The true history of the Green Couch

14 August 2019

After decades of service, the iconic CPAS Green Couch has been updated, with a new addition gracing the CPAS Green Couch Room. 

We asked CPASians for their stories of life with the old Green Couch. Here are a few of our favourites. 

THE TRUE HISTORY OF THE GREEN COUCH

by Emeritus Professor Chris Bryant 

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, so far away that you might have difficulty in believing it ever existed, there was no CPAS. There was not even a blue police telephone box. Instead, there was only a railway carriage.

It was not even a railway carriage, but that was what the few people who entered its portals thought it was. It appeared to be much smaller inside than it was outside. Perhaps it was a SIDRAT. In spite of this, all the people who knew about it thought it was wonderful.

It was about the length and width of a railway carriage, and it was set up on blocks on the green sward behind the Zoology Department and it was occupied by a rather overworked Professor. People meeting him for the first time used to say Professor - who? He was also a Doctor, but we won't split hairs.

The Professor had a great friend, The Wizard of Questacon. The Wizard had invented the Science Circus and saw that it was good. Realising that it needed a home and respectability beyond Questacon, he asked the Professor to see what he could do. So the Professor organised a Graduate Certificate based at the ANU. After the first year, the exhausted Certificate holders came to the Professor and said 'this is not enough, we want more!' The Professor was an obliging sort of chap, so he said 'There shall be a Diploma' and there was.

After four years, when the fame of the Circus had spread far and wide, someone more important than the Professor came to him and said 'There's money in this, you must offer Masters degrees'. Being an obliging sort of chap, the Professor said 'it shall be done.' And it was.

Even more important people, however, looked at the Masters degrees and said 'Verily, this is clearly an important innovation and an obvious money spinner. We will give this Professor a whole Graduate Program - sadly, without any money - and tell him to get on with it!'

The Professor was rather taken aback by his new responsibility for had his own School to run and a Budget to manage. He now found himself in charge of a Program as well, and not the smell of an oily rag with which to run it. And very soon he was providing Academic Supervision to 15 Diplomates, a handful of Masters students and a few disgruntled PhDs from other Departments. Without rying, he found that he was leading the largest graduate group in the Faculty.

The Professor pondered his predicament. He became a Caller in of Favours, a Haunter of the Corridors of Power, and a Knocker on Doors. Let's not put too fine a point on it, he had become a Scrounger and a Beggar. He was also a Picker- up of Unconsidered Trifles such as 'obsolete' computers, and a Misuser of School Secretarial Services to support the administration of the Graduate Program of Science Communication. He Blackmailed the Dean of Science by pointing out that if anyone cared to look into his credentials to run such a program, they might get a big surprise. The Dean immediately asked the Professor to advertise for a new staff member.

Meanwhile, frustrated by the absence of a comfortable seat for himself and the students upon which to hold discussions and to drink coffee, the Professor added Misappropriation of Faculty Funds to his list of misdemeanours and ordered the Chief Technical Officer of his School to purchase some furniture for the Railway Carriage. It must be flexible, he said, to fit into its corners and long walls. The CTO grumbled a bit and delegated the task to the most junior female technician.

Within two days, The Green Couch arrived. It was 1995.

A few months later, a Good Fairy answered the advertisement and at last the Graduate Program could, if asked, make a case for legitimacy. And the Good Fairy, whose name was Susan, looked around and saw it was good and said 'There shall be a Centre for Public Awareness of Science!'

And the Professor said 'Oh My God, Here We Go Again!'

And the Green Couch accompanied them to the old Psychology Building and thence to the old Physics Precinct and finally to its last resting place, only about 200m from its first manifestation.

 

Dr Lindy Orthia

In 2007 I was a struggling PhD student at CPAS. By day I was tutoring SCOM1001 for Rod Lamberts in my first teaching job. By night I worked at Woolies Dickson to pay my rent, compressing cardboard in the hydraulic baler out on the back dock - I was the first woman to be allowed to do back dock work at Woolies Dickson, because it was considered men’s work in those dark times.

Somewhere in there I may possibly have done some PhD research, or not. In any case, after a night’s bale-making I was exhausted yet had to teach bright-eyed first year sci com students. The Olde Greene Couch saved me, providing me a place to sleep before and between classes. I would just fall onto it face first and roll upright 5 minutes before the class.

From these inauspicious beginnings I got first a 0.25 1 year academic level A job, then a full time level A job for another year, then a three year contract… and here I am, somehow. Still making scholarly mileage out of what ended up being my thesis topic, science and Doctor Who. Thanks Olde Greene Couch! Good times :)

 

Adam Barclay

One fine Sunday morning in the spring of 1997, I awoke in my O'Connor sharehouse to find that, while I had slept, my housemates had cooked a batch of muffins. Nobody was around to ask if I could have one, so I furtively helped myself. It wasn't all that tasty, so (fortunately, it so happens), I eschewed a second. A little later, I cycled into CPAS to check my emails (no laptops, home wifi or smartphone), happy as a lark in the crisp spring sunshine. 

Shortly after logging on, I started to feel a little odd. My extremities felt kind of numb, and this developed into full-blown nausea as time passed. Unsure of what was happening, I made my way straight to the Green Couch. Its loving arms, plush cushions and unidentified stains would surely cure whatever ill was threatening this glorious day. I lay down, let the couch envelope me, and closed my eyes. At first it worked, but it seemed that I had overestimated its powers. My nausea grew worse, to the point that I stumbled to the phone on the wall and began dialling the number of one of the few friends I had who owned a car. I clearly needed to get to hospital to have this aneurysm, or whatever it was, diagnosed and treated while there was still time. I knew beyond doubt that I was probably going to die. I was facing up to the idea that the Green Couch was likely to be the last piece of comfortable furniture I ever sat on.

As I started dialling, the penny - the startlingly obvious penny, in hindsight - dropped. Sharehouse inhabited by uni students. Not-particularly-tasty muffin, which appeared to be flavoured with some sort of herb. Everybody else still in bed at 11am... As soon as I realised it wasn't an aneurysm, I felt a little better. I wobbled home on my bike and found a housemate who had dragged herself out of bed. 

"You know those muffins...?"

"Did you eat one!?" she said, and giggled. For quite a long time.

I spent the next two hours alternating between pacing the house and staring for extremely long periods at the wasp hive on the front verandah. 

By the time evening arrived, I was incapable of anything other than watching TV, but feeling otherwise OK...save for being hungrier than I'd ever been in my life and incapable of doing anything about it. Then, as I watched, and failed to comprehend, an episode of The Simpsons, the miracle occurred. The doorbell rang. One of my housemates answered it. A friend (the same one who owned a car and whose number I was dialling when the muffin revelation hit me) had arrived unannounced. I heard my housemate: "Yes, he's here." My friend walked into the loungeroom. In my memory, a blinding light appeared behind her and the room filled with orchestral voices. 

"My mum and I had all this leftover KFC, and I was wondering if you'd want it."

Yes," I said. "Yes I would."

And so the day ended as it had begun, with food and a feeling of contentment. There were many heroes that day, but standing above them all were a friend with some leftover KFC and the CPAS Green Couch.