This page is a people’s history of Wholefoods. We are super keen for you to contribute to this ongoing project – please send your stories of time spent in Wholefoods. Send us photos, send us video, send us art!
What would you like to communicate about your time at Wholefoods ?
- What was your first experience/impression/engagement/whatever with wholefoods? How did this change?
- What improvements were you involved in Wholefoods?
- Describe significant events – social, political, student union, whatever – that happened during your time. How did Wholefoods fit in?
- What worked about collective organising and what were examples of this?
- What issues did Wholefoods face during your time? How was this overcome?
- But make sure your writing is limited by these suggestions.
Use the form below, or email: email@example.com
Please return soon, we hope this will be an evolving project.
Chris C., former Kitchen Coordinator meets Bill Robinson, co-founder, 1977
On October 22 2004, I happened to be doing a shift behind the bain marie when Bill Robinson, one of the founders of Wholefoods, made his first visit to the place decades. I sat down with him on the balcony and tried to learn everything I could about the early history of Wholefoods. He came to Monash when he was about 30 and initially worked for CRACK, an environmental research centre funded by the student union. After some time he decided to study environmental science and was paid $60 a week by the university to do so. These were the days when Peter Costello was in the Liberal club at Monash and for a while Bill was the president of the MSA. He bought a bus for getting students to demonstrations and lived in it near sports and recreation (and so became known as “Bill the Bus”). He organised three anti-uranium bike rides to Canberra. The first had about 25 students and the last had 250 students! He said he was well known on campus and had good networks, meaning he could get this number quite easily.
Bill said that one day he was the only person to turn up to a student union council meeting and decided to pass a motion that the space which was vacated by the staff club (now called the Monash Club) become a student-run vegetarian restaurant. When the union building warden came back from holiday, he was apparently furious at this decision. Personally, I think this story is debatable, because shortly afterwards I talked with Earle, who was also around in those days, and he said that there were many student general meetings to set up both Wholefoods and the book cooperative and that it was talked about for quite some time prior to the beginning of Wholefoods. The staff club left all their kitchen machinery behind when they left, so few additional purchases were required. Back then a meal cost about $1, however one could get a free meal by volunteering for two hours. All workers were volunteers except for the cook who was paid a minimal wage. It seems that this stayed the case until about 1997-1998, when the MSA took control of the space. Bill was shocked that there were so many paid staff at the time he visited Wholefoods in 2004. He said that there was always some kind of threat to the existence of Wholefoods. We told him this is still the case, the main threat in 2004 being Voluntary Student Unionism (VSU). He was appalled by the idea of VSU and by the news that the union building was sold to the university some years ago and that, in 2004, it was owned by a company called Monyx.
At one point in our discussion, Bill explained that the table and chairs we were sitting at on the balcony were made by students from salvaged wood in the Otways at the very beginning of Wholefoods. He was really pleased they were still there. I was sad to see that the MSA had removed them very recently. After leaving university, Bill went to Thailand, where he still lives. He owns a property near the border of Laos, close to some temples that are around 1000 years old, and he has a large number of organic fruit trees and veggies. Bill said that Wholefoods people welcome to stay with him, but warned that it is “zero star” accommodation at best!
Monash Clayton 2004 – 2007.
When I first started at Monash back in 2004, I started studying Law and I went on Law Camp. It was horrible. ‘This is university life?!’ I thought. I was despairing, no one understands me, everyone gets totally wasted, and all people care about is clothes and hooking up with the President of the Law Association. Luckily, I quit law and stuck to my Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Politics, and got involved in a bit of student activism and Wholefoods. Thank the Lord, If I believed in one. People dress however they want! They are diverse! They drink chai on the balcony and will discuss the world today! I can get a cheap healthy meal, a good latte and smoke my ciggies on the balcony and meet interesting people! My friendships from uni were cemented there. We have all gone our separate ways, but some of us are still good friends and I keep thinking about going back for a latte. But what will I find? I hope the current student cohort sees the value in holding on to such a non-commercial, human collective. I wasn’t involved in it much, but man I really appreciated the people who worked to keep Wholefoods so vibrant. By the way, you will learn much more at Wholefoods than you will in your lectures or tutorials.
