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March 15, 2010 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

Salient Through The Ages

Salient has got to be the raddest septuagenarian this side of awesometown. To celebrate its 72nd birthday, feature writer Matthew Cunningham looks back over the first three decades of Salienty goodness and plucks out a few memorable gems. So here it is, in all its glory—the first thirty years of Salient!


Salient was born amidst the first stirrings of war. Editor ‘Bonk’ Scotney stressed that the timing was no coincidence. “Unless a sufficiently large and well-informed mass of public opinion can be formed the world over … the very academic detachment so forcibly and so often placed before us as the ‘correct’ attitude of the student mind, will—along with most other things that make a university what it is—be lost forever.”

Salient tackled the question of whether or not students were ‘qualified’ to hold political opinions. “They are not,” stated one Professor Shelley. “Freedom of speech depends upon the discipline of the minds of those entering upon the discussion.

“You will remember that public discussion on sex and religion has been banned by our own university authorities.” Poor Salient—not even a year old and already the carnal conversation starter had been banned.


War! New Zealand followed Britain in declaring war on the Nazis after their invasion of Poland. Salient counselled moderation. “For those who are resolved that war is the solution, they should examine their premises, as should those who possess pacific tendencies.

“To the jingoist it is an opportune time for his airy urgings, but even the jingo accuser should beware that he is not similarly guilty … Such an attitude can only result in placing the defender of the aggressed in a position comparable to the aggressor.”


A reduced newsprint magazine started feeling the pinch of war. “Our greatest loss is likely to be caused by the absorption of our best intellects into the military forces.”

Just as serious, however, was the fear that freedom of speech or expression might be curtailed in the interests of national security. Salient staunchly supported Professor von Zedlitz against the cries of “hysterical patriots” claiming that he was an “enemy alien”. Not bad for a three-year-old!


With the war raging in Europe, Salient did its best to keep its readership informed of the whereabouts of students serving overseas.

Salient was not all war, however. A great deal of attention was dedicated to ‘Tournament’, the 1940s equivalent of Uni Games. “Tourney is a very important opportunity to learn how to win friends and influence people,” Salient claimed, foreshadowing the catch-cries of future self-help gurus.


Salient veered toward the radical. Editor Cecil Crompton promoted a socialist perspective on the war, despite conservative criticisms from much of New Zealand society. Crompton was infamous for celebrating the entry of the Soviet Union into the war by painting a hammer and sickle atop the Arts Building.


Salient did its utmost to promote a united front against the war despite its radical tendencies. It lauded the £600 contribution donated by Vic students to the war effort. The poverty of students is traditional.

“While today few if any at Victoria exist on bread crusts and water in dim garrets, they are still a relatively impoverished section of the community.” It’s nice to know things haven’t changed.


“The footsteps of war are now heard less clearly from New Zealand shores,” wrote Salient, “but this does not lessen our responsibilities.

“Work hard, support all moves which help the war, and above all … study to fit ourselves for the more responsible tasks in civil life.”

Salient also tackled one of the pressing issues of the war effort—the role of women in the workforce. The absence of thousands of young men had led to an increase in female employment, raising the question of pay inequity. “On a certain job men and women doing identical work over the same period were paid in a ratio of about two to one.

“It is … a question which we students cannot afford to ignore; it affects us too vitally.”


Victory! With the streets “packed with confetti, streamers, people and inebriates”, Salient partied like ‘twas nineteen forty-nine. In a fashion that most contemporary students will appreciate, Salient also reflected on “the disaster of the morning after”.

Salient commented on the emerging post-war world, focusing on China and Mao Tse-Tung. Mao, it was thought, would bring “democracy not only in the voting procedure and freedom of speech, but also in the conduct of economic and cultural affairs”. Well, at least he made for a good capitalist t-shirt icon.


Salient celebrated the birth of the United Nations by interviewing the New Zealand Delegate to UNESCO. UNESCO sought to “contribute to peace and security by promoting collaboration among the nations through education, science and culture”. Whether or not this collaboration would include international drinking competitions was not mentioned.

The rising cost of tertiary study was revisited. “Education is dispensed on a class basis, and … the children of the workers do not have the same opportunities as those of the wealthy.”


Salient aroused controversy in 1947 when it protested against the Dutch military action in Indonesia. This sparked an attempt by the students’ association to rein in the magazine. Editor Alec McLeod responded that Salient was “in no way subject to the whims of that body”. The relationship between Salient and VUWSA has, of course, been nothing but peachy since then…


The onset of the Cold War evinced a furious commentary from Salient. It condemned “the old men, the psychopaths, the property owners, the fanatic nationalists, and those who let the comic strips fight for them”.

