Declassified: Prosh Week

Monday, 1 September, 2014

Never have teamwork, nudity and go-karting found such perfect cohesion as in the University of Melbourne’s Prosh Week. Although there is a distinct lack of clarity amongst students as to what Prosh really is, there can be some certainty in its ability to disrupt campus life and transform it into something much more entertaining. But where did Prosh come from?

Despite being a hot topic of debate, the origins of the word “Prosh” are uncertain. Some will tell you it is short for “procession”, which describes a past event where university clubs and societies would parade around the Parkville district for reasons that are lost to the sands of time. Others will argue that “prosh” is a slurred rendering of “posh”, which relates to the same formal attire that was required for the mid-September cluster of balls and events. These days, Prosh is a competition where university-affiliated clubs battle for silly supremacy, and where exam study commitments are shirked in favour of carefully plotted local mischief and elaborate lecture theatre pranks.

Despite its reputation as a booze-fuelled bumble, the level of planning that figures into the orchestration of the week cannot be disregarded. The enduring Go-Kart Race (or ‘The Melbourne University Grand Prix’ as it was once known) respects no boundaries of effort; past participants have spent weeks converting the most impractical karts into race-winning vessels (including an actual sea vessel, retro-fitted with drag racing decals). The Scavenger Hunt too knows no limits beyond what can be reasonably collected and scavenged; past list items extending to street signs and sentient beings alike with one year even seeing comedian Frank Woodley collected and kidnapped by a winning team. And then there’s the shameless Nude Olympics, which are responsible for shocking the (thankfully figurative) pants off a decade’s worth of first years. Though Prosh has had its fair share of enduring events, there are a few truly bizarre ones that have faded away into obscurity.

‘Silly Night 1984’ ran a description of itself that embodied its name, but with the odd inclusion of a buffet. The Jousting Display too can be imagined. However, some past happenings remain impenetrable—for instance, we may never know what the Engineering Department’s ‘furious ferrous phallus’ truly entailed. Nor will we know why anyone participated in the ‘Redmond Barry Stair Climb’ for the promise of only $20 upon victory. Many of these events have left nothing behind except their titles and a vague cataloguing in past Farrago issues. Yet some of them had a rather large impact at the time.

In 1971, clad in a mixture of pyjamas and tuxedos, some 500 Melbourne University students descended upon the MYER toy department, protesting for the fair treatment of teddy bears and Tonka trucks alike. Students have skied down lecture theatre stairs and wrestled in toddler pools full of liquefying gelatine – all in the name of Prosh and possible legendary status.

Assured of legendary status in his own right, former student Barry Humphries allegedly executed two of the most famous Prosh stunts of all time. Clutching a piece of toast and a business suit whilst clad in a towel, the future star boarded a tram and treated commuters to a full display of his morning ritual before arriving at his destination fully prepped for a day at the office. What’s more, legend has it that Humphries was the mastermind behind a truly devilish stunt. Such a prank involved both police officers and construction site workers being informed that the other group were disguised university students. When the police officers arrived on the scene to discipline the so-called ‘students’, the workers refused to believe that these were real officers, ignoring them completely. What then transpired was a farcical scene right out of ’60s British comedy.

Prosh Week is not a purely University of Melbourne affair, with versions of it appearing at both Adelaide and Western Australian universities. However, charity work is a central tenet of these other Prosh Weeks, which frequently involve the ‘kidnapping’ of various local celebrities for charity donation ransoms. Though less noticeably charitable, the University of Melbourne’s Prosh has incorporated good deeds such as donating blood and food supplies onto its Prosh prerequisites list.

Prosh Week at the University of Melbourne no longer resembles a college O-Week in its booziness, or a high school Muck Up Day in its rebellion. Rather, it is dedicated purely to the art of the aimless, the ridiculous and the entertaining—and it’s running naked towards a lecture theatre near you.