The Depressing Atmosphere of Monash Clayton

I actually started my career as a music critic. It was the thing I did through university to keep myself sane, as I trudged from dreary lecture to dreary lecture amidst the communist bloc architecture of one of the world’s most deeply uninspiring campuses, Monash Clayton in Melbourne. – Andrew of Time & Tide (Now Magazine: Issue 4 2021/2022)

Having recently bought a Dox SUB 200 as a retirement gift from my extra-long stint in the retail industry, I was gifted a magazine from the Melbourne based store, Time & Tide.

To my astonishment that quote jumped out at me, reminding me of what I’ve felt during my university days.

So, without further ado, let the rant ramble on ….

Monash University has a myriad of campuses, however during my stint there, from 2012 to 2017, life was predominantly centred around the main campus, Clayton.

For those who are unversed in the neighbourhoods of Victoria, Clayton is a large suburb in Melbourne’s south-east. There is literally nothing remarkable about the area at all, except that it is home to the second most prestigious university in Victoria. Cheap Chinese food can be found at Clayton Market, catering towards hundreds of students, and in terms of landscape, there is nothing to see except endless low to middle income houses.

It is an area completely devoid of personality.

Which stands in stark contrast to Monash’s more illustrious competitor, Melbourne University, which is in Parkville. A literal area with dozens of parks nearby, lush greenery nestling between old heritage buildings and the CBD within minutes away. A student could comfortably enjoy a study break amongst tall green oaks, then venture in a castle like building for a lecture before heading out with friends into the city for cheap Korean food.

Meanwhile at Monash Clayton, there is no denying that this is a much newer, modern institute. There is an artificial element to how seemingly convenient everything is, yet if you dig deeper, it is anything but.

Whilst Melbourne University’s Parkville campus is a literal rabbit warren of a place, there is an old-school charm to that. You are meant to get lost in the halls of academia and feel it’s’ rich history, knowing that you are following in the same steps of renowned scholars and academics.

Monash Clayton though, is simply far too open. Going from one lecture hall to the next is an effort in exercise. You can’t get lost at Monash Clayton, because everyone uses the same paths to get to and from places. Travelling from the Arts building to the Engineering area, requires the same path through the dullest name for a campus centre ever …. Campus Centre.

It becomes an almost running joke, how often students must cut through the Campus Centre to get from one end of the campus to the next.

Everything is simply too orderly for an academic institution. The footpaths, are enormously wide, as are the green spaces. But this only creates a strange sense of emptiness, because of how little the foot traffic is. The green spaces are often not that used, due to Melbourne’s inclement weather, and are poorly protected against the elements, because Monash deemed it unnecessary to have many tall trees all around the campus.

What this creates this, is this strange atmosphere of emptiness and life on the surface of the campus.

The main reason for this though, is because everyone is inside one of the three libraries available to students at Monash.

The Law Library, which is tiny and futile.

The Hargrave-Andrew Library, which is an exercise in how much space is wasted on books that no-one ever reads and requires a lot more space for STEM students to study at.

The Sir Louis Matheson Library, which is focused on Arts, and is again, a useless architectural endeavour due to the sheer lack of power points and desks available to service all 50,000 or more students who need them.

So, you can imagine, just how cramped, the libraries get, when every single student is competing with one another for power points for their laptops and notebooks.

And with such a big population crammed within these library halls, it is anything but quiet.

This lies in stark contrast to Melbourne’s design, where almost every single outdoor furniture has a power point waiting for the student beneath.

Thus, alleviating space inside the libraries for students to study and encouraging these sleep-deprived, procrastinating teens to go outside and get some Vitamin D.

The health benefits are numerous for Melbourne University students. The convenience is there too.

Monash students however, get no such luck. Everything is far too spaced out, and few and far in-between to properly enjoy oneself on campus. It does not aid in the atmosphere of the place, when you spend half your day struggling to find a power-point for a laptop battery verging on 2% life, only to then be unable to study or focus properly when a large group of students are celebrating Diwali or protesting about something inane and stupid.

And when you’ve finally given up, and decided you need a break, you go outside, only to realise you are still stuck on campus, and cannot be arsed to go via a stinky bus to nearby restaurants that will give you food poisoning.

So, you trundle back inside the library and do it all over again.

That scenario that I just described, is a typical, miserable day in the life of Monash university student.

Now allow me to compound that misery with some extra salient facts about the Monash experience.

