×Much of this material is adopted from A Democratic Minority: A Centennial History of the Auckland University Students Association, Fay Hercock (1994) – a history of AUSA published for our centenary in 1991.

A History of AUSA


(from Hercock, p1)

For over a hundred years AUSA has been the representative of a student body which, in terms of active participation and support, has largely disregarded it.

While university authorities concentrated on the provision of teaching facilities and the development of academic life, the students’ association addressed the needs of other aspects of the student experience – social, sporting and cultural activities, and the provision of space within the college which students might regard as their own. They were also concerned with students’ relations with various groups within the university and in the local community. These do not seem contentious pursuits, and yet the organisation has often found itself in strife.


Through most of the 1880s the University College was spread over four separate locations, and with no permanent buildings and mostly part-time students, the AUC came to be popularly regarded as a superior kind of night school. There were no common rooms, nor organised sporting activities. A debating society had been established but had gone into recess by mid 1890.

There were growing concerns over a lack of a communal spirit as well as social and cultural life, with no organised voice or official representation in college affairs.

On Wednesday 24 June 1891, 27 students and graduates met in the college library and resolved to remedy this situation by establishing an Auckland University College Students’ Association (AUCSA), to ‘represent the students in all matters interesting to them’.

Student Representation

Two fundamental aspects to AUSA have been the fight for control of student-controlled spaces for the benefit of students, and increasing student representation and voice within the University.

The Student Union complex in the heart of the campus was a major leap up from the old common rooms in the Clocktower building.

Strides have also been made in student representation. The formation of AUCSA was a fundamental step in itself, and half a century later was followed by increased student representation inside University decision making bodies.

Student Spaces

Common Rooms

One of AUCSA’s early goals was establishing student-controlled space for students to congregate and use. In May 1900 AUCSA applied to Council for permissions to take over control of the common rooms but was declined, Council citing its jurisdiction over the buildings and AUCSA’s low membership(41 members out of 191 students).

A compromise was reached whereby the Men’s and Women’s common rooms would be run by respective clubs with an annually elected committee. The Men’s Common Room Club, founded in 1907, provided an increasingly lively social programme at the rooms.

East wing of Clocktower

Student control of student quarters continued to be a priority for the Association after the war. A proposal for a joint committee of AUCSA and University representatives to administer the ‘student building’(now the East Wing of Clocktower) was strongly opposed by students. By 1927 the AUCSA executive had given a clear indication that it had discarded any notion of abdicating this to another body.

In the same year, AUCSA was given sole responsibility for the management of activities within the building, subject to University regulations. There was some chafing at having to police the decrees and regulations on student discipline set down by the Professorial Board.

Site Row

Students and the College were also united in the need for the college to find a functional and permanent site with properly equipped buildings. There was particularly acrimonious issue, contingent on poor relationships between the university and the city as a whole.

At various times proposals were debated on moving the University to Tamaki or to Hobson bay, as well as Princes Street. This issue, which plagued the college from its inception, did not completely resolve itself until 1960.

A new Student Union Complex

Once the site row was resolved, the University embarked on a major building programme over the next 20 years. By the 1960s a burgeoning student populations had strained existing facilities. The University population was 4300 in 1960, 5500 in 1965, to 9300 by 1970.

The lack of space had continually hamstrung provision for student welfare and activities. While there was a rudimentary student health service as well as bookshops and employment bureau, common room and cafeteria space was at a premium. Any provision for sports activities disappeared with the need for more teaching accommodation.

AUSA was ready to act almost immediately on planning for a new Student Union complex and increased amenities. The new Union would provide a focus for student unity and the opportunity to forge links with other university groups and the local community. The Union building was designed by Christchurch architectural firm Warren and Mahoney, in a style contemporary to the times.

The project cost a total of $1.2 million – a combination of student levies, a government subsidy, public donations, and loan from University Council. Then student president John Stevens took the lead in actively promoting fundraising for the project. In 1961 every student was paying 3 pounds a year into a building fund on top of their 2 pounds AUSA membership fee.

Student Union and service expansion

Despite revenue from association fees balancing the budget was a continual battle. Some executive questioned whether the provision and administration of student amenities was a responsibility which had grown beyond their ability and expertise.

Cafeteria facilities were extended over the 1970s, after the construction of the Union building in 1968. The Maidment Theatre was finished by 1976, the Recreation Centre by 1977. Sports grounds catering for rugby, soccer, hockey and softball, complete with clubrooms, had been developed at Tamaki. The Medical School was built in Grafton, and the Engineering School rejoined the main campus. By 1981 there were 12,240 students at the university.

More recent developments

  • Hinehuaone (Maori Common Rooms) were opened in 1996
  • The Quad got the Coffee Cart sometime in 1997, as well as a Quad sail at some point in the 1990s.
  • Rudman Gardens as we see it now used to be a larger patch of grass and included hills and rolling green.
  • AUPISA later got jurisdiction over the Upper Common Rooms (O Lagi Atea Moana). The Upper Common rooms had up to then acquired a reputation for drugsellers and marijuana smoking.
  • AUSA undertook a major refurbishment of the Student Union buildings in the late 1990s using the millions of dollars accumulated in the Building Fund. The Building Fund was funded by the Building Levy students paid, which went directly to the Association.
  • There were growing contention over the 1990s and beyond over the level of increasing University jurisdiction over Student Union buildings, and whether this was appropriate in a supposedly student-controlled buildings and areas.

Student Representation


Establishing a formal student representative body to negotiate at an official level with the authorities was an unprecedented move at the college, a level above the close personal and working relations that students and staff had.

