Topic: Auckland in the Swinging 60s by Barry Southam

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A 2013 Memoir and Local History Competition entry.

Archived version here.

In the 60s and 70s Auckland was the place to be. Sex, drugs, rock n roll, urban communes, underground newspapers, political activism, it was all happening as part of the so-called Youth Revolution then.

Bearded Tim Shadbolt was orating in Albert Park, packed every Sunday with the beatific and the beautiful in their psychedelic regalia, smoking pot and dancing to the local bands. The city council tried to stop the gatherings and were consequently invaded at one of their meetings by long hairs distributing balloons and jellybeans. A coffin was floated in the Albert Park fountain proclaiming the death of free speech and democracy.

Feminist and author Germaine Greer flew into town and was arrested for saying ‘bullshit,’ and the anti-Vietnam war protesters saw their numbers swell. Various new movements published their manifestos for artistic freedom in magazines dedicated to tweaking the nose of the establishment.

Amid all this fervour, poetry was taking off .The new Writers In Schools programme allowed Sam Hunt and I and others to read our own works to sixth formers across Auckland and the North Shore. My presentation was slightly different as I read a selection of other young poets’ efforts as well as my own. If it was a boys only school I would start of with some Peter Olds V8 poems after a brief explanation that poetry was no longer about boring deserted villages twelve thousand miles away as it had been in my school days.

In his poem Psycho when I got to the lines:


eight bodies crammed in a single seated

4 wheeled psychopath

gearlever between the legs of a knocked-out catholic girl screaming for the next party...


you could see them sitting up and leaning forward, and suddenly very, very attentive.

This was noticeable at Westlake Boys' High where the English teacher was a tad worried before I started as the previous week the boys had taken the mickey out of a local rock ‘n roll group's performance: screaming, pretending to tear out their hair, and rolling around on the floor. He need not to have worried . Rapt silence. Then at the end of Midnight Queen's Last Dream, fulsome applause.

For an all girls school I would start instead with Dave Mitchell's lyrical love poems, and by the time I'd read The Oldest Game ending with the lines, softly spoken:


insubstantial lovebirds fly

& the gulls cry

&the gulls cry


there was a noticeable tear or two appearing.

Another I read for a lighter touch was Arthur Baysting. His selection included a poem about the poet sitting in the bath examining a sponge filled full of his absent girlfriend's pubic hairs. I had got into a regular routine and automatically launched into this effort before remembering that I was at a Catholic girls school with three nuns standing at the back of the classroom. I inwardly gulped but kept going, as the poet wondered in the poem if he had helped them fall, and observed:


perhaps its the season for it

Autumn for pubic hairs.


I looked apprehensively towards the back of the room only to see the nuns laughing louder than the girls.

Auckland was also becoming a hothouse for literary magazines. Among those blooming were Mate, Orpheus, Poetry New Zealand, Nucleus and Islands. Lots to choose from for budding writers. Not to mention trying out new works at regular poetry readings at the Barry Lett Gallery in Victoria street.

Ah, them were the days.


This page archived at Perma CC in October of 2016:

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