You’re a first year student university student. Alienated, alone, somehow angry and disappointed at the suburban void you’ve been born into. Welcome to Sir John Monash Memorial University. In the midst of windswept industrial wasteland of Clayton, way out in the middle of nowhere. The bleak concrete expanse of the degree-factory, with its neo-Stalinist futilitarian architecture haphazardly dotted with corporate advertising, amongst the token remnants of withering native plant gardens and tacky dried-up water fountains. Confronted with a student union building turned campus centre turned miniature shopping mall. A spatial manifestation of organised student power sold off and transformed into a primarily commercial enterprise. The student association itself is for the most part a political write-off, having to rely on the sponsorship of multinational corporations to even stay afloat.
You’re all alone. You’ve got nowhere to go. You’ve got nobody to talk to. No more common lunch times to meet and socialise with your fellow students. Just a factory complex, dying trees and a multi-storey car park to wander about aimlessly between classes. But then, tucked away around an unassuming corner on the second storey of the otherwise lifeless Campus Centre building, you find Wholefoods, and you finally feel at home. It is a shining beacon of light and joy in the midst of the darkness and despair of the neoliberal university campus.
Wholefoods is the salvation of so many lost and confused students at Monash. It is more than just a restaurant or café. It is a thriving student community, a source of love and friendship, and an ongoing political experiment in collective self-management. My most cherished memories of university life don’t lie in lecture theatres or exam halls. There were made at Wholefoods, and they can’t be quantified in an end-of-financial-year balance sheet.
Whilst the marketing department of Starbucks pours millions of dollars into emulating an atmosphere of enlightened community that goes beyond a mere cup of coffee, the MSA shoots itself in the foot by undermining and attacking the really-existing community atmosphere that has characterised Wholefoods since its grassroots beginnings. It’s hard to feel warmth and connection to the experience of sitting in a plastic chair at Meeting Point or McDonalds (a proud MSA sponsor), even if these businesses might appear to be efficient moneymaking operations.
I have worked, volunteered and eaten at Wholefoods for years now. In my naive early days, it was washing dishes, making posters and attending collective meetings every week. I learnt so much and made so many great friends. I keep the fondest memories of being berated for my white, middle-class ignorance in my first days working at Wholefoods by fiery feminists who turned out to be some of the kindest and wisest women I have ever met.
At Wholefoods there was always a great conversation to be had, a lively argument to engage in, an affordable and nourishing vegan meal to eat and a friendly joint to be smoked in the comfort of sagging old couches on the balcony. People with big ideas who weren’t afraid to challenge how you thought about and lived in the world. A meeting place for all of the weird ones, the inspired loners, the concerned greenies, the militant herbivores and feral leftists – a riff raff of interesting and inspiring people who together built a great student community around them. And Jay’s warm smiles and hugs, the glue that held it all together.
But the Wholefoods student community has always been a community in flux. People move on. They have other lives to live, adventures to have, commitments to drop in and out of. In the midst of all of this movement and excitement, we can’t let the fruits of hard-won student struggles be taken for granted, or smashed to a pulp by the commercial interests of a corporatized MSA. Wholefoods has a rich and empowering history that needs to be preserved for and built upon by generations of students to come. Without places like Wholefoods, where would we all go? The only alternative I can see is the loneliness of plastic chairs, takeaway fast food and alienating computer labs. The vast, inhumane expanse of concrete and dead grass that is Monash, Clayton.
Together, for ourselves and for all of the Monash student generations to come, we need to UNFUCK WHOLEFOODS.
Volunteer and involved in events, 2009-11
As an impressionable and naive student, I started university with the unrealistic image of what on campus student life entailed. I believed that students did not simply go to classes and then leave university when they finished but rather students developed a whole new life on campus. This was a life which led to the maturing of political and philosophical beliefs and a life which nurtured caring, open-minded, political citizens. This student life I found lacking at Monash that is until I stumbled across Wholefoods. What looked on surface as simply a vegetarian restaurant was in fact a beautiful eco-system that breed a community of the most compassionate, admirable, intelligent and unique people I have meet, many whom I now consider my dearest friends. This eco-system contained the doors to everything I imagined university should provide. Most importantly it has made me optimistic about the world; Wholefoods is proof that non-hierarchy systems can work, that direct democracy is both practical and empowering and a diverse group of open-minded people can co-exist in a peaceful and productive manner. Though my classes taught me how to write essays, critically think and read obscure French philosophy, it was the experiences as Wholefoods that taught me how to be passionate, how to get involved but also how to care. Once I discovered Wholefoods, it soon became a significant part of my life. When my friends and I were asked what our majors were, we would reply Wholefoods.