“Russia has now become the terrible bogy” through “American aggression and intolerance”.


Salient maintained its opposition to the Cold War. The student association’s Manifesto for Peace stated its “unequivocal opposition to all preparations and plans for war.

“We denounce all those who, by propaganda, by provocation, by armament or conspiracy, are attempting to lead the common people of the world into a new war against their fellow men.”


With Korea exploding into a ‘hot’ war, Salient called upon the United Nations to resolve the conflict. “If both sides now make an attempt to settle the thing without letting every trigger happy warrior free to work off his feelings, then UN action will mean something.”

Salient also sarcastically lamented Vic’s unexpected success in the year’s Tournament. “We suppose it was bound to happen in the end.

“For years it was the proud boast of VUC clubs that, whatever could be thrown against our defences, the wooden spoon was ours.”


The flames of radical rhetoric began to dwindle as Salient stepped into the hands of a string of conservative editors. Salient decried the radicalism of the 40s, stressing that “a more impartial approach is needed”.

Salient also dedicated several issues to discussing the “Peace Movement” that had arisen in response to the ongoing Korean War, ultimately rejecting it as being “dominated and controlled by Communism”.

“[Salient does not] believe that the Peace Movement necessarily wants peace, except on the terms of Soviet Russia.”


Salaries for students? According to Salient, the prospect of paying students a basic wage was worth considering. “A high proportion of students are physically unfit.

“There are frequent cases of absolute hardship, and many cases of undernourishment.”

The average student was found to be too weak from malnutrition to comment.


Salient continued to promote a less radical line to entice new students. It encouraged “the corporate varsity spirit both in work and play” over the stereotype of Victoria as a “hotbed of sedition”.

Meanwhile, students from Otago University won the “Drinking Horn” at Tournament in the “phenomenal time of 14.9 seconds”.


An unusually prescient Salient Editor reflected on the potential consequences of the situation in Vietnam. “The defeat of the French armies in Indo-China will have implications which this generation will have to face in the future.

“[Vietnam] appears to be a further step towards world domination by the forces of Communism.”

Paranoia aside, Salient criticised the communist witch hunt in the United States under Senator Joe McCarthy. “We have had rabble rousers before, men who appealed to the mob spirit and the lynching instinct, but never before have such men operated on the highest level.”


The year dawned with the question of education quality foremost in Salient’s mind. Victoria’s over-investment in infrastructure and under-investment in student services was seriously called into question.

“What good is a seven-story science block or a new 250,000 volume library to the student body, if at the end of their stay they come out impoverished in spirit and in health, with a degree signifying that they have satisfactorily regurgitated their textbooks and lectures and are prepared to apply their narrow intellects and glassy eyes to advancing the quality of toilet paper or wrappings for chewing gum?”


Salient lauded Victoria’s abysmal performance at the annual Tournament and rejoiced in regaining the wooden spoon. “Victoria performed dismally, compiling a points total less than a third of those of Otago.”

Meanwhile, several conservative party poopers attempted to ban the traditional drinking competition. “The Drinking Horn this year was a disgusting shambles, and it was little worse than others of previous years.

“A certain amount of decency should be maintained in what is not in itself a very civilized sort of competition.”

Said conservatives rejected the claim that they needed to get laid.


The big story of the year was Salient’s criticism of New Zealand’s foreign policy.

“Our foreign policy is dominated, as it has been for generations, by hostility and suspicion towards the people of Asia—summed up in the old nightmare of the ‘yellow peril’.

“A realistic foreign policy would be directed towards coming to terms with these people, and working out some method of mutually satisfactory peaceful co-existence with them.”


Salient’s twentieth birthday coincided with Victoria finally being granted university status. No longer a college or “night school”, the university was able to make the gargantuan acronymic leap from ‘VUC’ to ‘VUW’.

The first hints of a resurgent left-wing began to appear as the magazine protested against nuclear testing.

“The testing or use of nuclear weapons in any way whatsoever is grossly immoral.”


Salient’s gradual drift toward the left was epitomised by its condemnation of apartheid. The magazine criticised the decision of the All Blacks not to include any Maori players in its upcoming tour of South Africa. This commentary foreshadowed the renewed radicalism of the following decade.


Victoria University’s rolls were filled to the brim with the offspring of the baby boomer generation. This led to a revival of left-wing politics at university, with Salient being no exception. The magazine tackled issues such as sex and censorship, as well as writing an extended feature on “Columbo Plan” exchange students from Asia.

