Just Like This: In Which Uni is Just Like Alice in Wonderland

Caitlin is a third year Arts student, majoring in Creative Writing and English & Theatre Studies. “Just Like This” is a fortnightly column where she compares university to things that aren’t university.


“I shall have to ask them what the name of the country is, you know. Please, Ma’am, is this New Zealand? Or Australia? … And what an ignorant little girl she’ll think me for asking! No, it’ll never do to ask: perhaps I shall see it written down somewhere.”
– Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll


In the weeks leading up to O Week, I developed a habit of peering through the glass next to the Baillieu library every couple of days. Why were there no books in the Co-op? When would they get here? How was I supposed to beat the sweaty book-buying O Week rush if there were no books on the shelves before O Week?

I could very easily have asked one of the other people milling around campus, I guess; but sometimes I get these little attacks of social anxiety that make me scared to interact with other human beings. So, I continued my fruitless glass-gazing ritual until, during O Week, someone told me that the Co-op had moved.

A little lesson: I know it’s now week three already, but just in case there are any other socially awkward noobs looking through the old Co-op window: Try the corner of Swanston and Grattan.

‘And what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice, ‘without pictures or conversations?’


So it goes without saying (although I’m still going to say it) that I didn’t beat the sweaty rush.

Co-op shopping during O Week is like descending a Rabbit Hole, only there are no magic drinks and no cakes and no stressed out marsupials – there is only sweat and desperation and stressed out homo sapiens.

I don’t know if this is just me, but coming back at a later and less busy time ceases to be an option once I’m down that Rabbit Hole. My brain just becomes convinced: I have to wrestle the throng of bodies until I emerge, delirious but triumphant, with my stack of readers. It’s do-or-have-breakdown.

What I find most bewildering, though, is the expectation that even after having suffered in such a way, we are actually expected to read all the words we just bought. What? No! Why? I spent my holidays reading Where is the Green Sheep? and Green Eggs and Ham. I am not ready for Homi Bhabha and the Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse.

A little lesson:  If you see me at the Co-op in future 40 degree O Weeks, do not attempt contact. I will be having a breakdown. Also – be extra nice to the people working at the Co-op during O Week! They know it’s hectic and it is not their fault – it’s your fault. You’re the goose who came to the Co-op during O Week.

‘I wonder how many miles I’ve fallen by this time?’ she said aloud. ‘I must be getting somewhere near the centre of the earth.’


‘I wonder how many pages I’ve read by this time?’ I wondered as I stared out the library window for the fifteenth time in as many minutes. ‘I must be getting somewhere near the centre of the reading.’

A little lesson: One page of an academic book is roughly equivalent to infinite readings of Where is the Green Sheep? in terms of required brainpower.

And here Alice began to get rather sleepy, and went on saying to herself, in a dreamy sort of way, “Do cats eat bats? Do cats eat bats?” and sometimes, “do bats eat cats?” for, you see, as she couldn’t answer either question, it didn’t matter which way she put it.


Is mimicry the metonymy of presence or is presence the basis of mimicry?

If the observer becomes the observed, who is doing the observing?

If I close my eyes and place my forehead upon page 22, can I then be said to have read page 22?

A little lesson: Sometimes it’s okay to ease yourself into week one. Sometimes self-care dictates that sleeping on the desk is more important than finishing that super dense Bhabha reading. Right? …Anyone?

…and here the conversation dropped, and the party sat silent for a minute, while Alice thought over all she could remember about ravens and writing-desks, which wa
sn’t much.


A little lesson: It is, however, difficult to fill silences in tutes if you haven’t finished the super dense Bhabha reading.

This bottle was not marked “poison”, so Alice ventured to taste it, and finding it very nice (it had, in fact, a sort of mixed flavour of cherry-tart, custard, pineapple, roast turkey, toffy, and hot buttered toast), she very soon finished it off.


In my experience, the first few weeks of a uni year are always a bit of a whirlwind. Students are often starting the academic year while also moving into new places, starting part time jobs, listening to copious amounts of Centrelink hold music, taking poodles for walks, etc. It can be an exciting time but also pretty stressful.

At the end of my first fortnight, in an attempt to de-stress, I went out to a café with a favourite small friend of mine. My coffee came, and so did my friend’s cake – and finding it very nice, he neglected his fork and face-planted into the bright pink icing*, and very soon finished it off.

*He is two.

A significant lesson: When you’re stressed, have a coffee/catch up with a friend/face plant into a slice of cake. Or, to quote a Hare I know: “Take some more tea.”

– Caitlin



All images are drawings that appeared with the first edition of Alice in Wonderland, and are by John Tenniel.



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