In last few years Wholefoods has been slowly deteriorating. It is moving away from what I feel in love with to something which is becoming increasely more corporate and less student focused. Wholefoods is the last refuge for those who seek a student life beyond parties and booze and now it is becoming another faceless and meaningless part of Monash. With student participation already at a very distressing state, it saddens me that Wholefoods has been imposed to such harsh and unconstitutional changes. These changes do not only disable collective action but they also destroy the Wholefoods community. If this trend persists the Wholefoods that I love will soon be gone. And no longer can I nor other will be able to proudly say that they major in Wholefoods.
Being HUGELY inspired by the current wholefoods crew
I made friends. I learnt about saving the world.
I became a president(!) of the Greens
I wagged lots of classes in this little hub of activity, warmth and amusement. The hours spent here, I possibly learnt more than in my actual classes at uni.
This space hosted 500 people at Students of Sustainability. Monash Environment Collective, with the Sydney collective made this huge, enlightening, collaborative conference happen. Wholefoods was at the heart of it, serving meals three times a day to 500 people from all over Australia.
Wiling away the hours on the wholefoods balcony playing guitar, watching the herbs grow in garden pots, having 3 hour long political discussions.
The parties: dress ups with the best (worst?) nineties, seventies, bollywood dancing music.
Learning how to serve coffee and customers (I’m pretty sure I failed in the coffee department). Eating more cake than I served (Ididn’t stay long volunteering in the cafe.)
Being inspired by the people around me, for being so different! to what I was used to.
Girls with armpit hair, girls who kissed girls, people who drunk beer from jars in their share houses, friends who went travelling all over the world, people who came from all over Victoria and the world. Different languages.
The collective stuff: how to facilitate a meeting, how to stay patient in a meeting, knowing when the best time to bail on a meeting was.
Seeing how collectives functioned. Learning consensus decision making, non violent direct action, being as unbiased as possible with communication.
We decided to travel around Australia by bicycle in wholefoods. I made some of my greatest friendships in wholefoods, chai = wholefoods, I had tears, joy, boredom in wholefoods. I asked a friend how to pick up girls in wholefoods!!!
To whoever is in the collective right now. Keep on truckin’!!!! It’s an amazing asset to the university. A means to make friends in a large uni, which at times can seem daunting and isolating. It’s got a lot of heart and had a wonderful history.
Oh and I’m there painted on the wall. See if you can pick me!
Lots of love!!!
Volunteer, The Pantry, 1971-74
In the early 1970s when I started at Monash, the place was different to today. Firstly, there was the Union Building (now the Campus Centre), which was owned and operated by the Student Union. The building was physically different lacking the T-add on that juts towards the Ming Wing (ooops the Sir Robert Menzies Building – let’s be polically correct)!
Actually, let’s not be PC – as Prime Minister, Robert Menzies presided over the White Australia Policy and his racist policies ensured that Australia remained a white and conservative Asian neighbour. The Ming Wing was (un)affectionately termed that to (historically) rub salt to the wound that is the Menzies legacy.
The campus then was a hotbed of political activism – Monash was THE uni in Australia to lead on all manner of political and student campaigns. Part of that was environmental awarenes which was growing as it started to dawn on students, the union movement and the centre left of the political spectrum, that we live on a finite planet with limited resources. The Pantry was a response to the supermarket /pre-packaged food that accompanied the brave new world of the USA’s growing importance in the world.
The other HUGE factor, also related to the USA, was the Vietnam War. This affected every student directly through compulsory conscription. Scary stuff! What it did, however, was to radicalise the student base … because you simply could not afford to be disinterested. Conscripts were dying in Vietnam (as were the Vietnamese). The Vietnam War, apartheid in South Africa, the cause of the indigenous Australians’ fight for rights and equality … after 23 years of conservative government, Australia was not a pretty place!! In this context, students at Monash uni founded “The Pantry”.
