Charity by Anarchy

Filed under: , by: M Robin

Posted 2nd May

Prosh 2009 is next week, from Thursday the 7th to Friday the 8th May

Tales of Prosh glory are hard to verify. Whispered secrets, they are passed with pride from student to student, becoming more fantastical in each retelling. They are received with wholehearted acceptance by those who hear them, so great is our need to believe in the daring and glory of our predecessors. Like all deviations from the natural order, the history of Prosh is a secret one, rarely recorded. I cannot offer much other than hearsay, and what I can gleam from the pages of old On Dits. Nonetheless, I shall do my best to offer this, an account of what I know of the Adelaide institution, whose flame has in recent years flickered all too close to being extinguished.

The first Prosh took place in 1905, when the University of Adelaide was only 16 years old. Skeletons descending from the ceiling, clocks chiming from behind library books and showers of confetti as an academic procession entered the library prompted Sir Samuel Way (Chancellor, and a former Attorney-General of South Australia) to ask University Council for ‘protection from the students’. A procession took place to the Town Hall, worth mentioning as the term ‘Prosh’ is likely a corruption of ‘procession’. This procession included at least one female student. Anarchy seems to have been more the point than charity in those early days.

It wasn’t until midway through the century that Prosh took on the form most recognizable to us. From 1954 onwards a Prosh rag was published, which would eventually become an issue of On Dit. Crowds of thousands turned up in the 1950s to 60s to watch Procession Day marchers, who would man thirty or so floats over the lunch break. These floats were occasionally in questionable taste, one in the 1960s featuring a five-foot phallus. Ah, undergraduates. The gale of the era did not end there. Smoke bombs were let off in rush-hour Rundle Street, and in 1958 police cars were punctured. Warning lights were stolen from road works, and flashing lights short-circuited at a level crossing, almost causing several accidents.

Students often showed a disregard not only for the safety of others, but for their own as well. In 1952, a female dummy was placed on top of the Elder Conservatorium spire, more than 100 feet above the ground. A professional steeplejack was quoted in the Advertiser describing it as a ‘risky and stupid escapade’. Placed there in the middle of the night, it was not able to be removed by the fire brigade until 4pm the next day, after a half-hour struggle which was watched by a large crowd which assembled to witness the spectacle. 1952 was a good year for stunts involving climbing, the same Prosh also seeing the hoisting of a Jolly Roger at half mast on the tower of Bonython Hall.

In 1962, hundreds of students marched on Christian Brothers College in the city chanting their dissatisfaction with tertiary life, and their desire to return to high school. Upon arrival, the principle good-naturedly distributed enrolment forms though he did insist that a parent or guardian was necessary to finalize enrolment.

Piracy seems a fitting theme to Prosh, one exploited in 1966 when Radio Prosh broadcast from a radio station aboard a boat in international waters. Broadcast personality Ernie Sigley was kidnapped by 20 members of the Adelaide chapter of SCIIAES (Society for the Confining of Immoral Impulses Among Engineering Students) and brought to the specially converted fishing boat. Rumour alleges that the students made a return trip to restock on alcohol at one point before taking out to sea once more.

Kidnappings continued well through the nineties to recent years. 2005 saw Peter Goers, a presenter for ABC Radio, kidnapped from his office by two students dressed as an elephant and a pig, and held hostage until the ABC donated an undisclosed sum to Oxfam's Save the Children fund.

The suspension of a FJ Holden from the university footbridge (over the Torrens) is the stock-standard tale of Prosh. Engineering students in 1973 used the early hours of the Friday morning to position the car near the water on the Southern side of the Torrens. ‘The car was lifted using beams and lifting gear attached to a small hand operated crane located on the footbridge. The crane, with car attached was then pushed out to the centre of the bridge. The car was then firmly secured to the bridge using a large chain. The crane and volunteers then quickly disappeared into the night and were never found’. The subsequent history of the car is similarly unknown.

The area near the Torrens appears to have been the site for many other pranks. One in recent memory involved a series of construction workers, who were warned by anonymous tip-off that students dressed as policemen would shortly be arriving to disrupt their work. The police department was similarly tipped off that students dressed as construction workers were illegally conducting themselves. A confrontation ensued where both parties were convinced that the other was not legitimate. Students stood by and watched, no doubt feeling smug.

The 1980s saw significant controversy over the types of charities to which Prosh should align itself. From its early days, Prosh had political overtones to many of the seemingly light-hearted pranks. This alienated many students in later years, who began to push for decidedly non-political charities. Things came to a head in 1986 when a General Student Meeting saw students narrowly vote for Prosh proceeds to go towards the Heart Foundation over the Campaign against Nuclear Energy. Recent years have seen this trend towards non-political charities cemented. In 2009, all proceeds from Prosh are to go towards the Starlight Foundation.

Throughout its history, Prosh has treaded the fine line between philanthropy and downright extortion. It is similarly liable to public nuisance, piracy and defamation. And yet, despite, or perhaps because of, the litigation and public outcry, it remains a cherished part of University of Adelaide history, which has unfortunately lost its shine amoung students in recent years.