Student elections at UQ are going on this week. I don't remember this kind of strong campaigning for an election at any of the other universities with which I have been associated in the past 25 years. I believe there are just two parties, Fresh and Now!, which are running for control of the student-run UQ Union. Unlike most universities in the U.S., there isn't a student-run newspaper here, like The Daily Iowan or The Emory Wheel, which might provide more information about what's going on in students' heads. My colleagues have told me that the national political parties back these student groups because they want to promote their own agendas, particularly those having to do with whether compulsory student fees will ever be reinstated. (These were abolished on July 1, 2006, under the Howard government, which led to a great curtailing of student services on Australian campuses). One of my colleagues informed me that Fresh is backed by the Liberal party (the party on the right) because they want to keep the fees voluntary, but most UQ students are unaware of this affiliation. All week, both Fresh and Now! have had huge teams of supporters wearing yellow and blue shirts passing out fliers all over campus.
A member of Fresh asked for a few minutes to speak to my class on Tuesday to tell my students why they should vote for her party. Her main message appeared to be that Fresh has been working hard to get Subway on campus, whereas Now (made up of Greens and other progressives) doesn't support this action. Yes, this seems to be a central issue in the campaign this year, as you can see in the banner below.
Sure, I occasionally went to Subway when I lived in the States, but I usually preferred going to local shops for my sandwiches. I rarely encountered any sort of line when I did go to Subway, so imagine my surprise at seeing long queues nearly every time I have come upon a Subway here. Australians just go mad about Subway. Since my arrival, I've been to shopping areas full of quaint food stands and quick eateries that were serving original, delectable dishes, but the only place with any kind of line was Subway. They always seem to be busy. I can't explain why Subway is such a huge phenomenon here, nor why it's such an important issue to UQ students. And vegemite isn't even on the menu. Then again, I don't understand pickled beetroot on hamburgers either.