Fact 1.

Monash students are typically insecure. The reason why, is because all of us secretly longed to get into Melbourne, but our grades weren’t good enough, so we had to settle for this backwater campus.

This means that there is a chip on everyone’s shoulder. We all wished we were elsewhere, but we’re not. We’re stuck here for the next three years, simmering with resentment over the knowledge that we simply weren’t good enough for Melbourne University. Our competitiveness with Melbourne doesn’t even stem from a healthy pride in Monash. It’s literally built on jealousy.

Fact 2.

Monash University’s relatively modern existence means that the architecture is shit. And I meant that with a capital resounding S H I T. So many buildings on the Clayton campus are horrifically ugly. My interest in architecture is a direct result of spending far too many years, surrounded by ugly buildings. The worst offender is what the Time & Tide author, wrote about …. the home of Arts on Monash, the Menzies Building.

It is a phenomenally ugly design, reminiscent of brutal, Soviet-era East Berlin communist bloc buildings. How can it be home to Arts, if it is anything but artistic? The Soviets were known for the lack of appreciation for artistic endeavours … the irony of it all, was not lost on me.

Then there is the bizarre mole-hill of a building known as the Ian Potter Centre for Performing Arts, whose circular nature reminded me of the Teletubbies home hill.

But it is really the unremarkable nature of the rest of the campus that really sells why Monash Clayton is such a depressing place. None of the buildings stand out, none of them have enough seating rooms to alleviate the libraries and they were always so desolate when you entered them. The souls that were inside the buildings that weren’t libraries, were like spectres wandering the halls. They were all too focused on their work, to notice you and you felt strange being in such a huge building, but it was deathly quiet and still.

I haven’t even touched on the lecture halls eithers …. with rickety chairs, crummy stands and entrances that were always clogged with incoming and outgoing traffic the moment the bell rang.

Just atrocious designs all around.

Fact 3.

Whenever the exam period would arrive, Monash would invariably book the Caulfield Racecourse as it’s home for all academic grading.

Not only was this inconvenient to get to, but it was also a stark reminder as to how the Caulfield campus was much, much better than its bigger, uglier sister at Clayton. Caulfield was like the slimmer, happier, sunnier younger sister. There was a central area to the campus that was all lawn, and properly addressed the movement of the sun at any given time of the day. The train station was literally next door to the campus, which meant the most hated form of public transport, le bus, could be avoided.

The campus was architecturally interesting, with a much more contemporary design that had layers. There were less students on campus, which meant more power points were available and the subjects being taught there was much more fine arts focused, which meant workshops and media rooms were plentiful.

Caulfield tempted me so much, that I actually enjoyed my time there much more than Clayton, working extra-long hours to complete my journalism course and actually having a university experience I liked.

It also had a damn Japanese drinks dispenser, which automatically elevates it above Clayton.

Fact 4.

The sad, depressing atmosphere of Clayton is an actual phenomenon that is felt amongst everyone on campus. There is a sense that you are trapped on campus. It is because, it is such an all-encompassing place. You study, eat, sleep, work, play sports, have sneaky sex in the toilets, engage in fights …. all on the one campus.

The moment you get off the bus and get on campus? You are stuck there, with no real means of escape from your timetable. You can’t sneak off to enjoy cheap Chinese with your friends, you can’t take a breather or a walk in the city … You can only leave the same way you came in, on a bus.

And the loop keeps on cycling every single day.

In many ways, Monash Clayton is like the Hotel California of campuses.

Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back
To the place I was before
“Relax, ” said the night man
“We are programmed to receive
You can check out any time you like
But you can never leave”

Fact 5.

All the above aren’t facts at all, just the rambling opinions of a very bitter ex-Monash Uni student, who hated his time at a tertiary institution and wished he spent those years doing something more productive.

In conclusion, Monash University represents to me a colossal black hole. Devoid of personality, atmospherically depressing and truly a waste of time.

Even the recent swathe of upgrades that Monash has poured into creating new, fancier and architecturally interesting buildings like the Learning and Teaching Building has not done it any favours. It is still a very ugly, lonely place.

My advice?

If you are going to visit any place in the south-east of Melbourne, just go to Chadstone Shopping Centre then high-tail back to the city ASAP. There is nothing here of note.

Nothing but the cries of thousands of students who wished they were somewhere else.

~ Damocles.

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