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“The NOSCA Mafia”: overseas student activism in Australia, 1985–1994

Tim Briedis (University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia)

History of Education Review

ISSN: 0819-8691

Article publication date: 18 March 2020

Issue publication date: 1 December 2020




The purpose of the paper is to explore and analyse the history of the predominantly Malaysian Network of Overseas Students Collectives in Australia (NOSCA), that existed from 1985–1994.


The paper is based on extensive archival research in the State Library of New South Wales, the National Library of Australia and the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Archives. It makes particular use of the UNSW student newspaper Tharunka and the NOSCA publications Truganini and Default. It also draws upon nine oral history interviews with former members of NOSCA.


The NOSCA was particularly prominent at the UNSW, building a base there and engaging substantially in the student union. Informed by anarchism, its activists were interested in an array of issues–especially opposition to student fees and in solidarity with struggles for democracy and national liberation in Southeast Asia, especially around East Timor. Moreover, the group would serve as a training ground for a layer of activists, dissidents and opposition politicians throughout Southeast Asia, with a milieu of ex-NOSCA figures sometimes disparagingly referred to as “the NOSCA Mafia.”


While there has been much research on overseas students, there has been far less on overseas students as protestors and activists. This paper is the first case study to specifically hone in on NOSCA, one of the most substantial and left wing overseas student groups. Tracing the group's history helps us to reframe and rethink the landscape of student activism in Australia, as less white, less middle class and less privileged.



Briedis, T. (2020), "“The NOSCA Mafia”: overseas student activism in Australia, 1985–1994", History of Education Review, Vol. 49 No. 2, pp. 117-132.



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