University of Melbourne Magazine

Good stories, good times…and the odd angry shot

  • “In a campaign short on policy and full of promises to tell good stories and have a good time, we were all up for a year learning how to run a newspaper,” Bail says of her year in the chair.

    “The world was changing. People were wondering whether it was possible to be a left-winger and read Vanity Fair,” recalls former Age journalist James Button, who became editor with Deborah Cass and Tania Patston in 1985.

    “They (BOP) captured the zeitgeist of the ’80s: the emphasis on look and design, the witty detachment, the transformation of student politics away from a faith in revolution into something less conventional – John O’Hagan’s piece, “Could you be an anarchist without knowing it?” and Chris Tsiolkas’, dare I say it, seminal piece on being a gay Greek.’’

    Tsiolkas was editor in 1988 with Julia Cabassi, Lauren Finestone and Mandy Brett. He says the team thought of themselves as “independent left” but the ALP campus politicians thought they were a “pack of femo-nazi, Trotskyist, aesthete dilettantes”.

    “The BOP Farrago was a rejection of leftist asceticism and probably the first of the Farragos to be influenced by the style politics that came in the wake of punk and post-punk,” says Tsiolkas, who is best known now for his novels, including The Slap.

    Farrago has influenced generations of students who went on to careers in journalism, creative writing, acting, comedy, publishing and politics, and many, many more who resumed the direction set by their courses.

    Those who take the reins as editors learn as much about themselves as they do about the hard work of producing a newspaper. Tsiolkas says, in retrospect, he wishes he and his co-editors had been a lot more mischievous and less self-righteous.

    “I think I’d tap the young Christos on the shoulder and shout at him, ‘Be a little bit more responsible, mate’. But I learnt so much about editing from working with Mandy Brett that has been so important for my writing life now.”

    Button, too, wishes he’d been more tolerant of opinions he didn’t agree with.

    “A young guy wrote a piece on (former RSL State President) Bruce Ruxton. He had gone to a lot of trouble to challenge Ruxton and wrestle with his views, but he also had respect for some of the things Ruxton said. And I think in hindsight it was a pretty good job. I think it ran – though I can’t even swear to that – but certainly it took a politically driven cut in a few places. I regret that now. I didn’t yet understand that you don’t have to agree with everything you publish.”

    Editors in 1983; and Pete Steedman, editor in 1967.

    Pete Steedman, editor in 1967.

    As well as being a training ground for a career in journalism, Farrago provides editors with lessons in the cut-throat political process from students who are often on training wheels for a life in politics.

    “We covered a federal election (Hawke versus Fraser) in our first issue and battled it out with student politicians, several of whom stayed in the game (Julia Gillard, Lindsay Tanner),’’ says Bail. “We got sued for defamation and lost funding for an issue as a result. We reviewed arts and cultural events, and published essays, comics, posters, fiction and poetry.

    “All this – the mechanical production line, negotiations, mistakes, scoops and friendships made along the way – was just the right training for a career in media and publishing as it turned out,’’ she says.

    Raymond Gill (BA1983, LLB 1984, Ormond College) unsuccessfully ran for a Farrago editorship in 1984 with journalist Luke Slattery and writer Joanna Murray-Smith, whom he married.