ. The university had decided, in its wisdom, to award Joh Bjelke-Petersen an honorary doctorate in law, no doubt on the basis that only a true master of the discipline could twist the laws in such a way that if all members of his immediate family voted for him, Joh could win a majority in parliament.

In truth, I use the word ‘attend’ in the same sense that Anthony Albanese uses the word ‘transparency’, in that my attendance at the protest was not really due to my outrage at the awarding of a law degree to the dodgiest leader since Macbeth started listening to strange women during storms. It was more related to what public servants call a sub-optimal, under-planned unknown unknown, or what normal people call an accident.


I was actually at UQ playing squash with a young lady who I shall not identify, because she went on to become a fairly successful TV person, no doubt with access to cracking legal representation, and she would probably happily cover the cost of a Supreme Court Injunction rather than have her name associated with me.

To be honest, it was not the greatest game of squash ever, as she had never played before. Squash only works if the ball is warm, and the only way that happens is if both players have played before (makes you wonder how anybody learns the game really). The point is that the ball mainly stayed cold, and playing squash using a cold ball is like playing squash using a jellyfish, and not a particularly dynamic or involved jellyfish at that.

Anyway, after the game we headed off in search of the UQ bus stop, and – due to the fact that UQ was built by the same people who build the Ikea stores – we got lost. We decided to follow the crowd and ended up in the protest, which quickly achieved the same outcome as all protests – to really antagonise people not in them, to the point that those people ultimately support the cause being protested against1.

A group of uni friends and I attended two other protests, but we were serious about those and our motivations were clear: a group of very attractive young ladies invited us. No, don’t think we were a bunch of pathetic losers desperate for dates2; I can assure you we were also very committed to the causes at hand, a commitment in no way undermined by virtue of the fact that I cannot 100 per cent recall what they were. I do recall the protests failed, largely due to the fact that most of the people who turned up were young men invited by the group of attractive young ladies, who for some reason did not manage to attend.

So, protest was not a big thing in my uni days. It wasn’t that my friends and I were not passionate about many causes; it is just that the things we were passionate about – beverage consumption, assignment procrastination, Queensland beating the Cockroaches in State of Origin3 – prompted no protest. Everyone agreed on their merit so there were no protests needed, especially as they took away from beverage-consumption time.

That isn’t to say that we couldn’t stand up when our values were threatened. For example, in fourth year a threat arose and a group of us stood up and were counted, and ran for student council. In truth, only one of us was counted, in the sense of actually being elected.


Nevertheless, that worthy – who shall remain nameless as an expression of my gratitude – achieved our purpose in standing up for our values. That is, their one contribution to student council was to overturn the ban on free beer at council meetings.

If that’s not democracy, what is?

© Shane Budden 2024

1 If Alanis Morissette is reading, that is ironic.
2 We were, but don’t think that.
3 Which just happened again, by the way.

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