A glassed-in section under the still existing stairway was the site of the Pantry’s inauguration (later to become Wholefoods) and it’s first goal was to sell healthy whole food, organic not prepackaged and certain items like incense, candles, crafts etc. It operated on a volunteer basis with some co-ordinators. I remember helping out, and I think we used to get a 20% discount for doing so. It was fun, the energy was great, but most important was the fact that this was a student initiative. We were taking control of one more small part of our lives and determining our reality – not Big Brother!
I am now an alumni of Monash and continue to have an interest in student affairs. What concerns me is the theft of student rights and property over the years, and the draconian way that the bureucrats at Monash have run rough-shod over student’s right and initiatives. It’s time to take back what is (y)ours. Long live Wholefoods!!!
I love Wholefoods, not solely for the food I can buy there, but primarily because of the community space it provides, because of the kinds of people it attracts and the kinds of conversations it allows and encourages.If it wasn’t for Wholefoods much of my political beliefs would not exist. I would’ve found it difficult, if not impossible, to come across such a large group of people who care about the world so deeply and with whom I could not only share my concerns but organise to work towards a better tomorrow.Wholefoods has played a central role in the maturing of my political thoughts and opinions, the conversations and friendships it facilitated, having taught me more valuable information and given me more hope than my studies ever could.Through the existence of the Collective, Wholefoods not only advocates for but practically shows that a world in which we have direct control over our own lives and where we collectively decide, with mutual respect and consent, how we live and work is not only ideal but possible.The destruction of Wholefoods as an anti-hierarchical community-space directly run by students, would not only be the crushing of certain political ideals, but would be a devastating blow to many of my personal hopes and aspirations.Further, it would deprive generations of future Monash students from being able to find and develop the courage and support necessary to be able to question injustice. It will take away the capacity of thousands to be able to dream of a better world.The smashing of Wholefoods is something I’m not prepared to sit by and let happen.I am involved in the MSA, despite its currently disengaging and alienating culture, because there is too much at stake if people who care continue to avoid the MSA and as a result the status quo, and all the devastation it entails, is allowed to continue.Instead, if we come together and organise, there is still much hope for a student union that rather than facilitating the destruction of student spaces, facilitates the creation of more. Instead of providing the space for shouting matches between student politicians, it provides a platform for constructive political dialogue with the aim of engaging and mobilising thousands of students to take action on social justice and environmental issues and to actively work together for a better world.
Anonymous, who ran around all over the place
cafe hand 2005-2009
grocery coord 2007
cafe coord 2009-2010
This is my story, such as it is. There are gaps and a vast array of people missing, or not named, but you know who you are and I know who you are, so don’t take it personally.
I was at Monash Uni from the start of 2003 until halfway through 2010. I think the first day I attended classes it was “ride-to-work” day and so I cycled in and wandered up the stairs to Wholefoods because my Dad (who’d studied at Monash in the late 70s) had said it was this amazing student-run co-op where anyone could volunteer their time and get involved. And that’s exactly what happened. I think I ran into the-then Cafe Coordinator, Debbie Zukerman, almost straight away and she fixed me up with the Volunteers Coordinator who would have been Yvette Crafti at that time. She gave me and this other guy (he had long hair and carried around a bass guitar) a crash course in food safety (“wash your hands, tie your hair back, wear shoes”) and we were well on our way to becoming volunteers!
I started in the Cafe and never really left. First learnt how to make coffee from Isabella Kirchner and Tali Steinfern and I can still make a mean soy latte all these years later.
Within a couple of years I became a paid cafe hand and got more involved in the Wholefoods Collective, an open, non-hierarchical, democratic body which ran Wholefoods through consensus decision-making, teamwork, delegation and shared passion and commitment. To a large extent, the open, democratic nature of Collective appealed to me and tied in with some of the politics subjects I was doing as part of my undergrad Arts degree (from memory we were learning about deliberative democracy amongst other things).
Anyway, I trained volunteers and gave people references that allowed them to get jobs elsewhere. I taught them how to make coffee (you get the best milk through the ‘whirlpool effect’!), gave them basic OHS training, customer service and helped them make Wholefoods a place where they could hang out and escape from classes. Indeed, Wholefoods became my main home at uni, I’d spend hours of every day there, ostensibly studying, helping out the other cafe hands wherever I could as part of my ongoing procrastination regime.
