John Blakeley, co-founding editor of Lot’s Wife, gives back to Monash.
To the sound of rock’n’roll and the take-off roar of a spaceship launching the first human into space, 1961 heralded a thirst for cultural change and technological innovation.
It was also the year that Monash University opened its doors.
Capturing the essence of the early 1960s was John Blakeley, who helped to leave a permanent record of the making of the new University’s identity in its newspaper.
Now, more than five decades later, John is gifting his collection of that newspaper – Lot’s Wife – and memorabilia from the university’s earliest years back to Monash. This includes his student card (number 0000193), gold-edged invitations to the ‘Recovery Ball’ and Monash Film Club programs. He’s also made a bequest in his will.
“Monash gave me things of value – sound academic foundations, a sense of self, lifelong friends and skills, particularly with writing,” he says. “I felt it was appropriate to give something back.”
In 1964, John – along with fellow students Tony Schauble and Damien Broderick – was handed editorial responsibility of a somewhat lacklustre university newspaper called Chaos. Together, they turned the publication into the influential and now legendary Lot’s Wife.
“It was Damien who came up with the name – an allusion to the biblical figure who defied a command not to look back to the doomed city of Sodom and was turned to a pillar of salt,” John says.
“We intended it as a warning to students not to entertain nostalgia for the past. We were saying: ‘Don’t let this happen to you, or to Monash’.” It was a sentiment shared by the University as it aspired to become a research powerhouse, but one free from tradition and convention.
“Monash was willing to be different, to act on its convictions and stake out its own ground,” John says. “That was also the spirit we students were embracing in the 1960s. We knew we were pioneers.”
Essential to that new identity was a commitment to think critically and to aim for something more than bettering one’s lot in life or improving a stagnant status quo: “There was an expectation you would give back, that you would be involved,” he says.
In the spirit
John’s gift serves not only as an evocative social record of a particular time, sparking memories and discussion, but also as a reminder to current students of the founding spirit of the University – challenging convention and embracing innovation. “This is about realising what some parts of the past mean to the present,” he says. “It’s not only looking back, but also looking forward.”
In the 1960s, Lot’s Wife broke plenty of ground. Tony led the publication into colour with new web offset printing, and its boundary-pushing coverage ranged from politics to cultural and societal changes – an approach that flourished under subsequent editors.
The three founders went on to make their mark in life. John made his in education and pedagogical innovation, overseeing the business curriculum for TAFE Queensland and as education studies director at the Open Learning Institute.
Damien has written and edited more than 70 science-fiction books, and Tony is an entrepreneur who, in 1966 with Lot’s Wife subsequent editor Philip Frazer, co-founded Australia’s first pop music newspaper, Go-Set, which introduced pop charts to the nation and Ian ‘Molly’ Meldrum to music journalism – and outsold Time magazine
in the process.
John’s career exemplifies the Monash motto, Ancora Imparo (I am still learning), and he urges today’s students to heed its message. “That motto is not limiting – it’s open-ended and it encourages you to embrace whatever Monash has given you, academically and socially, for the rest of your life,” he says. “When you graduate it doesn’t end there – and my realisation of that is why I’m giving back.”
Leaving a legacy
John Blakeley was the first of his family to attend university, but not the first in his family to donate to Monash. His father, Clem Blakeley OBE, a retired group captain in the RAAF, was so appreciative of the education provided to his son that he made a donation towards the construction of a campus hall. It’s in honour of his father’s memory that John has made a bequest to Monash in his will.
“It’s a small donation – we won’t be building another ‘Ming Wing’, I tell you – but it’s a gesture to put something back because Monash gave me a great deal. And I’d encourage fellow graduates to think about it because, even as small as those gestures may be, they’re meaningful to the institution.”
Words: Gio Braidotti; Photo: Glenn Hunt