It’s 5am on a damp April morning and thousands of students are gathering on Oak Lawn to collect PROSH papers. Some have stayed up all night, others have woken incredibly early to convene in groups on their way to UWA to sell the satirical newspaper for charity.
They’re dressed in a sea of outlandish costumes, most of them ridiculous, considering the autumn temperature. There have been Pac Men, an Enjo cloth, a Cirque de Soleil tent, just to name a few. Every year the attire gets crazier. The best costumes are often put together the night before, made in a sleepless rush and sewn up in the earlier hours of the morning.
For most of the volunteers, their earliest recollections of PROSH would be from high school. The newspaper’s salacious and horribly undergraduate humour would prove alluring to young minds impatient to enter the perhaps debauched world of university. This community profile has always helped solidify PROSH as a brand so that many students often sought out the organisers when they arrived at University as freshers.
A few nights before the paper goes on sale the last of the layout crew are amazingly busy. They’re doing the final edits. Each paragraph is meticulously checked for spelling and grammar, ensuring the paper meets the incredibly low standards of its local counterparts.
Before this layout can begin a bigger group of students – between 30 and 60 – have spent time furiously writing and editing. As former Prosh Director, Editor and contributor Tim Leggoe recalls, in the late 1980s the process of compiling PROSH was vastly different. At one stage, “there was a core group of six people, all but two of whom had almost single-handedly put together the previous year’s paper.”
In the last few decades PROSH has undergone significant changes in the way it is compiled. For years it was painstakingly laid out, as Leggoe remembers well. “The paper was entirely laid out manually, so we were able to physically view page by page how little content we had, and gradually watched this fill up over the course of the week before the paper went to the printers.”
As digital technology came in during the 1990s, printing lead times diminished and much of the paper was assembled over the weekend immediately prior to the event. At some point the process became referred to as “layout weekend” and the paper is now submitted to the printers on the Monday before the Wednesday PROSH.
For all that has changed over time, as different traditions went in and out of vogue, the essence of PROSH has remained the same. The key elements were present from the beginning: a satirical newspaper, a procession, and stunts for promotion, all in the name of charity.
The organisers dreamed big from the start. The first mention of the paper was in the Pelican student newspaper on June 26 1931. A group of Pelican writers put out a call for writers to contribute to a satirical paper named Sruss-Sruss. They published a poetic call to action, “How proud we’d be if it happened that we/Could raise such a HELL OF A CLATTER.”
Articles in later issues revealed the magnitude of the “Varsity Sruss-Sruss” celebrations. It was to incorporate a weekend-long celebration with a number of events ranging from the traditional procession, to separate cabaret and theatre nights, and even included a “burlesquesports meeting”.
The most interesting point is that little mention was made of Sruss-Sruss in the Pelican after the event took place. In the 1950’s It reappeared in the Pelican as “Prosh”. It is widely accepted that the name “PROSH” was derived from the inability of inebriated students to pronounce the word “procession” without a slight slur.
One commonly misreported fact was that the organisers were forced to donate the proceeds to charity after the ensuing drama of the publication. However, it is clear that in the lead-up to the event the Guild was always intent on donating funds to charity. In the midst of the Depression, “the Lord Mayor’s Fund for the relief of unemployment” was announced as the beneficiary.
Until recently PROSH held such a sacred place on the UWA calendar that the UWA Senate cancelled classes for the morning. Conversely, for much of PROSH’s history, the event took place at night. In 1959 it was a case of “too much fun”. A post-mortem on that year’s event stated: “Prosh generally was a shambles. The police whisked the procession through town as quickly as they could, giving the collectors little time to do a thorough job.”
Bill Barker, of the Guild, advised Freshers that “in 1960 there would be no PROSH due to the poor quality of the floats and the stupid behaviour of a small section of the student body over the past few years. “We are losing a lot of public support and goodwill. More complaints about people being hit with tomatoes have been received. It is all very well to have an interfaculty ‘all-in’ fight but it is not the sort of thing you do in the city streets in front of thousands of people.”
The annual event was soon back on deck. It was now held in daylight. Students enrolling at UWA in the 1960s enjoyed the opportunity to dress up, rattle a tin for coins and ride on a float through main city streets including Hay, long before its pedestrian mall was installed.
For most of the 1980s the procession fell out of favour until one member club of Societies Council, the Manic Depressives, revived it with their float “the Deathmobile” in 1995. The popularity of the procession and student-built floats increased till there were over 50 floats in 2002. However, official regulations eventually put such a tight grip on the day that parades of floats through the city were no longer permitted. A long tradition of mobile exhibitions, all for worthy causes, was thus set aside.
Another integral element has been the stunts. In 1966 The Daily News reported: “On the night of March 30 the students drove to Robbs Jetty, picked up a mine and took it to Leighton Beach.” But as any Prosh stunt unfolded, it went awry, the newspaper added, “They meant to paint on it ‘Prosh for Charity’ but nobody brought paint or a brush.” A magistrate dismissed charges against the seven students involved.
Despite all the dramas, scandals, stunts and setbacks, PROSH has remained resilient, constantly learning from its mistakes and responding to change. Across eight decades it has evolved into a prominent charity brand that raises over a $100,000 a year.
The emphasis is often on charities that are less well known, with less glamorous causes, particularly those that are youth-run or youth-focused. Many are based in WA and/or can show the PROSH money would be used for a particular project of community benefit. The Down Syndrome Association, for example, put the money towards setting up a newsletter for parents. Grow put more staff into training. More broadly, PROSH gives a chance for the whole university to show its sunny face. And those volunteers gathering on the Oak Lawn can – however tired on the day – feel part of a legion that is forever young.
Words by Eva Victoria Bates