Membership was voluntary for the first twenty years, meaning that paid-up membership was far below total student numbers. This made it difficult for AUCSA to deal with college authorities such as Council and the Professorial Board(Senate).


AUCSA underwent major interwar organisational changes. In 1921 AUCSA achieved compulsory membership, and a consolidated subscription fee was introduced in 1926. A paid business manager was appointed in 1931 to take care of its financial affairs. Also, the executive structure changed from a general subcommittee system to a portfolio system, with each officer carrying responsibility for the performance of the subcommittees under their leadership.

Increased student representation on college councils was also something AUCSA continued to push. The 1925 Reichel-Tate Commission also concluded that increased student representation, as well as student unions and student control of student buildings was also important.

Student representation on Council

At the end of 1945 AUCSA lost a bid (by one vote) for Council to admit a student member onto Council. In response, Craccum ran a particularly critical editorial of Professor Fitt, chair of the Professorial Board, who voted against the motion despite the Board voting in favour of it. In response, the professor banned student publications from July 1946-1947. Graffiti criticising the decision appeared on campus ‘We Want Craccum’. ‘We Want Student Representation’. The AUCSA executive decided instead to apologise to Professor Fitt, and this action was ratified by a SGM. AUCSA finally succeeded in getting a student representative on Council in October 1947.

Disenchantment grew in the 1960s over the role and performance of the one student representative on University Council, which had started in 1947. Though appointed by AUSA executive, the rep tended to be a graduate with little contact with students, acting primarily as a communication channel and not necessarily endorsing student opinion.

Seeking to improve public relations

From the 1960s AUSA actively sought to improve relations between students and the city. AUSA employed a public relations office to promote better relations with the press, council, schools, and public. A regular student column ran in the Auckland Star newspaper. AUSA speakers were made available to Rotary and other clubs and schools to speak on aspects of student life and the place of the university in the community.

Despite these efforts, events like capping parades and the capping books were weak spots in any attempt to promote students as serious and responsible young citizens. Capping stunts did not always go down well with most of the public.

Pushing for increasing student representation

The role of students within universities was a source of considerable unrest overseas and was also debated in NZ. In response to a NZUSA remit calling for students to take steps to ensure more democratic structures, AUSA initiated moves to investigate the possibilities at Auckland University.

A report prepared by Bill Rudman, Richard Northey and Dick Wood, was accepted by the Executive in June 1968. Among other things it said:

“We wish the University to be a community where the ability of staff is respected but also where the needs and aspirations of the student body are understood and also respected.”

It objected to the lack of student representation in the Senate and that Faculty meetings were not open to students. It proposed that Council have two student reps, that student and subprofessorial staff reps should be part of Senate, that there should be a student rep for each department at faculty meetings. The University agreed to negotiations on this proposal.

In August it was announced that staff-student consultative committees were to be set up in each department, students would be represented on the Senate, and student reps were to have a place in faculty discussions. The attitude of staff members to the concept of student involvement varied – some were opposed to student representation.

The student fee

The Association fee, and its compulsory nature, was a bone of contention for students who felt it an additional cost they could do without. In 1972 Vice Chancellor Colin Maiden explained why the university supported compulsory membership of AUSA. In a statement reproduced in Craccum, he referred to student amenities that had been funded on a dollar for dollar basis by the government and students themselves. Half the AUSA fees went to this funding. A quarter of the fee supported the running of the facilities. The rest went to other activities like subsidised cafeteria meals, clubs grants, student publications, and NZUSA. Without the AUSA fee (then $24), ‘student amenities cannot be provided, nor can student activities take place.’

From the start, AUSA has always tried to provide a sense of student life on campus. This was achieved through various ways, such as supporting student clubs, publishing student journals, and also celebrations during graduation.

Student Life and Clubs

Academic Dress

AUCSA first tried to create a sense of student unity by pushing for compulsory wearing of academic dress by AUC students. AUCSA pushed for enforcement of a Council resolution to this effect from 1883, but upon objection from Senate and AUCSA’s failure to demonstrate the backing of the full student body, Council rescinded its initial backing.

While many AUC students did wear gowns to lectures until the early 1940s and on formal occasions, universal gown-wearing was not achieved despite continued campaigns from AUCSA . In 1955 there was one final attempt to get students into gown, unsuccessfully.

Early 20th Century

By 1908 there were four sports clubs – football, men’s hockey, cricket and lawn tennis. Early clubs included the highly active Debating Society, Christian Union, and the AUC Hockey Club founded by women. Involvement in student affairs remained overwhelmingly male-dominated. Losses during WWI had a severe impact on organised student life, some clubs struggled, particularly sports clubs and the Mens Common Room Club.

An influx of new students after the war as well as cultural influences like jazz and ragtime enhanced student life on campus. The Association did its best to encourage an espirit de corps, by appealing to students to wear academic dress, badges, blazers, and ties. Sporting blues were introduced, and sports clubs restricted their membership to students. Easter tournament continued to provide an annual focus for ‘college spirit’. The number of clubs continued to grow, and as they did the number of different interests and affiliations associated with these clubs.

Student journals

There were early attempts to establish a student journal – The Collegian (1898-1902), Marte Nostro (1903-1904), and then the Kiwi (1905-).

Craccum was founded in 1927, a newspaper set up mainly ‘to provide a vehicle for the public criticism of the AUCSA executive’. The name was an anagram of the AUC Men’s Common Room Club’. Kiwi continued to devote itself to literary items.

In the 1960s Craccum developed into an informative and sometimes provocative student paper. It gave much space to university politics and student politics, quite in contrast from the occasional tabloid episodes of its past.

