Published as part of the activities of the Students' Representative Council (SRC), Honi Soit is a tabloid-style publication incorporating a mixture of humorous and serious opinion articles. Its standard book size is 24 pages, but that is sometimes extended to 28 or 32 pages at the discretion of the editors and publisher.
Issues are published weekly during university semesters, typically containing a topical feature article and interview, letters to the editor, campus news, pop culture articles and news satire. Special editions are published yearly, including Election Honi, devoted towards covering the annual Students' Representative Council (SRC) student elections, Women's Honi dedicated to feminism and women's issues, and Queer Honi, dedicated to covering LGBT issues. The final edition each year is typically presented as a spoof or parody of an existing newspaper. These editions were traditionally sold on the streets of Sydney to raise money for charity as part of the University's Commemoration Day festivities, though this practice has been discontinued since the 1970s.
Honi Soit is the only student newspaper in Australia that remains a weekly publication.
Honi has a strong history of irreverence, often printing humorous and satiric stories alongside traditional journalistic pieces. This has in turn inspired breakaway satiric publications Oz Magazine and the Chaser.
In 2010 and 2011, the last three pages of each issue were presented as part of fictional newspaper The Garter, which parodied numerous sections of The Sydney Morning Herald. In 2012, The Garter was discontinued; however, a similar section was reintroduced in 2013 called The Soin, parodying conservative rag The Sun. The Soin gained notoriety after a number of articles went viral, one of which was reprinted in The Sydney Morning Herald. The Herald also reprinted a popular tongue in cheek list of Sydney's worst bus routes, which had originally appeared in Honi.
In 2015, The Garter returned to the paper.
The office of editor is highly sought after, and was originally filled by single honorary appointment for outstanding merit in the field of writing. Since the 1980s editors have been annually elected by fellow students as a "ticket" of up to 10 editors during SRC elections, with two or more groups campaigning for the role. Guest editors will normally be nominated for the annual Women's and Queer editions by the relevant interest groups on campus.
For a time editors of the paper were given a yearly scholarship of £100 (roughly equivalent to $2,700 in 2014) by media baron Rupert Murdoch, though this was discontinued by 1966, and the SRC began to pay editors a small allowance instead from this point on.
In 2016, the editors are Andrew Bell, Natalie Buckett, Max Hall, Tom Joyner, Sam Langford, Alexandros Tsathas, Subeta Vimalarajah, Mary Ward, Victoria Zerbst, Naaman Zhou.
Notable past editors include Lex Banning, Bob Ellis, Verity Firth, Clive James, Laurie Oakes, and Keith Windschuttle.
Honi Soit was created in 1929 to counterbalance ongoing criticism of Sydney University's students in the Australian media, which came to a head when students were alleged to have dressed a soldier's statue in women's underwear during a graduation festival. The Sydney Morning Herald referred to the incident as a "vulgar desecration", and students were described as "educated louts" for their actions.
The first edition of Honi sought to address the ongoing outrage with the stinging retort:We expected gross exaggeration, and even invention, from certain Sydney journals. What we did not expect was that the journals which can generally be relied upon for sane, safe news would also exaggerate and distort in such a manner as to utterly mislead the general public... Even our apology was sneered at.
The new paper sought to paint the undergraduate varsity in a more favorable light, giving voice to the student's successes and their progressive opinions, a role which it has continued to pursue to the present.
With the onset of the Great Depression, the rise of the Labour movement, and the growth of the civil rights revolution Honi's left wing and often radical voice helped the publication grow from its roots as a small university publication, with the paper and its alumni eventually playing a pivotal role in the culture wars of both Australia and Britain.
An important line of demarcation for Honi came in the 1960s with editors Richard Walsh and Peter Grose's premature resignation to found Oz magazine, an explosively popular yet controversial humour publication in Australia and Britain. Oz's success played a strong role in defining the comedic and radical sensibilities of future generations of Honi.
Honi became intricately associated with the Sydney Push during the 1960s, turning its focus from arts to politics for the first time, and a number of radical editors followed Walsh's tenure.
