TONY ABBOTT'S trajectory from campus politician and accused wall-puncher to apparent prime-minister-in-waiting illuminates the rich vein of success that has flowed from the Student Representative Council of the nation's premier university.
Among the honour roll of past presidents of the Sydney University SRC are Michael Kirby, who held the post in the early '60s and rose to become a high court judge, and Richard Walsh, who led the students three years later, going on to become a leading journalist and publisher.
The end of the '60s saw Geoffrey Robertson - now a QC and international human rights lawyer - and Jim Spigelman - recently retired Chief Justice of NSW - assume the chair. Chris Sidoti - a former Human Rights Commissioner - followed in the early '70s.
As a predictor of future political success, the presidency of the Sydney University SRC is particularly illuminating.
Gregory Bartels, who claimed the presidency in 1953, would go on to be state director of the NSW Liberal Party - and to father a future leader of the NSW Liberal Party, Kerry Chikarovski. The end of the 1960s saw a future secretary of the NSW Treasury, Percy Allan, take the chair.
But it was the decade between 1977 and 1987 that the presidency moved between parties and strong personalities clashed.
Barbara Ramjan, who was of the Left, defeated Tony Abbott to the presidency in 1977, eliciting from him the now infamous wall punch, which he denies throwing. Abbott triumphed for the Democratic Labor Party in the presidential race of 1978.
In 1984, the presidential aspirations of two of Labor's future leading lights - Belinda Neal and Anthony Albanese - collided. She won. (So intense was their rivalry, it is said, that she punched him during one meeting - a claim he would neither confirm nor deny in 2008 when she was fighting off claims of bullying during the so-called Iguana nightclub affair). Another future leading Liberal light, Joe Hockey, rounded out 10 intriguing years when he claimed the presidency in 1987. Malcolm Turnbull made a dash for the presidency in 1975 but was beaten by David Patch, a barrister, who, in a neat twist, was the ALP candidate for the federal seat of Wentworth in 2004, losing out to Turnbull.
Jeremy Jones was deeply involved in Sydney University politics during the late '70s and early '80s, including as a member of the SRC and vice-president of the University of Sydney Union.
''The thing about those years was that no one political group has the ascendancy. You couldn't say you would win an election. You had to fight - and they did,'' Mr Jones, director of international and community affairs at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC), told the Herald.
Mr Walsh, who was on the Left of the political spectrum and president in the mid-60s, recalls high stakes on campus.
''It wasn't as though the issues weren't hot. The Vietnam War was the divisive issue and passions ran high. There was an enormous ferment. We were the group that had come through after the war,'' he said. ''We were angry on campus - but weirdly enough it didn't manifest itself in biff. We didn't actually think of punching ourselves in the face, or punching very close to the head of somebody.''
The current president of the SRC is Phoebe Drake, who contested the Marrickville Council local government elections last weekend on a Labor ticket with Jo Haylen, who was SRC president in 2003. Ms Haylen was elected, Ms Drake was not.
Ms Drake said she did not see the presidency as a launching pad to a career in politics but as a way to ''give students, particularly rural students, a voice on campus''.
The 22-year-old media and communications student acknowledged that aggression and intimidation were alive in student politics. ''I can't say I have not experienced that because I think there are few people who haven't,'' she said. ''During SRC elections, things happen. My own election was particularly vicious. When they do happen, it is all about saying 'That is not right'.''