Craccum often carried articles on topics such as South African apartheid, US policy on Vietnam, drugs, morals, sexual permissiveness. It also published reviews of art exhibitions, books, architecture, theatre and new films. Its editors came to demand high literary standards, and some of its contributors became journalists later on.

Kiwi continued to cater for more serious literary efforts and provided a forum for emerging writers like Keith Sinclair and James K Baxter. In the mid-1960s Kiwi faded away to be replaced by Crucible which lasted for 2 years in 1966-1967.

International students

International students, particularly from Asia and the Pacific, came to the University through the Colombo Plan. A club, Students International, showcased cultural diversity and for a while was a very active club on campus.

Under the Plan there were many more young people from southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands, and even a few from Africa. The University became much more international, and NZ students were much more aware of worldwide issues.

Continuing development of clubs

Regardless opportunities to participate in college life through social, cultural and sports clubs continued to broaden. A national winter sports tournament was crated, and there was a student arts festival in 1956.

In 1973 AUSA was providing grants to 51 cultural and faculty societies and 25 sports clubs. It also supported NZUSA and its subsidiary bodies which ran sports tournaments and the student arts festival. It also produced small information booklets, including orientation handbooks, an ‘anti-calendar’ which assessed course from the student viewpoint, and a guide to student flatting.

Summer Shakespeare

Summer Shakespeare started in 1964. This was an annual production of an open-air Shakespearean production on University grounds. This was usually in the grassy quadrangle outside what used to be the common rooms in the Clocktower. Its gothic architecture provided a splendid setting for shots and murder most foul. Some of the staff, such as Professors Musgrove and Tarling, became regular actors or producers in these plays.

Student radio station – Radio Bosom

A student radio station, Radio ‘Bosom’, started during capping 1969. It was set up in a boat – which ran aground somewhere in Auckland’s Waitemata harbour – and broadcast illegally on speakers around the student union. Radio ‘B’ had grown by 1974 into a limited licence station operating from the Student Union. A permanent licence was sought by 1977. Over the next few decades the Bosom morphed into the mighty 95bFM, a sizzling casserole of New Zealand music, news and views.


Alongside the University-funded Student Health and Counselling service, AUSA set up a referral service for student problems called ‘Contact’. Contact installed contraceptive vending machines and arranged lectures on student concerns. This included a series on drugs with speakers from government departments and the university, and a public symposium on the Lake Manapouri issue(whether the government should dam the lake to produce hydroelectric power) with a wide range of panellists.


Capping week and Graduation have traditionally been highlights of the university calendar. However student involvement in these events is almost absent these days, it didn’t use to be this way though.

Student capping processions proceeded from 1923 to 1936 in the absence of the official capping procession.

Capping productions and revues continued after WW2. The graduation ceremony itself sometimes descended into student-initiated chaos, quite in contrast to the tightly choreographed and managed ceremonies of today. The Hongi Club also contributed to most of the fun and revelry in ceremonies in the early 1940s.

Capping stunts and processions continued to be lively in the 1960s. Students often put on elaborate ‘extravaganzas’ at the time of graduation, as well as the ‘procesh’. Civic leaders reacted strongly against the customary annual pre-graduation ‘procesh’ and capping book. While some of the floats were excellent, many contained the usual lavatory sexist humour. In 1961 the then-mayor Dove Myer Robinson and church bishops protested against the ‘procesh’.

There were frequent complaints about the dirty jokes in the capping books. The annual capping book continued to provoke controversy, particularly in 1954 and 1965 and 1969.

Over the 1970s capping slowly withered away from its previous heights. Individual stunts disappeared, the student procession was abandoned in 1971, and the capping book disappeared. Graduands in academic dress processed in the official procession that succeeded the ‘procesh’. Student turned to pub crawls and mass motorbike rides instead of revues and carnivals.

Capping stunts

Stunts included students renaming a Navy cruiser docked at Devonport naval base in 1966. In 1968 a huge decorative butterfly was found on the Intercontinental (now Hyatt) hotel, and sign reading ‘FUZZ’ on the Central Police Station. One of the best was rerouting traffic through Albert Park. Some involved cars. In the late 1990s someone painted a pedestrian crossing over Symonds St between Engineering and the Maths/Physics building.


The number of clubs on campus has continued to grow and proliferate. We now fund and support over 120 clubs and societies on campus. They cover a huge range of interests and areas, and contribute in a great number of ways to student life. It is guesed that about 10% of the entire student body is a member of some sort of club. Some of the biggest clubs including the Drinking Club, Meat Club, Hispanic Club, and also some Christian clubs too.

Students and Politics, Student politics

Students have generally shown themselves to be relatively conservative or moderate in their views, though from the 1960s onwards more outspoken students of radical and leftwing persuasions dominated student political activity on campus.

World War One

With the onset of World War One AUC students had no hesitation in declaring themselves ready to accept any wartime responsibilities to come their way. Setting up an officers training corp on campus was discussed, and there was support for compulsory military training.

Great Depression

Initial student reaction to the depression reflected their predominantly middle-class origins and political conservatives. Little understanding of working class or labour relations had emerged in student revues and publications before the 1930s. Political activity by students was officially frowned upon. Indeed, a 1925 AUCSA executive motion resolved ‘that this association view with distinct disfavour any organised demonstrations on the part of students, at any political meeting.’ One university group which discussed wider issues and alternative ideas was the Aesthetics Club, as did the Student Christian Movement.

