The Guild of Undergraduates was established in Section 28 of the University of Western Australia Act(1911). This codification gave the Guild great power – they were independent, intended to be free from University influence and had official control over relations between the University and its students. The 184 foundation students had, as Guild members, considerable sway over the new university’s decision-making.
Based on a decision by the University Senate in 1912, at the behest Sir John Winthrop Hackett, who concurrently held the titles of Chancellor and Guild President, tuition was to be free for all students, the first university of its kind in Australia. However, there were not enough resources to manage the social and sporting needs of undergraduates. The Guild took these on, proposing a blanket subscription fee, set in 1913 at a half-crown, two shillings and sixpence in the currency Australia had until going decimal in 1966.
Since 1913 the Guild has been led by students who have gone on to become Prime Ministers, Supreme Court Justices, highranking diplomats and business leaders, include former Prime Minister Bob Hawke, former Justice of the Supreme Court of WA and former Federal Court Judge Bob Nicholson AO, former Federal Opposition Leader and Diplomat to the USA Kim Beazley, former Attorney-General for Australia Daryl Williams QC and entrepreneur Robert Holmes à Court.
As student representatives they went to great lengths to protect the interests of students and change UWA for the better. In 1969, for example, the first female President, Sue Boyd, led a sit-in on Stirling Highway after two students died trying to cross the road. This protest led to the rapid installation of an underpass which has helped keep students safe for more than 40 years.
The Guild has been a staunchly independent advocate for students throughout its existence. However, the Guild has always seen itself as a partner in the University’s success: a union of students which criticizes when criticism is due and helps when help is needed.
A great example of this partnership occurred in 1932 when the University decided to build the Reflection Pond outside Winthrop Hall. When workers went on strike just days before an important international benefactor was due to arrive, the University was left with a half-finished pond. The next day the administration came to work to discover students digging the pond themselves as a gesture of goodwill to the University.
Today the Guild continues to represent the students of The University of Western Australia at all levels of the University, while providing support services and an engaging campus culture of events, clubs and volunteering.