When I became Cafe Coordinator in early 2009 I learnt how to do budgets, about income and expenditure, all about interviewing, hiring and training staff, ordering stock and organising catering for functions.
The reason I was able to do all these things was because anyone could volunteer at Wholefoods, and anyone could be part of the Collective.
I made many friendships with co-workers (staff and volunteers at Wholefoods, and inside the Monash Student Union), and I’ve carried most of these through to this day, despite not having been a student at Monash for just over two years.
I currently work in dispute resolution, in an organisation where there is a hierarchical organisational structure and everyone has a defined role. Whilst I think it’s taken me a while to adjust to a hierarchical workspace, and I know there’s a good reason for it at my workplace, I don’t think that I would be as good at understanding alternate viewpoints, empathising with people and just generally listening to what they have to say (qualities that all assist in resolving disputes) then I would be if I’d never walked up those stairs to Wholefoods.
I’ll always remember bounding up the stairs early in the freezing winter morning for my cafe shift, giving Jay the chef a hello hug and seeing how she was doing, switching on the coffee machine, lugging that heavy pot of chai from the kitchen to the cafe urn, wandering over to MSA Finance to pick up the cash float for the cafe from Peter or Sie or Rachel or Sylvia, putting a cd on in the stereo system (yes, this was back in the days when people still made mix cds! Crazy!) and treating the customers to whatever bands I was listening to at the time: Gaslight Radio, Tindersticks, Cat Power, Augie March, Bluebottle Kiss. I’d scowl at the pianists who tried to practise on the pianos over the top of my cds, I’d market the brilliance of the cake cooks’ muffins to customers, and I’d discuss the finer points of the coffee blend with my regulars. I’d eat cake for breakfast and sometimes I’d only eat coffees until the early afternoon.
My entire university experience was bound up in the Wholefoods space. I could not conceive of going through a university degree without a safe haven such as Wholefoods. I’m forever grateful for the wisdom and experience that was imparted to me by my friends, mentors and peers, and I’ll never forget them. Whilst I learnt political theory, philosophy, and law, through my university degree, I obtained a host of practical skills and a wealth of experience from my involvement with Wholefoods, Collective, and the MSA.
I understand that things change, but it’s always sad when a place that’s been such a massive part of your recent past, and generated so many formative experiences for you, may be irrevocably altered. Good luck to Wholefoods for the future.
Remember, “soy latte makes hangover bearable”.
Cafe Coordinator 2003-4
I think 2003 was the year the lefties got control of the MSA and Lots Wife, also 2002-2003 were the years of Woomera and Baxter Easter Protests, teaching english to refugees, 2003 Bec Tomilson being president and the VC being dethrowned over the plaigarism scandal. 2004 was the introduction of VSU and the MSA bringing food vans onto campus to boycott the university’s outlets. Radical Cheerleaders. I said it. Ronen started the Free Food Mondays at some point. which I remember particularly for the day he put a whole lot of cinnamon in the chilli bean stew because he thought it was cumin, and then fed it to the poor masses anyway. it was pretty gross but hey it was free.
man we trained SO MANY people in the ins and outs of working in a kitchen, making coffee, customer service and cash handling, I wrote heaps of references over those years as coordinator and people got paying jobs as a result. I got paying jobs as a result. I’m still getting paying jobs as a result of learning how to use that damned coffee machine.
volunteering wasn’t about giving people food for their labour, it was about giving people skills and gaining a community. It was about art exhibitions, movie nights, it was about a political education and talking to people who studied things from the other side of the campus.
Wholefoods, my housemate remembers from 10 years ago, was a sanctuary with soul for the students. Soul I hope, and soul I find in those first weeks of uni, battered a little, but still breathing. Jay warms my heart each lunch with unconditional love and care, unbound and uninhibited by the gradual crumble all around. Despite the knowledge of its origin, and it’s presence still preserved, even at this early stage I worry for a future soul of wholefoods still truly whole.