Appeals for special’ constables to combat unemployed workers rioting in Queen Street in 1932 met with a good response from students. However, some found their duties distasteful, and this emerge in the student press. Craccum editor John Mulgan commented in an editorial that his sympathies now lay with the workers. Other contributors suggested students had held themselves aloof from world affairs for too long.

At the 1934 AUCSA AGM, a resolution empowering the executive to speak for students on ‘matters pertaining to the general welfare of the community’ was passed overwhelmingly.

World War 2

Attitudes towards the Second World War less enthusiastic than towards World War 1, however nevertheless highly supportive of the war rather than for pacifism. AUCSA took up the cause of those attempting to continue their education while in the services overseas and at home.


The formation of a Labour club as well as NZUSA congresses, stimulated college life by provoking the conservative student mainstream into political debate. Overt the late 1940s and 1950s a pattern emerged of special meetings being called to discuss radical resolutions, and ending up passing conservative ones. For example, a 1948 SGM called to oppose peacetime conscription ended up voting in favour of it. The distribution of leaflets and a speaker expressing solidarity with workers drew a strong negative reaction from the Association. A SGM supported the government in its imposition of emergency regulations during the 1951 waterfront workers’ strike.

Membership of the Association remained compulsory, but active involvement could not. Student voting in elections and attendance at meetings was a very minority activity. A voting turnout of 36% in 1948 was outstanding. Accusations of student apathy, as well as executive cliques was constant during elections.

A changed student population and changing student mentality

A significant change from the 1960s onwards was that students became overwhelmingly full-time. They were becoming a socially discrete group. Students who no longer had to work during the year had more time at the university to discuss changing ideas. Before 1960s many would-be demonstrators would have been at work, and in general, not fully committed to student affairs.

Like other educated, middle-class youth in the Western world they were taken with a leftwing libertarianism which centred on individual civil, political and sexual freedoms, and challenged traditional concepts of morality and authority.

Over the late 1960s and early 1970s Craccum ran sympathetic articles on homosexuality, and revealed that some unmarried women were being prescribed contraceptives. Some students lived in mixed-sex flatting. Clothing became more casual, and alternative ideas about suitable dress manifested themselves vividly amongst sections of the student population.


Efforts continued to try and foster a sense of campus unity. However there were strong faculty faculty-based identities that stood in the way. Fine Arts, Architecture, and Engineering, were geographically removed in a physical sense and in a vocational sense too. Engineers stepped into the postwar vacuum left in college life by the demise of the Hongis. They had a reputation for hard drinking and ‘stunts’. Engineers’ group identity had become so singular they got continued bad press in Craccum, and had marked “boorish” behaviour during general meetings.

In the 1960s there was increasing discussion of sexuality. Sex was openly discussed in student publications, NZUSA congresses suggested student associations organise lectures on contraception and venereal disease, and work for campus contraception clinics and the legislation of abortion.

International political issues also affected student opinion. Articles criticised American cultural imperialism, military intervention in southeast Asia, as well as reports on the civil rights movement in the US and apartheid. French nuclear testing, and the Vietnam war also emerged as a major issue. Small groups of staff and students worked with larger community-based organisations within new protest structures, including organised street marches and teach-ins.

A ‘teach-in’ on the issue of sending NZ troops to Vietnam was organised in 1965. A number of staff spoke at the ‘teach-in’, including a number of staff as well as Sir Walter Nash and Hon J Marshall. The large audience was strongly opposed to the Vietnam War. ‘Teach-ins’ as well as news of similar protest movements overseas, served to politicise the students who were ‘looking for an issue.’

However active participation in these movements in the mid-1960s was still by a small minority of students. In 1961 only 400 of about 4500 students signed a petition against the spread of nuclear weapons. The majority was still concerned with education issues. Several hundred students protested in 1965 at continued government inaction on university building programmes, bursaries, and halls of residence.

The SIS on campus

In May 1966 an alternative university newspaper, Outspoke, published accusations of attempts to recruit students as informants by an employee of the Security Intelligence Service, David Godfrey, who had enrolled as a student in Political studies. Some of his fellow students feared that their different opinions exposed to him would jeopardise their future careers.

The University saw no grounds to move his tuition to a completely extramural basis, which was poorly received by some students. In an unprecedented move police were called to break up a 50-strong protest outside the Political Studies department. AUSA sent delegations to Cabinet and other MPs warning of more demonstrations unless active security agents were withdrawn from the campus.

The VC denounced the protesters as being disruptive and trying to victimise an individual. The Deans Committee agreed but also resolved that the University would not tolerate a student spying on other students. Politicians weighed into the matter, making various accusations of communist activity amongst staff and students. A commission of enquiry was set up to clarify the matter, and found that Godfrey had been very widely active on campus, making about 30 ‘enquiries’ including investigating two lecturers with European connections.

The inquiry concluded that private tuition for Godfrey was the best decision under the circumstances. It was also written into University statutes that any Security Intelligence Service officer enrolled as a student cannot any security-related inquiries at University.

Student protests in the 1970s

Into the early 1970s students who were inclined towards sit-ins, marches, and protests had unprecedented opportunities to participate. Established movements against apartheid, nuclear testing, and the international policies of the US were developing momentum. Student participation in protests undoubtedly helped to minimise the number of NZ troops that were sent to Vietnam to fight. These ranged from a July 1968 march to the Town Hall by 2500 students and staff protesting against the Omega base(a secret base near Blenheim possibly for satellite tracking), to other protests against the US government.

