MORE than 1,000 West Australian university students – many of them drunk and at least some of them naked – hit the streets of Perth early yesterday morning to help promote racist hate-speech which depicts Aboriginal people as lazy, alcoholic, petrol sniffers, and which attacks land rights, tent embassies and Aboriginal art.
But before you get offended, it was all just satire, and done in the name of charity.
The remarkable story comes out of the University of Western Australia, home to ‘Prosh’, an annual satirical magazine produced by the UWA Student’s Guild.
The publication is created over several weeks by a large team of university students.
It culminates in frenzied deadline the night and morning before publication, known by students as ‘The Bender’.
While the paper is being printed, the Student Guild hosts a large outdoor party, and the from 5am students – many of them drunk – begin flooding the streets of Perth and surrounding communities in costume to sell the paper and raise money for nominated charities.
Last year, Prosh raised more than $140,000 for local charities, and this year was expected to bring in around $160,000.
But for 2013, the magazine decided to spice up its satire – and demonise an entire race of people – by adding ‘Aboriginal horoscopes’ to its editorial fare.
The column, titled ‘Dream Time Horoscopes by Nooloo Bily’, encouraged Aboriginal people to take advantage of low fuel prices for petrol sniffing, and to “shake up their daily routine” by changing the brand of beer they drink.
It also attacked Aboriginal land rights, suggesting that “large swathes” of land had been “gifted” back to Aboriginal people for nothing.
Under “Rainbow Serpent’, it reads: “It’s Wednesday and we all know what that means… low prices at the petrol bowser. Combine this with all those Woolworths coupons that I know you have been hoarding for a rainy day for extra savings…”
The horoscope for ‘Emu Spirit’ reads: “Don’t get stuck in a rut! Shake up your daily routine and grab yourself a block of VB today instead of Export to see your spirits rise.”
Under Mabo, Prosh students write: “You will find that success comes to you even when you don’t feel you deserve it. You will be gifted larges swathes of property. Use this opportunity to sink a few tinnies in celebration. Let your artistic flair show, rocks are a great substitute for canvas.”
Under the heading ‘Winfield Blue’, Prosh students write: “We’re at a critical point in the election cycle; why not assemble a Tent embassy? If you want to harass the hell out of politicians to achieve next to nothing, now is your best chance!”
The Prosh motto is “Never Apologise, Never Explain!”, but late this afternoon the head of the UWA Student Guild, Cameron Barnes, was both apologizing and explaining.
“We have received a number of complaints and are aware of the distress caused by the article in question,” Mr Barnes said in a written statement issued to Tracker magazine.
“With the guidance of WASAC, the Indigenous Students’ group on campus, we are looking at how to remedy this situation through tightening the policies and guidelines in the production of the publication.
“We want to do everything possible to ensure that similar content does not slip through the editorial net in the future.
“We will be apologising to each of the people who have complained to us about the article individually.
“It is a real shame that something in such poor taste detracts from the core efforts of the event, which is to raise money for local charities and good causes.”
It’s unclear what, if any, involvement Mr Barnes had in the editorial process, although photos on Prosh’s Facebook page – which were removed this afternoon – show he was present during the final production hours of the magazine.
The co-directors of Prosh Day, students Raymond Maujean and Maitlyn Hansen, did not respond to requests by Tracker magazine for comment at the time of press. Comment is also being sought from one of the editors, Sam Bayford.
The Vice-Chancellor of The University of Western Australia, Professor Paul Johnson also issued a written statement, and acknowledged the newspaper had “clearly breached acceptable community standards”.
“The University does not condone its content and regrets the offence caused to students, staff and the broader community,” Professor Johnson said.
“I am heartened the UWA Student Guild – an independent entity based at the University – has taken prompt action to apologise.
“The Guild is generally supportive of Indigenous students.
“The University strongly encourages the continued development of that relationship and particularly the Guild’s work on campus with the Western Australian Students Aboriginal Corporation.”
Ironically, one of the charities which was set to benefit from the fund-raising drive this year is ICEA (Indigenous Communities Education & Awareness) Foundation, a small but respected youth-driven not-for-profit organisation that works closely with young people in remote Indigenous communities in north Western Australia and high schools in the Perth metropolitan area.
Founder of ICEA, Lockie Cooke, told Tracker magazine he was stunned by the actions of the newspaper, and had already arranged an urgent meeting with University officials.
In past years, Prosh has restricted its editorial content primarily to toilet humour and political satire, although the way it’s distributed has often sparked controversy, with numerous reports each year of motorists and pedestrians being harassed by drunken, often naked, students.
This year’s fund-raising was reportedly cut short after a student from another university sparked a bomb scare, resulting in an evacuation before all of the magazines could be distributed.
Tracker magazine was unable to contact the directors of Prosh to establish who edited the publication, and how such an overtly racist column came to be published.
Sponsors of the magazine include: Westpace, Subway, Rural Press Printing (owned by Fairfax), Croissant Express, Guild Tavern, Clydes, La Galette de France, Ace Security and Event Services and Kyocera. The publication was also heavily promoted by Perth’s Nova FM morning radio program.