Less seriously, the inaugural issue for the year joked about the possibility that Adolf Hitler might have fled to New Zealand after the war. “No one knows for certain that [he] is dead.”


Alcohol and panty raids were the talk of the town, with Salient reporting extensively on the damage done to the new common room in the Student Union Building after the yearly graduate supper. “The floor was pocked by stiletto heels, furniture was saturated with beer and the men’s toilets left awash with vomit.” Sounds like a typical Friday night at Coyote’s.

Meanwhile, two 17-year-olds were arrested during the traditional “panty raids”, leading to the banning of the activity.


Salient began the year with a call for action against the “grooved apathy” of the previous decade. “A stultifying complacency has almost deadened the students’ voice.

“Are we going to sit tight for the next fifty years; or are we going to open the doors and let in the winds of change?”

Salient certainly took up its own challenge, with features on cold war tensions in Laos, Berlin and Cuba.


Salient enjoyed a brief flirtation with conservatism. Editor Geoffrey Palmer launched an attack on the “new woman” of Victoria University, calling her a “hard and brash super-sophisticate, with dyed hair and drip-dry morals”.

Meanwhile, a visit to the university by the governor general ended with a long string of tin cans being surreptitiously tied to the back of his Bentley. Funnily enough, the normally poor students had also filled his hubcaps with pennies.


Student pranks reached new levels of notoriety with a mock murder in Te Aro. Emergency services and the press—not to mention a sizeable crowd—were all fooled by the event.

“When the crowd learned that it was only a stunt they turned on the students. Cries of ‘Lynch them’, ‘Throw them out of the university’, were heard.”


Opposition to apartheid continued into 1965, with Salient reporting favourably on VUWSA’s decision to offer scholarships to South African students.

In addition, Salient ran a feature on race relations in New Zealand, highlighting the level of cultural discrimination against Maori. The magazine put out a call for students to write “of any incidents, trivial or important … that would help to elucidate the true nature of relationships … between the Maori and the Pakeha.”


Alongside growing student discontent with the escalating Vietnam war, Salient stood firmly against conscription. “There are good reasons for strengthening this country’s forces for a defensive role. But these reasons do not hold when it comes to conscripting this country’s youth for a war half a world away.”

On a lighter note, Salient noted with amazement the introduction of a new piece of technology to an engineering classroom at MIT—A COMPUTER! “[Classes] now can consider problems in a single session that ten years ago could not have been handled over a period of many months.” Students marvelled at the dramatic increase in porn-viewing efficiency.


“Slum living for students” was the first headline of the year. Salient visited several flats to report on deteriorating living conditions.

“One of the better examples had no hot water system, the floor coverings were rotting, it was impossible to see through the grime on the windows, the stench of decaying food permeated the entire house, and there were several poems inscribed on the walls of the toilet.”

Salient heavily criticised the government’s decision to double the number of troops in Vietnam. “It is regrettable the government should feel it necessary to commit New Zealand further into a war from which there is little to gain and so much to lose.”


Revolution! Salient’s thirtieth birthday coincided with a wave of student protests across the Western world, bringing with it a reminder of the magazine’s original purpose. “[Salient] believes that students are qualified to hold views on political and social matters.”

Editor Bill Logan campaigned actively for greater student involvement in university governance. “The five thousand students are as much members of the university as the five hundred of the staff.”

Salient remained highly critical of the Vietnam War, claiming that it was “inspired by misguided self-interest and executed with bumbling atrocity”. It analysed the make-up of the protest groups, demonstrating that its members came from all walks of life.


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  1. Matthew_Cunningham says:

    I’d just like to point out a mistake I made in my summary for 1940.

    I wrote that “Salient staunchly supported Professor von Zedlitz against the cries of “hysterical patriots” claiming that he was an “enemy alien”.”

    In reality, the article in question was referring back to the attempt that was made in 1914/1915 to ban von Zedlitz from teaching at the university. It was using this example of the curtailment of freedom of speech in the First World War to advocate against similar curtailments being enacted during the Second. So far as I am aware, von Zedlitz was no longer actively teaching by this point.

    Sorry for the misunderstanding!

    Cheers, Matt.

  2. Bianca says:

    WOW! You guys are old but going strong. Keep it up! Let’s show those that are tryong to decimate traditional forms of publications something!

  3. Peter M. says:

    I use Salient to wipe me bum. Even if I do have toilet paper there. HAHAHAHAHAHA

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