During the Cold War the US government sent senior government members for ‘goodwill’ visits to NZ. They often stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel(now the Hyatt), conveniently across the road from the University. 150-200 police attacked 300 demonstrators gathered outside the hotel during US Vice President Spiro Agnew’s visit in January 1970, manhandling and pushing protesters to the ground in an episode police roughness and violence. It was resolved that no organised group activities would be allowed on the grounds of Old Government House with the Vice-Chancellor’s permission, and also that overseas visitors like Agnew would not stay in a hotel just off campus.

Some student demonstrators after the protest proceed to undertake an underground campaign of bombing, usually with dynamite, various military bases. No one was killed. Some of these students received lengthy prison sentences.

A final stage in these demonstrations was a ‘mobilisation’ against the war in 1971 organised by several antiwar groups. In April, 10,000 or more people marched up Queen St in April. The election of the Labour government in 1972 effectively marked the end of the demonstrations.

These radical manifestations of protest were in tune with only a minority. A number of students were seriously committed to such causes but more moderate in their strategies. Some merely went along for the ride. A large proportion held aloof from any participation at all, even debate.

AUSA’s role during this period was confined to special meetings, support for affiliated political clubs and organised student groups, and to formal communications. Much of AUSA’s current policy positions still date from this time.

A number of these demonstrators became successful members of the community in various ways. Some of them returned to the University and graduates. Many of the more moderate activists, who wee also serious students, became successful diplomats, teachers, academics, journalists too; much of the noise arose from serious thought and was not to be wasted.

SRC created

Efforts continued to stimulate student participation in the Association over the 1970s.

A Student Representative Council was established with the aim of democraticising policy decisions. At first it was based on pro-rata elected faculty reps, but speaking and voting rights were extended to all AUSA members, mainly because SRC elections suffered from the same apathy as those for the Executive. The Executive also explored the idea of a paid, full time president.


Tim Shadbolt was a particularly charismatic speaker and personification of this new student spirit of free expression, energy and rebellion. He and a few followers set up in 1968 AUSAPOCPAH, the Auckland University Society for the Active Prevention Of Cruelty to Politically Apathetic Humans. Shadbolt was an extremely good student orator, indeed demagogue. But not all his activities met with success. A peace march was disrupted by engineering students. And AUSApocpahs elected to the AUSA executive were pushed off executive for their antics, such as pushing for a brothel on campus. Shadbolt went on to be a joint editor of Craccum 1972. His radical writings caused concerns amongst more moderate students.

Student apathy and general meetings

Attendance at general meetings failed to match the university’s rapidly rising roll. Only half the general meetings in the later 1970s, when the roll stood at over 10,500, attracted more than 300 students. The quorum was kept low to 50 but this did leave meetings open to manipulation. In 1966, 1967, and 1968 engineering students attending en masse took over meetings, proposing and passing frivolous resolutions, including one which called for all women students to wear only fig leaves for the remainder of the year.

The Engineering Society president later said that the engineers’ actions were altruistic, driven from concern that student disinterest in the association could have allowed even worse things to happen. In 1972 the decision was made to hold referenda on ‘contentious issues’ when voting at special meetings did not produce a sufficient majority on an issue.

Coursework cramps student participation

After the Vietnam War it was noticeable that student opinions were less volatile and students less active politically. One factor in this was the introduction of coursework throughout the year. Whereas previously a student could have a relatively relaxed first term with ‘cramming’ in the third term for final exams, now continuous assessment involved much pressure on students.

Tumult in the late 1970s

The 1979 AUSA President was Janet Roth, a radical feminist with socialist sympathies. She believed that the Association should work like a trade union, there to look after its members and involve them in defending their rights. She wanted the voices of minorities within the university – women, Maori, Pacific Islanders and overseas students – heard. This stance came on the top of increased student involvement in race relations and national politics over the previous decade.  Under Roth the positions of environmental, national, and international affairs were also created.

The recent lowering voting age to 18 also stimulated the youth sections of the National and Labour parties. Unions also got more exposure and better press in Craccum. Students were encouraged to join unions when employed, and to protect the rights of workers.

Economic downturn in the late 1970s saw university bursaries diminish in value, university funding cut, and supplementary income from vacation work decrease. This helped create a reactionary backlash to ‘student issues only’ from anti-radical interest group, which drew the label ‘the silent majority’ from a wider conservative social movement.

The ‘haka’ party and the rolling of Roth

Cultural sensitivity had merged with official objections from both Māori students and AUSA to the ‘haka party’, a long standing group consisting mainly of engineering students who dressed in ‘grass’ skirts, painted their bodies in crude motifs and slogans, and performed their particular version of the ‘haka’ during capping and tournaments.

During capping 1979 this issue came to ahead. During preparations for a practice in the engineer’s common room in May, a group of young Māori men and women activists with no official connection to the University entered the room and caused a scuffle. The incident was seen as highly serious given the tense atmosphere. It was reported that after the event engineers and members of the Māori clubs got together and buried their differences over a few beers.

However, Janet Roth issued a statement which placed the incident in a wider context, deeming racism as the underlying issue. This caused a major backlash from some of the student population. An emergency AUSA executive meeting censured Roth for issuing the statement and formally disassociated itself from it. The issue was also vigorously debated at a well attended student forum in the Quad. A special general meeting was called to roll Roth, a decision which was eventually taken by referendum. Janet Roth was voted out by 2578 to 1535.

Early 1980s

AUSA continued to reverberate over the 1980s to the ongoing clash between radical and conservative elements on campus. 1981 AUSA President Wayne McIntosh was seen as the ‘voice of the silent majority’ and had a constituency in commerce, law, and sports students. Despite a ‘reasonably radical’ executive, he had no interest in political ideology, only a liberal belief in personal responsibility.