In 1967 Honi was implicated in the development of the Anti-Vietnam movement in Australia, being blamed for road blockades that led to the infamous "run the bastards over" affair during a visit by American President Lyndon B. Johnson. The paper was described as "filthy and scurrilous" in the Legislative Council of NSW for their stance against the war, and former editor Richard Walsh was denied entry to the United States in 1966 for his outspokenness on the issue. Despite this, the tide of public opinion eventually turned in Honi's favour as the Vietnam War progressed, largely vindicating their editorial position (see Opposition to the Vietnam War, Public opinion).
Being a left-wing student publication also put Honi at the forefront of the civil rights movement in Australia, with editorial content often directed towards defending the rights of Women, people of colour, LGBT people, and adherents of communism, at times when such views were still widely controversial.
The radicalism of Honi during the 1960s was not without its consequences. By 1967 the paper found itself without willing advertisers to fund its publication, and faced calls for its disestablishment from members of the University Senate. However the SRC declared the paper had become far too important to let it perish, and provided temporary funding on the condition that the publication be restructured back towards a more traditional newspaper, instating conservative editor Keith Windschuttle to placate critics.
Honi retains its position in the Australian media landscape as a hub of counter-cultural journalism and left-wing activism, though its long list of preeminent alumni and position as a leading student publication have somewhat softened its public image, being described by the Sydney Morning Herald as a "venerable institution" in 2013. Current incarnations are comparable to popular American publication Vice Magazine for their blend of arts, news and culture reporting.
Since its inception Honi has been an important training ground for many Australian personalities, including many well known journalists, politicians, satirist, writers, and entertainers. Former contributors include art critic Robert Hughes, poet Les Murray, film-maker Bruce Beresford, Oz magazine co-founder Richard Walsh, media personality Clive James, feminist Germaine Greer, journalists Bob Ellis and Laurie Oakes, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, High Court Judge Michael Kirby, author Madeleine St John, historian Keith Windschuttle, theatre director Kip Williams, intellectual Donald Horne, broadcaster Adam Spencer, and members of comedy troupe The Chaser.
Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott has named Honi Soit as the impetus for his initial entry into politics, having been inspired to begin writing to the paper by a "quirky" edition which "demonstrated how to build a nuclear bomb".
As a counter-cultural publication, Honi has a long history of generating controversy dating back to its founding issue. The constant controversy surrounding the paper was lampooned in a 1967 edition which contained a cutout "libel coupon" that would make it easier for readers to "sue Honi Soit for all it's got (two battered typewriters)".
In 1995, Honi Soit reprinted a controversial article from Rabelais Student Media, its La Trobe University counterpart, entitled "The Art of Shoplifting"—one of seven student newspapers to do so. Although the Rabelais editors responsible for the original article were prosecuted for ignoring a ban on publication issued by the state's Chief Censor; the editors of the other seven newspapers were not targeted by the authorities. Charges against the Rabelais editors were later dropped.
On 11 August 2009, Honi Soit published a feature article, 'The Mystery of St Michael's' later uncovered as a hoax, which claimed a fire in 1992 at St Michael's College, a now derelict residential college adjacent to the University's Architecture building, had killed 16 students. It was implied that a cover-up by the Catholic Church had stifled widespread awareness of the tragedy, and that the site was now haunted by ghosts. The following week, the editors published a retraction, stating: '...after a particularly interesting week of deflecting queries from varying positions of authority... last week's 'Mystery of St Michael's' was an exercise in fictional storytelling. Thank you to everyone who played along or enjoyed.'
In August 2013, the newspaper made international headlines after printing a cover featuring photographs of 18 vulvae. The newspaper was pulled from stands within hours after it was decided the censoring of the images was not sufficient. This was due to the fact that black bars placed over certain parts of the vulvae were not completely opaque.
