Discover 76 years of history through the eyes of students

Discover 76 years of history through the eyes of students

RMIT’s flagship student-led publication, Catalyst, has been a source of campus news since 1944. Now most issues are available to read online.

Drawing on material held by RMIT Archives and the Student Union, 804 issues have been uploaded into RMIT Library’s digital collections.

The collection showcases Catalyst’s willingness to seek inclusion and unapologetically let students speak their mind, with issues focusing on sexuality, multicultural week, the environment and drug awareness.

You can access the online issues via the RMIT Library.

Issues pre-1970 are open access, while post-1971 are restricted to RMIT staff and students.

RMIT News has summarised some of the highlights of the collection.

So, roll up your sleeves, put on your blue light filter glasses and uncover the changing attitudes and opinions of students across 76 years.

1944 – First ever issue at Melbourne Technical College

Catalyst was initially meant to be a newspaper for the School of Chemistry, hence the scientific name, but became the official organ for the entire student body.

The first editorial bribes students with a double theatre ticket if they could come up with a new original name for the paper.

It seems no one could, here we are 76 years later!

May their courage continue to the publication of the thirtieth and fortieth issues and inspire their successors to carry on till the paper becomes an essential feature of college life.

Read the issue.

Catalyst College News. 18 May 1944, Volume 1, Issue 1. Catalyst College News. 18 May 1944, Volume 1, Issue 1.

1956 – 'CatalystE' – special feminine edition

As the editors letter stated: “Never before in the history of the college has such a thing like this happened”.

This issue of Catalyst not only set the precedent for the magazine being a platform for women and minority groups to seek equality, but to be given a voice.

In this edition, the male members of the editorial staff stepped down from the office to leave the direction of the issue entirely in the hands of the female students.

The magazine calls on women to have their say and since then, Catalyst issues have had special sections, such as Womyn, and have enabled women to feel liberated

Male hands have moulded the progress of the College for many years. How about a change? A female for S.R.C. President – Prime Minister – Premier – Why not?

Read the issue

Catalyst. 24 July 1956, Volume 11, Issue 13, CatalystE: Special feminine edition. Catalyst. 24 July 1956, Volume 11, Issue 13, CatalystE: Special feminine edition.

1983 – Money, Sex, Art, Style

Continuing Catalyst’s platform for being inclusive included the publishing of feature articles such as A Voyage of Change – an article about being transsexual.

The article gives an insight into male-to-female transitioning in the 1980s and the writer talks about the process of losing friends during her transition, to her experience at ‘Tech’ (RMIT).

The feature delves into sex and gender stereotyping, coming out to parents and the sad reality of ‘treatment’ therapies given to trans people.

The article is an insight into some of the realities and discrimination trans people face still face today. 

To look for reasons is to miss a knowledge of the subject completely.

Read the issue (RMIT login required)

Catalyst. 2 September 1983, Volume 39, Issue 15, Money, sex, art, style. Catalyst. 2 September 1983, Volume 39, Issue 15, Money, sex, art, style.

1983 – Interview with the future Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard

Then president of the Australian Union of Students, Gillard spoke to Catalyst’s Simon Roberts about the unions past turmoil and what it can do to improve in the future.

The resulting article is framed by pieces about women’s liberation and a noteworthy commentary on sexism in humour that is still relevant to this day.

Why have they been telling us lately that women have no sense of humour - when we are always laughing?

Read the issue – Gillard on page 10 (RMIT login required)

Catalyst. 27 May 1983, Volume 39, Issue 9. Catalyst. 27 May 1983, Volume 39, Issue 9.

1986 – Sexuality issue

By the mid-1980s Catalyst was no stranger to talking about sex, women’s liberation and LGBT+ rights – this sexuality issue goes all the way.

The articles range from a Christian’s viewpoint on sexuality to understanding pornography.

There’s answers to questions regarding AIDS to reduce paranoia and stigma, topics such as contraception and abortion, and an advertisement on RMIT’s zero-tolerance policy on sexual harassment.

Overall, the issue highlights Catalyst’s willingness to be open about sexuality and create an inclusive space for students to feel comfortable about their own. 

Because there is still misinformation about sex … And men are called studs and women are called sluts … And people are discriminated against because of their sexual preferences … we present the sexuality edition of Catalyst.

Read the issue (RMIT login required)

Catalyst. 2 June 1986, Volume 42, Issue 8, Sexuality edition. Catalyst. 2 June 1986, Volume 42, Issue 8, Sexuality edition.

1986 – Black Australia

This issue of Catalyst is just one example of students speaking out for the rights of Australia’s First Nations people.

Some of the articles include why people should opt out of 1988 Bicentenary celebrations and delves into issues that are still relevant in our society today, such as black deaths in custody.

The edition draws parallels between the racial tensions and apartheid in South Africa and compares them to injustices on Australian soil.

We want peace in this country, and we want justice. We will not forget our ancestors who gave us our land rights in our hearts … in our minds … and in our bones.

Read the issue (RMIT login required)

Catalyst. Volume 43, Issue 13, Elections & not much about music / Black Australia. Catalyst. Volume 43, Issue 13, Elections & not much about music / Black Australia.

1996 – Are you Y2K compliant?

By the title alone, this issue is a trip down memory lane.

From the first few pages we are taken back to the era of internet cafes and being convinced why Geri Halliwell should be your favourite ex-Spice Girls in an article written by now ABC journalist Patricia Karvelas.

The articles range from deep pieces on heroin, to pleas for RMIT to grant students more on-campus access to computers. 

As students were entering the new millennium, Catalyst discussed topics such as the Government’s plan to censor pornography on the internet and the empowerment that can come from switching off your television. 

The catalyst office has been fitted out with a CD player … hopefully the entire student union is enjoying Geri along with me.

Read the issue (RMIT login required)

Catalyst. Volume 55, Issue 5, The year is 1999: Are you Y2K compliant? Catalyst. Volume 55, Issue 5, The year is 1999: Are you Y2K compliant?

2001 – First issue after 9/11

Reacting to one of the biggest events of the past 50 years, this issue of Catalyst showcases the scope of the devastating attacks, while capturing the headspace of a young generation during this time of heightened anxiety and grief.

In the editorial letters, the four young editors discuss war, racism, the saturation of the media and how 9/11 is impacting student life.

In the time I have been monitoring news and current affairs, I have never before seen coverage akin to what has crossed our screens in recent weeks … All media indulged in image saturation showing loop after loop of destruction, death and desperation … and we saw it all on television.

Read the issue (RMIT login required)

Catalyst. 17 September 2001, (Volume 57), Issue 7. Catalyst. 17 September 2001, (Volume 57), Issue 7.

Help find lost issues

About 90% of known issues have been digitised so far, thanks to staff from the RMIT Library and a funding contribution from the Student Union.

But there are also a few missing issues from 1945–1965. If you have any copies from that time, please email digitalrepository@rmit.edu.au.

Explore the Catalyst online collection.

 

Story: Phoebe Humphreys

13 October 2020

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13 October 2020

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