Springbok Tour

Students, like the rest of the country, were divided over the 1981 Springbok Tour. A Stop the Tour Action Committee was organised and affiliated to AUSA early in the year.  Large number of students(and also staff and other members of society) took parting the numerous demonstrations, and many of them were hurt in confrontations with police.

However when the executive began voting AUSA funds to subsidise protest expenses, anti-protest feelings that occasionally surfaced in Craccum became organised in a petition signed by over 2000 students against AUSA funding of the protests. A referendum was called with a very close result, 5 votes separated for and against. An emergency executive meeting suspended any further funding to support the protests.


1983 was a particularly tumultuous year. There was division on whether AUSA should participate in the University’s centennial celebrations. Radicals deplored the university’s performance in race relations and women’s rights. SRC passed a motion that ‘due to the University’s record in race relations and women’s issues… AUSA neither endorse nor participate in the Centenary celebrations.’ This boycott was overruled by a later general meeting, though it was then later claimed that Maori students, Pasifika students, and the Women’s Rights Officer had been prevented from speaking.

Other incidents led to a vote of no confidence in president John Broad by the executive and a special general meeting of around 2000 students voted no confidence in Broad too. A new computerised accounting system led to $30,000($81,000 in 2007 dollars) unaccounted for.

There were also complaints about Craccum Editor Rangi Chadwick’s renaming of Craccum for a few months as Kia Ora, a proposed ‘women only’ night at Shadows, and moves to make the pub crawl and ‘drink-the-pub-dry’ an official capping event.

A ‘Craccum reform group’ which said it was ‘not anti-woman, just opposed to positive discrimination’ also put further items on the agenda to dismiss the editor and staff of Craccum.

They also proposed that the former Women’s Common Room, which had been redefined a general common room in 1974 and had been recently converted to Womenspace, open only to women, should revert to its general status. The position of WRO was to be deleted also, and the national affairs officer would take over responsibility for ‘human rights’. The motions to dismiss Craccum lost overwhelmingly, and subsequent motions were withdrawn at the meeting.

A group of ‘six angry women’ abducted the university’s drama tutor Mervyn Thompson, chained him to a tree, and painted ‘RAPIST’ on the side of this car. Their action, they later explained, was prompted by the failure of the justice system to deal with white rapists of professional status. The incident threw the university into turmoil, but out of it came moves to construct formal procedures for charges of sexual harassment on campus.

Graham Watson

Graham Watson was elected AUSA President for 1985, and was re-elected for 1986 and 1987. His main planks included the belief that a student president should be a ‘neutral person not dominated by any factions in student politics’. His term was marked by several executive resignations as well as difficult relations with AUSA employees and Craccum, but he survived a financial scandal and a vote of no confidence.

One major accomplishment during Watson’s term was the position of Craccum editor an elected position, on the grounds that the paper had a radical feminist and political bias. Two general meetings were called before a sufficient majority to achieve this policy was obtained. An effort to eliminate the ‘political positions’(international, national, and environmental affairs) failed for lack of quorum. The position of Craccum Editor(s) is now a regularly contested position during AUSA elections.

Māori students and AUSA

Māori participation in university education remained minimal for much of the 20th century, and Māori continue to be underrepresented in student numbers. For many Māori students study at the university has been an exciting episode in a process of self-determination. Many such students have grown up in a Māori cultural environment, as Māori speakers. Others, part-Māori in ancestry, have had to learn what it meant to be a Māori New Zealander. Occasionally the presence or large number of Māori and Pacific Island students has highlighted problems previous not much attended to by Pakeha students.

In the late 1920s the Te Akarana Māori Association broached the idea of a lectureship in Maori language at AUC, however was declined as Council pleaded lack of funds.

A 1955 study showed that most first-time fulltime students came from middle class homes. At the same time, there was concern at the continued low rate of young Māori at the college. Nevertheless a Māori club was formed in 1953, and in 1957 AUCSA elected its first Māori president Peter Gordon.

The 1970s saw heightened awareness among students of race relations within New Zealand. Nga Tamatoa, an Auckland-based group of young Māori students, became active in the area of Treaty of Waitangi grievances and Māori land claims. Craccum devoted an issue to urban Māori and Polynesian issues in 1976, a year when police conducted ‘dawn raids’ on Pacific overstayers. The University was also concerned at continued low level of Māori and Pasifika students and set up a committee to consider ways in which more may be encouraged to attend.

Student pressure and activism targeted the delays in constructing the Marae. In September 1983 a ‘tent marae’ was erected in front of the Registry building(now Alfred Nathan House). Waipapa Marae was eventually constructed in 1987.

Women students and AUSA

The role of women in relation to AUSA has mirrored societal attitudes to women – shifting from enforced subservience to liberation and assertion of women’s rights from the 1970s onwards.

World War 2 drew many men away to the fighting forces, increasing the proportion of females on campus. At a contentious SGM in 1941 the allowable number of women on executive was increased to five from three for the duration of the war. In 1942 women outnumbered the executive eight to five, and there was a women president, vice president and secretary. However this caused a backlash. A SGM attempted to repeal the 1941 motion but failed, another meeting called later passed a resolution that modified the clause to provide for ‘at least’ three men ands three women on the executive with no upper limit of either sex.

Female students became increasingly marginalised from AUCSA and its activities. Constitutional changes in 1947 now limited the maximum number of women to three though women were still allowed to contest the post of president or secretary. The women’s common room had also been encroached by various expansions of the café and coffee bar.

