Press Gang


Last week I recalled my artless days of student journalism in a piece on #interngate. It was far from complete, but the shock of recognition amongst readers was so great that I’ve decided to provide a more comprehensive list—a catalogue of the stupidity, pretension and anaemic judgement of my Grok magazine days, with a little help from my friends…


GROK, 2000

In which former Grok editor, Patrick Pittman (2000), recalls his salad days

Patrick: “We had a general manager who had this crazy idea that we should be responsible people in responsible dress, who did not drink at lunchtime (or morning tea, or elevenses, or that fourth snack time we invented in the afternoon).

“Once I’d decided I was quitting, I thought I’d fuck with them by seeing just how far I could go in convincing them that a $200 gorilla suit was a legitimate business expense for the magazine. It went all the way, and they bought the suit. The next year’s editors then had proud possession of a gorilla suit. I hope they found uses for it [We did. And then we didn’t. It’s discussed later].

“Our ideals were lofty—we wrote long articles about the end of capitalism, fashion outworkers, the rise of civil disobedience and protest, and the (at the time and still) wretched nature of urban planning and cultural development in Perth. It wasn’t all that way though—one time, we swapped a half page ad for six bottles of whisky, under the pretence of a ‘taste test’. I reviewed Vat 69, and found it favourable.

“We wrote lots of boring student politics hackery, with headlines like “NUS cops flak, cries like baby”, and we interviewed the drummers from all the bands that didn’t make it. We got radical in our design as best we could on our beige Mac Quadras, illustrating an article on mental health with lambs brains we bought from the supermarket. I wrote solemn editorials about the collapse of modern society, positioned just above all the letters complaining about parking on campus (half of which we wrote ourselves) and we did everything we could to get the student body to care about Bill Hicks.”



In which Marty compares himself to Wolverine

Fortunately for me, there’s no existing copy of my application letter for a staff position. I’d sent it to Paddy, then the outgoing editor, who would consider the applications and select the staff that the incoming editor for 2001 would be saddled with.

I remember the gist of the letter: the quivering earnestness and the weird rumblings that come when you combine brittleness with arrogance. And there are a couple of details I remember: the letter marked my maiden use of the word “supplication” (misused, I hasten to add) and I may have compared my putative writing skills to the X-Men, but I don’t remember how, exactly.

To Paddy’s eternal disgrace I was successful, but if the letter ever resurfaces I’ll change my name and move to Adelaide.

Patrick: “Ha, no I don’t remember that [letter] at all… but I did just find another article by you which ends with ‘Well, I’ll put the spliff down now…’”



In which our star writer goes on the lam

Trav was something of a cliché—our best writer was also our booziest and most unreliable. Today, Trav’s film blog is called Celluloid and Whisky, which is a neat summation of his crowning passions.

Trav was a large, swaggering, leather-clad and chain-smoking Grok identity. He introduced a lot of us to Bill Hicks, Kinky Friedman and many thunderous hangovers. And if you ever relied upon him filing anything on deadline then you were probably stuffed.

One time, before I was on staff and Patrick was still editor, Grok scored a face-to-face interview with Eric Bana. Chopper had just come out, and it was exciting because only a few interviews had been granted in Perth. Paddy appointed Trav to the story.

Patrick: “Trav disappeared off the planet on the day the interview was supposed to happen, I called his home line, there was a recorded message with the number of a bar where I’d probably find him. Turns out he’d done a runner to, I think, Kalgoorlie, to avoid a murderous neighbour.”

I heard slightly differently: that with some mates, Trav had roughed up the abusive boyfriend of one of their sister’s. They decided to wait out in Kalgoorlie for a bit in case an official complaint had been made. Trav was in Kalgoorlie for a while—we didn’t hear or see from the guy in, I think, months.

Trav: “My experience at Grok gave me my first taste of what every writer needs—a readership. The combination of exposure and the freedom to experiment—to be a snotty, opinionated, Raoul Duke wannabe—is a heady brew, and anyone in a university environment with an itch to write would be insane not to file copy with their school rag. It was a weird paper run by weird people, and that’s what a student magazine should be. The post-Rubes & Paddy shift towards a more ‘professional’ editorial tone is the worst thing to happen to newspapers since Rupert Murdoch took human form.”



