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March 15, 2010 | by  | in Features |
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Bill Logan: Power to the students!

Salient feature writer Matthew Cunningham chats to Bill Logan, Salient’s Editor in 1968.

Matthew: 1968 in particular is an interesting year because it coincided with a wave of student protests overseas, especially in France and the United States. How do you think that reflected on the tone of the mag?

Bill: It was an interesting experience. The editorial for March the 19th 1968, for example, was all about student power. It was essentially a little manifesto—quite grandiose at the time—that demanded reforms from the university.

We requested that students be given control of the Student Union Building; a staff/student committee be set up to deal with administrative and academic complaints; that students have three representatives on the university council. It was signed by the President of the Labour Club, several members of the students’ association, myself and the former Editor of Salient Barry Saunders, who is now on the right wing.

The point I’m making is that this wave of international protest wasn’t just something that happened overseas. It was something that happened here too. The opening of Parliament in 1968 was pretty spectacular—a big demonstration of students and workers. We broke through the ceremonial troops, the governor general had to go in the side door, the Australian High Commissioner’s car was trampled on.

Matthew: It has been suggested that it was because of what was going on overseas the university was more responsive to the reforms that you championed.

Bill: Well, they hadn’t gotten so far overseas by March.

The day that editorial was published, I got a telephone call from the acting Vice-Chancellor—a guy called Ian Campbell—who suggested that we come over for morning tea. So we went over, and he said, “Some of my colleagues have been up in arms about this, but it all seems okay in principle to me, and perhaps we can set up a committee to investigate and come up with some recommendations.” That did take the wind out of the sails of student protest.

Matthew: You could almost say that was a good thing—the objectives of student protest were met so easily.

Bill: I don’t know that it was good or bad—it just was.

Here’s an interesting sequel though. One of the things that I do these days is I work as a celebrant at civil unions and funerals. So, about five years ago, I got a call, from Ian Campbell. I didn’t even know he was still alive, he seemed ancient back in 1968! But he said, “My wife and I are getting a bit long in the tooth, and we thought you might do our funerals.” And I have in fact done those funerals now, and what Campbell was really wanting was to have that story told by the only person who could tell it.

Matthew: Another key subject that Salient reported on in ’68 was the escalation of the Vietnam war. What was that like, and how hard was it not to get involved? Did you feel that it was Salient’s duty to remain impartial?

Bill: No, no! You’ll see me saying somewhere that Salient is not impartial—that it never will be impartial whilst I am editor.

Salient has a tradition that there’s really no such thing as journalistic impartiality.

I started off the year as a member of the National Party. I’d been under the influence of left-wingers—well, I’d been arguing with them—and I wasn’t your typical member of the National Party.

I opposed the Vietnam war from within the National Party. But it was the growing evidence of conservatism’s incapacity to make rational decisions that helped move me to the left. I eventually ended up on the very far left, some miles to the left of Labour.

Matthew: You said at the beginning of 1968 that you celebrated the Salient tradition of “healthy radicalism”, and that students should hold views on social and political matters. This was quite a contrast to the Salient of the 1950s which took more of a conservative stance. Was this a deliberate move of yours away from the past?

Bill: Well, Salient has wobbled around a lot—there’s some issues of Salient in the 50s that were quite left-wing. For the last few years in my time it had been a kind of ‘left-conservatism’. Hugh Rennie, for example, was the outstanding editor of my generation, and he was a critical-liberal type of person.

I was part of a movement of student media and student politicians moving to the left. Most of them were Maoists—I was a Trotskyist. Whilst, perhaps at later points, Salient pushed a particular line, I quite deliberately sought out a variety of points of view—strong points of view, rather than trying to express a balanced point of view. So we had a right-wing commentator to write on things, and a left-wing commentator to write on things. It was difficult to find right wingers who wanted to express their views in Salient. There was a guy called Jim Mitchell who was, in his way, quite good at capturing a right-wing perspective.

I had an attitude of trying to whip up argument and debate. Some people on both sides saw me as a troublemaker because of that fact.

Matthew: How hard was it maintaining that balance between radicalism and conservatism?

Bill: I didn’t try to balance it particularly—I simply wanted lots of different views. One of the things about a student newspaper is that you’ve got a licence to play a little—as long as you make something that has some interesting stuff in it.

You’ll actually see that Salient of my day was quite a mess. It was all over the place. But I think that’s possibly a good quality—we didn’t try to present a smooth editorial line.

Matthew: What is your best memory from your time as editor?

Bill: Well, it was a wonderful time to be a student. It was a time when things were happening, and to be editor of Salient in that period of intellectual ferment was great fun.

Matthew: What do you see as being the key role of student media?

Bill: I guess that changes at different times.

I’m interested in politics, I’m interested in students taking political roles, and I’m interested in students getting involved in the conflicts and ideas. I think that student media can enter into those political things, be those political things, and reflect those political things. And not only political things, but other cultural and intellectual movements.

I think that can be a pretty big part of a student’s university experience—their growing up and their education.

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