Radical feminism in the 1970s

The fast moving changes in youth culture over the late 1960s and early 1970s included the emergence of a radical feminism which challenged established female roles. University women took up a new assertive approach in 1967 with a campaign for a crèche to care for children of staff and students on campus. With no joy from Council, a child minding service reliant on volunteers ran from AUSA for 2 years. Finally in 1969 a further approach to Council resulted in the provision of a cottage to house the crèche with AUSA picking up the running costs.

Other issues provided momentum for the women’s movement on campus, such as equal pay for cafeteria workers, ’invading’ the strictly male public bar of the Great Northern Hotel, and protests against the Miss New Zealand contest. Women held an ‘Emancipation Day’ protest in Albert Park. By mid-1970 two groups had formed on campus, The Women’s Movement for Freedom and the Women’s Liberation Front. By 1980, women composed about 40 percent of the student body.

There was uproar in 1973 when a strip show was offered in the orientation programme. The matter was taken to a general meeting, which was stacked with engineers. The students there voted 270-130 for continuing with the show.

Women presidents were elected in 1974 and 1978, and the position of Women’s Rights Officer was created in 1976. The AUSA executive however continued to tread a careful line on women’s issues, while the outcomes of general meetings and referenda tended to be conservative.

The existence of Womenspace, formerly the Women’s Common Room, and the position of Women’s Rights Officer, has continued to occasionally stir debate over its usefulness and whether they should be abolished.

Disabled students

In the 1970s disabled students became more assertive in pushing for full access to University facilities. Under the banner ‘Disabled Liberation’ student Honor Morton campaigned for improved physical access to public buildings.

AUSA did have a Disabled Students Resource Officer over the 1980s and 1990s. AUSA also worked on fundraising for its Trust for the Education of Handicapped Persons. This Trust, and its monies, is still in existence today.

The 1990s and Beyond

With the economic reforms of the 1990s and the introduction of user pays in tertiary education, students associations nationwide shifted their focus to education issues – challenging inequities in the student loan scheme, student support, and high levels of student debt.

Part-time work alongside the introduction of internal assessment and the change of semester structure has been attributed to the declining involvement in extracurricular activities and a shift in focus of the student movement from mass protest to lobbying.

Education protests

Education Action Groups (EAG) were set up at most New Zealand university campuses during the 1990s as a vehicle for direct action against user pays reforms to tertiary education. Most EAGs were semi-independent of their students’ associations, but were mostly funded and worked closely with associations to help achieve their shared aims and policies of free quality education for all. EAGs and associations demanded a return to zero tertiary fees and a universal student living allowance.

There were regular student protests throughout the early-mid 1990s, including marches up Queen Street that attracted thousands of students across Auckland.

At their height in the early to mid ’90s national annual training and large student protests were organised (including bus trips of students from all around the country converging at parliament) culminating in the rolling occupations of several university registry buildings(including Auckland) in 1996. Education regularly featured in the top 3 voters’ concerns in election years during the 1990s.

At Auckland, the Registry (now Alfred Nathan House) was occupied by students at time in 1996, 1997, 1999, and 2000. These occupations did attract significant media attention and lasted for days. AUSA formally took no position on the 1999 registry occupation in contrast to previous years, which appalled the protesters involved.

Since 2001 the only active Education Action Group is at Victoria University (most active after introduction of Fee Maxima policy in 2003). At other students’ associations it has become more common for student executives to try and run campaigns.

Other points of interest

  • AUSA supported the campaign for the MMP electoral system, and also opposed the Employment Contracts Act.
  • Briefly withdrew from NZUSA in 1993 under then-President Ritchie Watson.
  • AUSA was also involved in court action in the late 1990s regarding AUSA’s annual fee. There was disagreement over whether the correct amount was charged to students – $124 or $110.
  • Portfolio positions used to be paid 5-10 hours a week at $12/hour.
  • AUSA used to give grants for overseas travel for students who applied, for example representing New Zealand overseas through a sporting or other event.

‘The speedboat’

AUSA bought a speedboat for the Waterski club in the 1993. The purchase was cited by proponents of voluntary membership at Auckland as an example of financial misuse by students’ associations. It appears to have been discussed at least twice by the Executive in the 1990s:

  • RN538/93(22 July 1993) – That the Waterski Club be granted $22,620 from Sports Grants to buy a skiboat (17ft long, 150-200HP outboard motor). (It was later granted on August 11  $19,789 to purchase the boat)
  • RN 345/95(22 May 1995) – a motion to sell the speedboat lost. A note attached in the executive minutes says: “It was felt that while the initial decision was not sound, other clubs also had large capital purchases, and it would be unfair to penalise the club while it was acting responsibly.”

It is not known what happened to the speedboat after this time, however rumours say it simply ended up on somebody’s frontyard rusting.

1999 – Voluntary membership comes to Auckland

Voluntary referenda

As required by legislation, the University Council conducted a student referendum in 1999 on whether membership in AUSA should be voluntary or compulsory. A narrow majority of students supported voluntary unionism, and so Auckland joined Waikato which was already voluntary.

Referenda on the same issue were held in 2000 and 2003, and in each case, the majority of students voted for voluntary unionism.This table shows the results for the three referenda held at Auckland University.

Turnout Voluntary Compulsory Voluntary% Compulsory%
1999 11919 5981 5883 50.18% 49.36%
2000 9389 5545 3814 59.05% 40.62%
2003 7921 5621 2224 70.96% 28.07%

Voluntary’s impact on AUSA

Voluntary membership imposed many changes on the structure and organisation of AUSA. It resulted in major redundancies and downsizing of staff.