In which the flower of Patrick’s rebellion vanishes.

On the university’s orientation day we would set up a stall and try to attract new students to write for us. It was always a boozy affair, and we’d attract a few names, but those names rarely materialised as by-lines.

One O-Day Trav took an interest in our gorilla suit, which, since Patrick’s purchase, had been dubiously used for promoting the magazine (it did a better job of advertising our profligacy). Half cut on cheap beer, Trav asked me if he could borrow it. “Why?” I asked. “I want to scare my Mum,” he says.

I demurred, we never saw the monkey suit again and when unsympathetic bean counters began enquiring about it months later, I feigned ignorance.

Trav recalls: “I have no idea what happened to the gorilla suit, or the exact reason I borrowed it, but it seemed important at the time.  It came to mind again a few years ago, and I wondered whatever happened to it, but neither hide nor hair was to be found. Odds are good it walked during a house party. I like to think it’s still out there, moving from temporary owner to temporary owner, and having adventures—much like The Littlest Hobo.”



In which I dabble in conspiracy theory and cover myself in disgrace

This might be my greatest regret at the magazine. It’s a tough call, because there’s a few to choose from, but this is right up there: the Wingdings fiasco.

Remember those conspiracy emails that cropped up after September 11? It went like this: the flight number of one of the two planes that struck New York City was “Q33 NY”. If you entered that code into Microsoft Word, highlighted it, then changed the font to Wingdings, you got this:

Spooky, eh? No, of course it isn’t. And Q33 NY wasn’t the flight number of any of the hijacked planes that day. When you start considering how people would think that a font could possess prophetic powers, or that an evil, American-based conspiracy had decided to give pre-emptive hints of their death plot via Word, you may feel a strong urge to throw up and shiver.

Not me. Nope, we decided to plaster that Wingdings sequence all over my double-spread think-piece on S/11.

I don’t think any of us believed in the Wingdings theories. I think we just accepted it as an interesting, if macabre, coincidence. But we hadn’t even bothered to check if Q33 NY was a genuine flight number before we trivialised S/11 with our moronic design. Especially embarrassing when you consider we had the ‘net.



In which editorial discretion is sprayed like a cheap perfume

You know those editorial insertions in magazine pieces? [Sure you do. –Ed.] Well they’re used sparingly, unless you were Grok’s 2001 editor. In 2001, only full stops and the letter “e” made more appearances than Ruby’s drop-ins. Eventually, I think I picked up the habit. [Let it stand. I no longer wear perfume, preferring to inflict my stench freely. – former Ed.]


Okay: over to you lot. Continue the cataloguing by sharing your own stories below…

9 Responses to Press Gang

  1. Your drinking buddy says:

    I love that the most salient observation comes from the most recalcitrant alumnus – here’s a man who stole my fucking KISS tickets! And I was a member of the KISS Army while he was still shitting his Kimbies.

    “The post-Rubes & Paddy shift towards a more ‘professional’ editorial tone is the worst thing to happen to newspapers since Rupert Murdoch took human form.”

    God bless you, Travis. This is going on my tombstone.

    Wait, no it isn’t.

  2. Patrick says:

    Holy hell, I just clicked the link and they’re still using the logo Helen and I whipped up on deadline 12 years ago!

    I can’t get any work done now for nostalgia, ya bastard. But might I add, “Travis has grown into a responsible and reliable freelancer. I think.”

  3. Your smoking buddy says:

    I fondly recall arriving at the Grok office at 6:00am, fresh from my cleaning job at Cinema Paradiso, in order to knock off various articles in time for deadline. Marty and I also got stoned on my housemate’s dope. Thus, featuring in that issue’s list of ‘Contributors’, was ‘Tim’s weed’.

    R v2.0

  4. TJ says:

    I did wind up doing that Bana interview as a phoner, though.

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