A statement released by the female editors stated 'We are tired of society giving us a myriad of things to feel about our own bodies. We are tired of having to attach anxiety to our vaginas. We are tired of vaginas being either artificially sexualised (porn) or stigmatised (censorship and airbrushing). We are tired of being pressured to be sexual, and then being shamed for being sexual.'
The paper became a point of contention in the lead up to the 2013 Australian federal election, as a standing record of the unpopular and violent conduct of Prime Ministerial candidate Tony Abbott during his time at University. The controversy came to be known as "Wallgate". in reference to the allegation that Mr Abbott had punched the wall next to the head of a political opponent outside the Honi offices. Mr Abbott went on to become the 28th Prime Minister of Australia.
In 1958 Honi caused significant national outrage over a story calling for the end of the ANZAC Day holiday. The paper argued that the national holiday was no longer treated as a veneration to the casualties of war, but rather as a national celebration and an excuse for inebriation, backing up the claims with photographs of drunken revelers at memorial events. Despite widespread calls for the editor to be sacked, the SRC resisted, and Honi continued to level criticism at the holiday in subsequent years. The affair has been immortalized as the basis for the play The One Day of the Year by Alan Seymour.
A report by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs in 2012 found the prevailing public sentiment to agree with the allegations made by Honi, with participants stating the "excessive use of alcohol and 'yobbo' behaviour during Anzac Day commemorations...detract[s] from the original spirit of the day and negatively impact[s] on the veteran commemorations and traditions."
In 1945 the Sydney University Catholic Society (then known as the Newman Society) and Sydney University Evangelical Union of the University drew media attention after they called for the paper's editors to be sacked for publishing information about birth control, and for misquoting the Bible. These complaints were supported by the then Rector of St John's College who suggested its distributors be arrested, though police did not bother to pursue the matter.
In 1950 printers Consolidated Press refused to produce an edition of Honi due to an article relating to an employee of the Commonwealth Security Police (now ASIO) for fear it was a breach of national security.
In 1952 fights broke out over Sydney University, including in the Honi Soit office after the newspaper published reports of drunkenness and savage hazing rituals at the University's ecclesiastical colleges. The brawls were caused by members of the colleges attempting to remove the paper from circulation, going so far as to chase a truck delivering copies out of the university grounds. Police were eventually called in to control the situation.
In 1970 Honi published confidential intelligence files that showed the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation had blocked the appointment of one of its former editors, Hall Greenland, from a job in the public service. Greenland went on to become a Walkley Award winning journalist.
Honi Soit was frequently in conflict with the police in the 1950s through '70s for publication of what was considered indecent material, generally depicting nudity or erotica in various forms, often published to specifically antagonise the authorities. Having won over public opinion by the mid 1970s Honi continued its practice of occasionally featuring nudity up until the 1990s with little interference.
In 1995 the editors (including The Chaser’s Charles Firth) used their colour pages to create an advertisement for Union Board candidate Nick Purtell. The editors were fined $360 (the cost of an advertisement) and asked to apologise for the misuse of advertising space. The editors printed an apology in size 4 font, then ran a full page ad in support of their actions. Mr Purtell did not manage to get elected. This incident was recalled by Charles Firth in the ABC documentary Uni.
In their last edition for 2005, the editors produced "Hx", an imitation of the free "Mx" tabloid. They used their colour pages to present a biting satire of quality commercial media, with rarely seen images of dead and wounded Iraqis juxtaposed against vacuous magazine style copy, such as "Fashion From the Front Line". The inclusion of images of dead and mutilated civilian casualties shocked many readers. This same year the paper was accused of having turned from its radical roots by comedian Jonathan Biggins after it published a critical recap of his Wharf Revue.
De-classified NSA documents were published by Honi in 2013 which showed the paper had been suspected by intelligence agencies of operating under Soviet influence.
In 2016 the editors produced a satire spoof of broadsheet newspaper The Australian for their last edition. The issue, complete with replica masthead, featured a front-page splash about Rupert Murdoch dying and parody opinion pieces from journalists at the paper. The prank was acknowledged by The Australian's CEO Nicholas Gray.