Life, Up for Grabs

Tony Ayres (BA (Visual) '85, BA '87) and Michael McMahon (LLB '82)
14 February 2022

Almost everyone who comes to ANU is offered a new beginning, so you are forced to make social families. Life is up for grabs when you're at ANU.

This strange new world with the global pandemic causes me to reflect on our time at ANU and the profound impact socialisation had in these formative years - getting on your bike, a bottle of white wine under your arm, cycling through the icy Canberra winter to a dinner party. Connecting with friends and creating networks was a wonderful part of our time at Uni.

When I first became a student, I was studying literature and philosophy. I was into student politics; gay politics, feminism and men's groups, and going into the School of Art opened even more opportunities for me. I was involved with what is now known as the Canberra Contemporary Art Space, designed theatre sets and made calendars for book shops. I even designed and printed the poster for Richard Roxburgh's first show.

The opportunities you get as a student because you are making life happen as a fairly young person, forces a certain spirit of entrepreneurialism. I feel this time set us both up, Michael and I, for our future endeavours.

My partner, Michael, would say the importance of university is, of course, to research, create and pass on knowledge - but most importantly to socialise. That social aspect of student life is how we met- and decided to be a couple, all those years ago now!

We are still in touch with so many of the people we met at ANU - from the School of Art, and the College of Law. These friends you make and people you meet are so vital not only in the moment, but into the future. They are the contacts we look to professionally and the friends we keep personally. Creating work for screen is a collaborative process, and, when you study, you meet a lot of people who will be your peers long after you graduate.

When we left Canberra for Melbourne, a whole bunch of people from my graduating year came too and formed a life here. We spent our formative Art School days together, and now we are getting old and tired together. They are lifelong friends, and that longevity of university friendship is truly wonderful.

After Uni, Michael worked as a lawyer for around 20 years, before making the transition into film. In 2009, we started Matchbox Pictures together. He has always had a keen interest in the ideas behind projects, which is necessary when you devote so much time and resources to turn it into a living, moving thing - it is also, what he loved about the law. 

Now that he's working in academia, Michael is so acutely aware of the impact the last 18+ months have had on his students, not being able to do university life in the way we did. That is so unfortunate, yet we realise their creativity will spark different kinds of connections so we remain optimistic.

We will always have a fondness for ANU - it brought us each other and the connections fundamental to our careers, particularly our work on screen. All of these relationships will be lifelong, and they all got their start on that beautiful campus.

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