Low and behold, on mildy sneaky premises, it slips, and the msa take ahold with words of care. I return after the break to a room scrubbed clean of its existence, replaced by some new ‘upbeat’ tune and a man that doesn’t understand. Warily I take my tea and settle into a reminiscent corner. Back in my place I am disturbed by a hand taking my dishes to his kitchen, in his simple manner excluding me from a place that used to be mine. A party follows a celebration of the past, of Jay’s love and heart and in the morning, it’s all gone. In the morning it’s cold, and I have nowhere to go home to on campus.
What I miss already, is the life-removed. The us-displaced. What I detest is the silent hush, the clean wash that so insidiously excludes. And now the loudness, the loudness of capital triumph the so bodily exclaims to do with me.
This has everything to do with me.
This has everything to do with us and our place, our presence and our space. It belongs to a whole and feeds us all. Decisions are not for the few, for the hands that take, and remain boddiless. They are ours to be made, collectively.
kitchen volunteer, 2007-2009
volunteer in the café and kitchen, and involved in a lot of the groups running functions and meetings from Wholefoods, 2002-2005.
It’ll sound clichéd, but I’ve come back to this headline again and again without knowing where to start. Knowing that I’ll end up sounding mawkish or hyperbolic, and knowing I’ll be unable to help it.
Sometime around 2003, the ABC did an in-depth piece about student poverty for their political programming (I wish I could remember which show, I couldn’t even watch the piece at the time it aired). I was asked to participate in an interview about this topic. And the one positive viewpoint I brought to the conversation was the importance of Wholefoods to my life.
As someone who came from a background of welfare recipients in a deeply disadvantaged suburb, and who subsequently escaped a home life of abuse during my final year of high school (aged sixteen years and three days), university education was the goal on which I pinned my dreams and plans of escape to a better life.
Money was the obstacle that threatened this dream.
What little financial help I had from casual jobs and Centrelink wasn’t managed very well, I’d only ever seen poor financial habits and shitty diets growing up, and didn’t know how to be any different.
Wholefoods was, luckily for me, one of the first Monash institutions I discovered during O-Week. And by committing to one mid-length shift per week, I could guarantee access to a hot, nutritious meal every day- two if I called a soup my lunch and had an early dinner before they shut for the day!
While I’d worked in cafés before, and could manage a passable coffee while nuking a pre-made cinnamon bun or cake, Wholefoods helped me learn about nutritious cooking and proper food preparation.
It also gave me an environment where, in a university where I knew hardly anyone, a chance to meet and work with many fellow students, and through the use of their space discover interest groups, musicians, political and environmental activists, and enjoy a period of growth and personal development well beyond my academic achievements. In time, I grew to be a founding member of Free Food Mondays- preventing needless waste and helping other students access free nutritious meals- an occasional participant in the Collective itself, and still use some of my favourite recipes to this day (while cursing myself for never getting the recipe for lentil shepherd’s pie…yum!).
I’ll always remember the balcony fondly, with its many potted plants- blocking the wind, letting in whatever sun we could find in beautiful Clayton, the egalitarian seating of lecturers, students and guests alike around the rough-hewn wooden tables- and of course the beautifully enthusiastic murals and table decorations within the space.
Not to mention (*cue wavy lines*):
The days when- finally- a music major would sit down at the piano and give us something different from the odd half-hearted rendition of chopsticks.
Knowing there would always be a quiet corner with a beanbag or a cushion if I needed a break to relax with some light reading material from the handily close Medley Library.
Hugs from Jay, our awesome chef and everyone’s adopted mum.
If I try and picture going through those same days with nowhere to eat but the chrome-and-glass establishments that make up Monash’s other eateries…well, frankly, I fail. Focaccias and overpriced yoghurt with syrupy fruit have their time and place, but not within the budget or nutritional requirements of the average uni student. I can’t say I never treated myself to a cookie or a stir-fry takeaway on campus, but those days were the exception rather than the rule. Wholefoods was quite literally the bread and…well, not butter, but Nuttelex, that got me through my studies.
And my heart is breaking for a generation with every screw already being tightened on their education; with every dollar being wrung from their present and future incomes; and with no chance to partake in such a wonderful environment with such a proud, warm and beautiful history- unless we act to save Wholefoods.
machiatto-sipper and occasional cafe-hand
My six years of university study could ultimately be defined in one word. Or two, depending on how you look at it. Wholefoods.