Topic: New Zealand in the 1960s (2009) by Debbie McCauley

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This article on counterculture in New Zealand during the ‘long sixties’ was written by Debbie McCauley on 29 April 2009 as part of a BA in Humanities and Information & Library Studies.

Counterculture is a term widely used to describe events, especially in America and Britain, where society underwent significant changes during what historian Arthur Marwick terms the ‘long sixties’ (2005, p. 23), or the period from c.1958 to c.1974.  This essay will focus on New Zealand subcultures during this time and determine how useful the countercultural term is to describe developments in Aotearoa.

Mass media allowed a wider audience to be influenced and informed by the cultural variety in their own country and around the world. Mainly because of its geographical distance, New Zealand had historically been a few years behind the rest of the world. The country was emerging from the effects of two world wars and a depression and when television first aired in Auckland in 1960 it heralded the arrival of a new era of change. From that point on Aotearoa followed more closely the changes affecting the rest of the world. 

1960 is also remembered for the Waitangi Day Act (a token first step towards a national day), the South Island rock drawing Ōpihi Taniwha (featuring on our most common postage stamp from 1960 to 1970), the year equal-pay for women employed in the public sector was introduced, the Auckland City Art Gallery’s exhibition of Art from the Pacific, the Hunn Report on Māori urbanisation and the year the National Government came to power with Keith Holyoake at the helm. The National Party went on to dominate from 1960 to 1972.

As well as television, cheaper airline travel, the post-war baby boom, the introduction of the oral contraceptive and the rapid expansion of universities were to have a major impact on how New Zealanders thought, behaved and lived. Television programmes produced abroad allowed New Zealanders to observe and increasingly be influenced by overseas cultures.

Through the power of the media New Zealanders knew about international events and issues such as the Berlin Wall (1961), who the Beatles, Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones were, about marijuana and LSD, the Vietnam War, Black Civil Rights, Martin Luther King’s speech ‘I have a Dream’ (1963), President Kennedys assassination (1963), Woodstock (1969) and Neil Armstrong landing on the moon (1969).  As Dix (2005) suggests though ‘When Flower Power blossomed during San Francisco’s Summer of Love, the New Zealand media reported the phenomenon with a mixture of fascination, fear and revulsion. Open dope smoking? Free Love? Disgusting. Still, it could never happen here. Godzone was rugby, racing and the 40-hour week’ (p. 101).

As New Zealanders became more internationally aware, our own protest groups developed. They were similar to the overseas subcultures of hippies, civil rights groups, feminists, homosexual rights, anti-Vietnam war protesters and student activists who were voicing their dissatisfaction with society. Even the All Blacks started wearing their hair longer. Māori, feminists, environmentalists, artists, musicians, poets, writers and students all found their voice and become part of New Zealand’s own countercultural experience, albeit at the time unknowingly and uncoordinatedly, and on a much, much smaller scale than the rest of the world.

New fashions arrived, the mini-skirt, trouser suit and flares. We even developed own television stars: Brian Edwards (1937- ) and Peter Sinclair (1938-2001) along with Chef Graham Kerr (1934- ). The new consciousness or ‘coming of age’ challenged the accepted norm in a largely agricultural country still emerging from the conservative 50’s and the influence of the colonial mind-set.

New Zealand also made its mark internationally during this time. Murray Halberg (1933- ) and Peter Snell (1938- ) won medals at the 1960 Rome Olympics, superhorse Cardigan Bay (1956-1988), golfer Bob Charles (1936- ), John Walker (1952- ), Kiri Te Kanawa (1944- ) and John Rowles (1947- ), all achieved international fame and pushed New Zealand’s boundaries even further out.

The mid-sixties saw the development of the supermarket, the demise of the local grocer and the collapse in wool prices which led to higher unemployment. Decimal currency was introduced in 1967, with six o’clock closing for hotels being abolished in the same year. Major catastrophes included The Wahine Disaster (1968) and Inangahua earthquake (1968). All these events were to have their impact on New Zealand society.

The New Zealand Artillery Battery was sent to South Vietnam in 1965, with television showing the grim realities of war. This spurred people into action and Vietnam protests reached their height in 1971. In 1969 the Save Manapouri Campaign was launched which raised consciousness about environmental issues. Labour sent a frigate to Muroroa to protest French nuclear testing in the Pacific in 1973 and in 1974 a second television channel and colour television were introduced and Robert Muldoon become leader of the National Party.

Ever since New Zealand’s founding document, Tiriti o Waitangi (The Treaty of Waitangi), was signed by over 500 Māori chiefs in 1840, Māori have been protesting that its promises have not been upheld. The treaty has become integral in the Māori struggle for self determination. The resurgence of cultural identity among Māori from the 1960’s raised awareness of many New Zealanders to the issues at hand and can be seen to run parallel with the American African American civil rights movement and protest in other post-colonial countries such as Australia and Canada.  Pākehā consciousness of Māori grievances grew with the advent of the media and the increasing urbanisation of the Māori population. By 1971 census results show that 60% of Māori lived in cities. 

