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Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Student's Newspaper. Volume 31, Number 1. March 3 1968

Salient's Birthday — Now We Are 30

page 4

Salient's Birthday
Now We Are 30

First Editor Remembers

Mr. A. H. Scotney

Mr. A. H. Scotney

The nineteen-thirties were years likely to produce an increase in the vigour of undergraduate thought at Victoria. Opening under the shadow of massive unemployment, and passing quickly into a period of mounting international tension — Japan's attack on China; the absorption of Austria by Nazi Germany; the betrayal of Czechoslovakia; Mussolini's assault on Ethiopia; the invasion and subjection of Spain — by 1938 the decade seemed certain to end as in fact it did, in war on a vast scale.

It was as a result of the changed mental climate produced by events such as these that the 1937-38 Students' Association Executive decided to alter the nature of the undergraduate newspaper from the light-hearted record of Victoria's activities until then provided by SMAD, to a publication reflecting more closely and more widely the events of those days.

Through its President, the Students' Association Executive made it clear that within the laws of libel and the bounds of taste and commonsense, the editor and staff could print what they liked. There were to be no strings or tags; all executive asked was a lively, good quality journal. They certainly kept their part of the agreement. In that year it was inevitable that we should print many things with which Executive were probably in profound disagreement, but never once, either directly or by a hint was the slightest pressure put on any member of "Salient's" staff to change what we wrote. On the contrary, encouragement from Executive to press on was a notable source of strength. Salient's good start owed much to this relationship between Executive and the editorial committee.

The Students' Association Executive appointed the editor and he chose his staff. The name Salient originated with the assistant editor, Derek Freeman, now I believe Professor of Anthropology at Canberra. Derek designed the original layout and also wrote vigorously and pungently.

The Literary Editor was Ron Meek, then already well known for his successful Extravaganzas. In addition to writing amusing "Cautionary Tales" Ron produced a number of interviews with celebrities which generally lifted the corner of a curtain which somebody would have preferred to leave undisturbed. Probably his most successful effort of this kind was a revealing interview with Count von Luckner. Ron is now. I have been told, Professor of Economics at Leicester.

The quiet efficiency of Maurice Boyd (still of Wellington) kept our name good with the printer. No one on the staff had a more difficult task.

Marie Bullock (nee Best). Vesta Emmanuel, the late Mary Dowrick (nee Brisco), Harold Gretton (now of Taupo and author of "No More Double Bunking") wrote in lively fashion in a variety of forms.

John Bullock of Seatoun, our Business Manager, secured a steady supply of advertisements for any page but the first, on which we would allow no advertising. Lara Sandford and Ruth Singleton handled the Sports Page and distribution was well managed by Eddie Robertson who usually shot out from an unfinished science experiment just in time to see to it.

This staff ran Salient as a fully co-operative effort. Regular staff meetings were held to pool ideas and decide policy. It was agreed that the time had come at Victoria to try to link University life more closely with the world, that we should comment on events rather than simply narrate them, that we should openly abandon the traditional but usually phoney editorial attitude of Olympian impartiality. We would sign what we wrote and take the consequences.

But the students read it. By the third issue the circulation had doubled and had reached what was then a record figure. 600 out of a total roll of 900 students. The staff watched all these reactions with great interest and often had them in mind when they planned fresh issues.

We had the view then, and all those members of the original staff with whom I have discussed the question since still hold this opinion, that it should be the function of an undergraduate newspaper not only to report, but to comment widely on events of the day, both within and outside the University. We believed then and believe now that any country is entitled to look to its educated young people to show a lively intellectual curiosity about all kinds of subjects. Salient tried to embody this idea in what it said; to rouse the indifferent, to question the orthodox, to stimulate discussion.

This remains an important and legitimate task for any university paper. The need to do this is just as great today as ever; perhaps it is even greater.

Congratulations then to Salient on its 30th birthday. May it long continue to stir the sluggards, to provoke the complacent, to rebuke the autocratic and occasionally, to amuse us all.

A. H. Scotney.

Conrad Bollinger asks:
"How 'red' was my Salient?"

Salient is thirty, which is hardly ancient: but traditionalists can't help celebrating anniversaries.

The sort of sentimental tribute which is usually demanded on such occasions necessarily involves traversing tracts of history within memory: and to do this, one needs to be aware of certain dangers. Reminiscence can drivel into a string of irrelevant anecdotes; the revived flush of past battles can discolour the perspective; hindsight and unconscious suppression can conspire to avoid essential but embarrassing details. Worst of all, as the great Raleigh warned us long ago, "Whoever follows truth too hard upon the heels may haply have his teeth struck out".

My first-hand experience of Salient spanned its middle decade. The first issue I had any part in celebrated its 10th birthday, produced late in my first long vacation as an undergraduate. Over the next few years, much of my extra-curricular energy was spent in Salient's columns, and when some and when some years after graduating I retunred to pick up the broken threads of a Law course (never completed), I was persuaded to go into double harness with Tony Wood as co-editor.

Policy, style, contents, tone, aesthetic appearance, typography, all tended to take on the complexion of this eccentric and often ill-assorted assemblage of individuals that each editor managed together round him. The editor's own personality was important — but few of them were so dominating as to be impressed indelibly on the whole product. Salient has always been very much of a team effort, and the less of it actually planned written or laid out by the editor in person, the better it usually was — and the more in touch with the current spirit of student life.

Salient had a "red" tradition in 1948, going back fairly continuously to its foundation ten years before — not "red" in the sense of conforming to the "party line", but in the wider sense embedded in the term "university red" current in those days: questioning accepted institutions and orthodox points of view, disrespectful of sacred cows, and pugnacious about principles like academic integrity and civil liberty.

Salient was constantly surrounded by the smoke of battle. Any afternoon or evening the little office off the upstairs gym in the old ramshackle Stud. Ass. Building (built 1909, demolished 1959) was certain to be the scene of a verbal blitzkrieg. If it wasn't the delinquencies of the Exec, or the shortcomings of the History II syllabus or the stew in the caf, it was the latest wharf strike or the war in Korea. Everything was grist to the mill of controversy which kept Salient's wheels turning.

It is naturally the loudest hullabaloos that come back most readily to mind. These included the night the Stud. Ass. Exec, was tossed out by a special general meeting for "bringing the college into disrepute" by resolving to congratulate Czech Premier Gottwald by cable on "the triumph of democracy" in his country when the communists pushed the right wing parties out of the government in 1948. No cable had in fact been sent, but the issues were debated eloquently until midnight in a feverish atmosphere that seemed to presume that the world was awaiting Victoria's decision ....

We churned out a special issue of Salient on the gestetner that night, and forgot to leave space at the top of the stencil to accommodate the printed masthead, so that Page 1 had to be printed upside down. (Oh well, we shrugged: everything was upside down tonight.) Incidentally, a full ticket of proven true-blues was elected that night as a "caretaker" exec, until new election could be held, but the elections duly put a number of the delinquent "reds" back into office.