During the 1990s the annual levy had been around $120. In 1999 A portion of this had to be refunded to students from the date the referenda result was finalised, to the tune of millions of dollars(?).

AUSA now gets its income from two sources: a contract with the University known as the Student Services Agreement, and income from its trusts. The amount AUSA receives from the University is not related to its membership level. The Agreement was designed to ensure student services administered by AUSA remain operating and are for all students, through funding direct from the University.

Membership levels

AUSA holds annual membership drives during the first week of lectures every year, to sign up students to AUSA. Students can sign up any time, but most sign up at the start of the year.

Membership numbers collapsed under voluntary. The first year of voluntary membership, 2000, had a fee of $30 and attracted only around 3000 members(out of almost 30,000 students). 2001 saw AUSA sign up around 4700 students, 2002 just below 2700.

Free membership was introduced in 2003.  Since then numbers have steadily climbed to reach around 20,000 in 2005 and have stabilised at this level since.


AUSA also put many of its businesses and operations into Trusts during this time, to insulate them from executive interference in operations and to ensure they can provide dividends to the Association to partially fund its services.

The Services Trust was created in 2000 to oversee the Bacchid Benevolency company, which ras campus cafes and also catering services. bFM was put under the Media Trust in 2002. A Property Trust was also formed to administer and invest in off-campus property.


Voluntary membership also changed how students are represented on University committees. Under compulsory the Executive and SRC appointed students to various University and AUSA committees. This changed from 2000, to elections amongst class reps for student reps on these committees. Similarly, on University Council, the two student reps are decided by election, rather than appointed by AUSA.

Student Union developments

The Kate Edger Information Commons was finished in 2003, after over a decade of plans and discussion about a new ‘Student Amenities Complex’ building for the University. Its associated building work and demolitions meant AUSA House moved from next to the Library across the street to its current location, 4 Alfred Street.

The AUSA Foodbank was started in 1998, then was administered by the Evangelical Union club in 2000-2001. It experienced significant growth over 2004, 2005, and 2006 under then-Welfare Officers Xavier Goldie, and then David Do, to become a core service of WAVE. The foodbank even got an honorary mention of Xavier and David in Metro in 2005.

Alfred Street, after years of pressure, was finally closed to cars in early 2007. Talk of closing the street to vehicular traffic had been around as early as the initial construction of the Student Union complex in 1968. Pressure from students, AUSA, and a university taskforce convened to pursue the issue further saw the street officially ‘closed’ on 1 April 2007.

‘Student Central’ opened in the Quad in 2007. This new facility in the centre of the Student Union buildings is a joint venture between the University and AUSA, designed to increase awareness of student services at university and AUSA as well as provide an enhanced facility for servicing clubs and sports.

Craccum controversies

Craccum was embroiled in public controversy at various times throughout its history. Perhaps its most infamous episode was after the publication of the ‘Suicide Issue’, Craccum’s second issue for 2000.

The ‘Suicide and How to Do It’ article described in detail various methods of suicide and their effects on the human body. The article had taken pains to refer readers to necessary help, with information about Student Health and Counselling at the bottom of every page of the article. Some of the controversy also centred on an accompanying column by Tim Selwyn, which among other things suggested that some individuals in society were more deserving of suicide than others.

A Special General Meeting was called to discuss a motion of no confidence in the co-editors, Ben Thomas and James Cardno. The SGM, which attracted over 600 students, voted overwhelmingly against the motion.

In 2005, the rights to the front cover of one issue of Craccum were auctioned on Trademe. Salient, the student magazine for Victoria University of Wellington, won the auction.

In 2007 Craccum’s publication of an email from Paul Buchanan to an international student, related to his sacking, drew significant media attention to the case.

In early 2008, a group of Chinese students, opposed to an advertisement promoting a Chinese cultural show with connections to Falun Gong, were caught stealing hundreds of copies of Craccum to stop students seeing the advertisement.

Student politics

The 2001 elections attracted some attention, surrounding the candidacy of Sherid Thrackwray for AUSA President 2002. Her campaign utilised visiting missionaries as well as colour printed t-shirts. Her affiliation with the Victory Campus Ministries club was subject to attack and scrutiny from some quarters.

AUSA rejoined NZUSA as associate members in 2002 in a special associate membership agreement to reflect AUSA’s financial difficulties at the time. In 2004, a referenda to withdraw from NZUSA passed, and was followed by another one was held to rejoin, which also passed. AUSA withdrew from USNZ for 2003, and did not participate in University Games that year.

Kate Sutton was 2004 AUSA President, the third woman president in over 100 years. A SGM was called to try and roll her, but failed. Her term attracted accusations of left-wing bias from some quarters.

A Special General Meeting in October 2004 appointed Algerian refugee Ahmed Zaoui as AUSA’s honorary spokesperson for Algerian affairs. This reflected concern at his treatment after arrival in New Zealand and SIS allegations of him being a terrorist risk. The SIS’ security risk certificate was later rescinded in 2007, leaving Zaoui a free man, and able to reunite with his family later that year.

In 2008, AUSA had a significant media presence, with a strong election-year campaign working with other student associations to push for the reintroduction of a universal student allowance.  The Quad was turned into a cardboard box city for 24 hours to mark 10 billion dollars of student debt.  Two quorate General Meetings were held that year, the first to adopt a strong position against the University’s elimination of open entry from some degrees, and the second to adopt Constitutional changes.  The Constitution was significantly revised, refreshed, and updated, with the creation of a new Grafton Representative on the Executive.  2008 President, David Do, also wore a penis suit around campus to promote male sexual health awareness.