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Tuesday, 11 February 2014

From MUCAAS to MUCLASS

A snapshot of relatively recent Classics, Archaeology and Ancient World Studies orientated student groups at the University of Melbourne.

This is by no means and exhaustive history of all the classics orientated student club activities at the University of Melbourne, but rather in Herodotian style, a combination of the things I witnessed, read, gossiped about or participated in during my time here. I’m sure there are others out there with other pieces to add to the story as well. Given the natural fascination we all have for the ancient past, it is fitting that some of the forerunners of the  Melbourne University Classics and Archaeology Students Society (MUCLASS) are recorded briefly for our present bemusement and for posterity.

MUCAAS was the Melbourne Uni Classics And Archaeology Society. I like to think that its origins, now lost in the mists of time, may extend back to some long forgotten mystery cult of antiquity. In reality, the oldest reference to MUCAAS (or perhaps some proto-MUCAASian club?) I have come across goes back to 2001. A newsletter of the Australian Society of Classical Studies from September 2004 notes that the undergraduate Classics society at the University of Melbourne has finally settled on the name of MUCAAS. By 2006 I had started at Melbourne and in O-Week promptly joined two of the clubs with unintendedly funny sounding acronyms: MUCAAS and PIS (political interest society). After joining, my first challenge was to find the legendary MUCAAS rooms. This involved entering the impressive fortifications of Old Quad, scaleing the great staircases, navigating the Labyrinth while avoiding the minotaur, before arriving at a descrete and occasionally locked door to a seemingly empty tiny storeroom in the upper west wing of Old Quad. This kind of feat is something postgrads and lecturers do daily, but to someone in their first week of university life it was just a little epic.
My persistence paid off, because I had reached the first of the three rooms of MUCASSia, and beyond the first lay a further two rooms adorned with walls covered in pictures of sites and artifacts from the ancient world, a couple of desks, bean bags, cushions and copious amounts of theatre backdrops and props. It was quite common to find Classics tutors typing, translating, working on theatre pieces and doing the Latin crossword. It was from this crenalated acropolis that MUCASS produced a periodic newsletter called (SIC) which contained submissions from its members such as: essay extracts, poetry travel stories, reviews of ancient themed movies and video games and fake advertisements for things like second-hand chariots. MUCASS also ran trivia nights, movie nights and dramatic reading nights, which simply involved people getting together to read aloud bits of ancient literature in either the original text or a translation, but to add their own rendition of the text. This was simple and yet extremely comical and captivating.   

There was always a passion in MUCASS for Classical theatre. Members translated Greek and Roman plays, wrote and practiced scripts, produced backdrops, costumes and props all by themselves. There was usually one play every semester or two. By 2003 the theatre element of MUCAAS had become a small but sophisticated theatre company in its own right, known as Omiprop Productions. Some of their plays included Aristophanes’ Lysistrata (2001), Aristophanes’ Frogs (2003), Euripides’ Helen (2005), Senecca’s Phaedra (2006), Euripides’s The Bacchae (2007), Aristophanes’ Lysistrata again in 2008 at the Melbourne Trades Hall as part of the Fringe Festival. This was followed by Plautius’ Mosteilaria (2009) and The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus (2009) based on Sophocles’ fragmentary Satyr play Ichneutae.
MUCASS was gradually superseded by Omniprop, although granted there was a lot of overlap, until MUCASS ceased its other activities. Omniprop found that eventually many of its core members were studying and teaching Classics abroad, especially at Oxford, or had become successful actors and artists and so it became increasingly hard to keep up producing productions here at the University of Melbourne. By 2010 there was no regular campus-based signs of either group and the MUCASS rooms needed to be cleared out for more post grad work spaces. It was the end of an era. Omniprop still exists to this day but lies dormant, at least for the time being.

 I had enjoyed a number of Omniprop’s performances between 2006-2009, but I had another interest, re-enacting and living history. This involves trying to replicate as closely but safely as possible aspects of life in the Ancient world, be that costume, food, armour or combat etc. In late 2008 a fellow student Allan, and myself set about thinking how this could be done at Uni, and in 2009 the Melbourne Ancient Re-enactment Society (MARS) was underway. Though not an affiliated club with the student union MARS focussed mainly on costume making and replicating the equipment and fighting of Thracian  peltasts, all be it with wooden short ‘waster’ swords and rubber tipped javelins. MARS held a number of DVD nights, 3 themed trivia nights (Greek, Roman and Egyptian), an attempt at mullum making and a visit to the Pompeii exhibition at the Melbourne Museum. In 2009 the club was also asked to dress  up in costume and armour for the unveiling of a bronze bust to King Leonidas in Brunswick, because, as it turned out Brunswick is sister cities with Sparta! All these events happened in 2009, by 2010 the club became less active except for weekly training. Ultametly MARS needed too much space, cost and time to run on campus and this was exasaserbated by differing ideas on whether the club should focus more on Classical culture and history aimed at University of Melbourne students or on a more generic martial arts style model outside of the University. By 2011 MARS wound down as a club.
And there you have it. All of this helped set the stage, so that completely independent of these clubs and events a new club could emerge. That is however another story. As a new member to MUCLASS, I leave the task of its origins and early history to someone better suited to the task. What will they say about MUCLASS  in the future? Only time will tell. So no pressure, but this could be the best Classics, Archaeology and Ancient World Studies student club to emerge at the University of Melbourne in our day.

* A variation of this article (plus pictures!) was published in the first edition of the re-launched perodicle of the Melbourne University Classics and Archaeology Student's Society, Orpheus in September 2013.

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