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Posted on 23 Sep 2016 in The Godfather: Peter Corris | 3 comments

The Godfather: Peter Corris on meetings

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peternewpicI’ve always disliked meetings. At school I was fidgety and resentful at assemblies and gatherings to commemorate notable events like the death of King George VI and the Battle of the Coral Sea (when did that particular anniversary slip off the school calendar – or has it?)

At university I worked too hard to have time for political clubs and their inevitable meetings. With details now obscure to me I became treasurer for a year of the student historical society. I don’t remember any meetings, or money – perhaps it was an honorary title for the look of the thing.

At Monash, where I was a staff member, there were meetings of the History department but they were fairly casual affairs. No agenda was circulated, as I recall, certainly not to all bodies; perhaps it was posted on a notice board. There was no particular pressure to attend but, as it resembled an extension of the tea break, no reason not to. Still, I skipped quite a few. From memory, with about 30 staff members present, there were three females, Dorothy Fitzpatrick and Miriam Roberts, both tutors and the secretary keeping minutes.

Above all it was a smoky occasion. About half of those present (including me) were smokers; one was a pipe smoker and two were chain smokers. The room was a fug.

I remember nothing memorable about the meetings except a remark by the head of department, John Legge: ‘A university department is not a democracy.’ But it was a benevolent dictatorship for the most part.

As a postgraduate student at the ANU I joined the Labor Party in the Don’s Party spirit, in the expectation that the 1969 election would see the end of the conservative government. But I found the meetings dull and the procedures tedious and quickly dropped out.

But there was no avoiding meetings a few years later when I was a staff member. There were three: the department meeting, the School Board meeting and the Faculty Board. I had to attend some of them. I made no contributions and listened with only half an ear, hoping for something interesting to be said. It happened only twice. Heinz Arendt, professor of economics, expressed a doubt about an applicant for a job because, as far as he knew, he hadn’t made any money. Another came from Derek Freeman, the eccentric professor of anthropology who became the subject of David Williamson’s fine 1996 play The Heretic. When praising the credentials of a candidate for a scholarship in his department, he said that he had been ‘blasted by joy’ at his excellence. The stunned room gave the candidate the nod. Whether he fulfilled Freeman’s expectations I never found out.

Since leaving academia I’ve had almost nothing to do with meetings – a one-on-one with my agent, with perhaps a publisher thrown in, would be the limit – and not often at that. Selfish perhaps, but I like to think of it more as time not wasted.


  1. I completely sympathise, Peter. If I had received a dollar for each of the meetings I was required to attend during my working life I would be a wealthy woman. If I had received an extra dollar for attending meetings chaired by incompetent faffers, the total would be almost double. The time and paper wasted in unnecessary ‘meetings’ doesn’t bear thinking about; my boredom threshhold is low, so it was with some gratitude that I was introduced to “Bullshit Bingo” (for playing in non-productive but ‘compulsory’ meetings) when I worked for the public sector. Your musings are always enjoyable.

  2. Peter – am very much in sinc (?) with your aversion to meetings. After working for 6 years at the University of Sydney where committees are carved into the sandstone, I moved to Byron Shire and joined the Council of the then Northern Rivers CAE in Lismore. I was delighted when the then Principal Rod Treyvaux (now sadly deceased)at my first meeting with him said: ‘When I first came here I had 44 staff and 43 committees. So I abolished all the committees. Staff productivity and gross happiness product increased by orders of magnitude.’ Sadly when the College amalgamated with New England University, and very rapidly disamalgamated to become the Southern Cross University magically, within weeks, all the committees returned. Funny that.

  3. When working at TAFE in Brisbane I used to tell colleagues that the best words of any day were ‘Meeting cancelled’. So many meetings were held with such incompetent and boring managers and with such empty and poor results. Nothing which happened ever benefited the students! On the other hand one year as a result of union action which led to the investigation of a senior manager I attended meetings once a week for a year which were great. My brother an ardent capitalist used to criticise my public service work and I would recount stories of these meetings where I rode in a taxi to an air conditioned office drank tea or coffee with delicious snacks and was asked my opinion. And got paid – considering some of the jobs I had held in my life this was fantastic. The most exciting thing that happened was when there was a question about the permanency of teachers not being carried into the new environment. At that suggestion all the union members stood and walked out leaving the senior managers white faced and shocked. Great memory!