In 1966 Te Atairangi Kaahu became New Zealand’s first Māori Queen and in 1970 Nga Tamatoa (Young Warriors) was founded in Auckland to express the dissatisfaction of Māori youth, especially after the questionable Māori Affairs Amendment Act of 1967. More vigorous protest culminated in a massive land march from the far north to Wellington in 1975 led by Dame Whina Cooper (1895-1994), resulting in the formation of the Waitangi Tribunal. ‘As a consequence of the land march, Māori people throughout the land were politicised in a unity of purpose to a level unprecedented in modern times, in the endless struggle against colonisation’ (Walker, 2004, p. 214).

In 1977 Ngāti Whātua protested the development of tribal land at Bastion Point in Auckland. Joseph Hawke and other protestors occupied the land and the issue was splashed across the media. Protestors were forcibly removed by police in 1978.  In 1977 Raglan golf course had been occupied. The land had been seized by the government and the community displaced in order to build an emergency air strip in World War II. The land was not returned after the air strip was no longer required. These protests were the forerunners to a more organised protest movement in the 1970s and 1980s where Maori fought for self-determination and the redress of past injustices.

Māori have been raising concerns about cultural intellectual property rights for many years, including the misuse of knowledge gathered by their ancestors over centuries. This relates to patterns, songs, dance, carvings, images, names, symbols, paintings, poetry, traditional medicines and histories among others. Traditional Māori art was in several cases appropriated by Pākehā, mutilated with red enamel house paint and stored in museums, who then fashioned themselves as the ‘authorities’ on Māori art and culture. ‘Māori culture was being locked into a traditional template. Mainstream Māori art was being obliged to repeat the past, with little room for the imagination to evolve. It seemed their art was no longer being directed by the Māori imagination but by the museum’ (Keith, 2007, p. 153).

Acting as a catalyst for the emergence of a new generation of contemporary Māori Artists during this time was Gordon Tovey (1901-1974), supervisor of arts and crafts at the Department of Education, which was determined to develop Māori culture in schools. Famous names such as Cliff Whiting (1936- ), Ralph Hotere (1931- ), Para Matchitt (1933- ), Fred Graham (1928- ), Katerina Mataira (1932- ), Muru Walters (1935- ), Selwyn Muru (1939- ), Buck Nin (1942-1996) and John Bevan Ford (1930- ) emerged with Tovey’s support and encouragement. The first exhibition of Māori Modernism was held in Auckland in 1958.

One of those artists, Cliff Whiting, helped to forge new cultural directions for Māori art through his innovative use of bold colour and his unique treatment of form and shape. His involvement in the carving and restoration of many Marae in the late sixties helped to revitalise Māori communities. He also created important work inspired by events at the time such as Land March (1975).

The cultural exchange between Māori and Pākehā culture and a growing acceptance of Māori art provide a now historic record of the counterculture that took place during this period. This cultural exchange can be demonstrated in the works of Colin McCahon (1919-1987), and Ralph Hotere, two of New Zealand’s most prominent artists. Hamish Keith (2007) discusses the crossover from Hotere to McCahon in The Song of the Shining Cuckoo, and from McCahon to Hotere in Aramoana: ‘Exploring the relationship between these two painters would almost certainly define how powerfully the two cultures drew on each other’ (p. 257). Hotere’s Malady paintings are based on Bill Manhire’s poetry and in 1965 modernist painter Gordon Walters (1919- ) showed this influence in his production of his Koru geometric abstraction series.  Hotere studied in London and travelled in Europe, developing a severe minimalist abstraction style. Some of his work shows symbolic blackness and red accents along the lines of American painter Mark Rothko.

New Zealand art had largely been unappreciated in favour of ‘kiwiana’. As Hamish Keith (2007) explains ‘New Zealanders largely ignored art altogether, seemingly content with trivial cultural distractions like haere mai tea towels and vacant landscapes’ (p. 173). The ‘long sixties’ were a revitalizing time for New Zealand art and artists who established a modern movement. This post-colonial cultural growth saw artists focusing on their homeland in order to articulate a burgeoning national consciousness and pride.

The influence of 1960s America and Britain had a strong influence on the arts in New Zealand. Through a mixture of overseas travel and the media, artists became aware of British, American and European artists and started to develop a distinctly New Zealand style. Artists and writers work shows a reaction to various influences which can include: conservation issues; political and Māori sub-cultures; social issues; race relations, religious issues, moral issues; land rights; urbanization; sexual revolution and feminism. As an example, the conservation movement adopted Don Binney’s paintings as icons for their cause. Colin McCahon, who had travelled abroad, returned to New Zealand in 1958 and painted the Northland Panels. According to Hamish Keith (2007) ‘The Northland Panels seem like a watershed in New Zealand art, although the reality of change and maturity that seemed to happen from the end of the fifties was a wider and much more complicated process than that’ (p. 218).

Pieces from this period include Window, Greymouth, (1960) by South Island artist Toss Woollaston (1910-1998) who worked in an uncompromising way using broad calligraphic brushstrokes and large areas of colour, often earthy ochre, to indicate different features. Neo-expressionist painter Pat Hanly (1932-2004) painted several large paintings in the 1960s using the themes of politics, morality and nuclear war. In 1963 McCahon painted the Second Gate Series protesting against nuclear arms and in 1965 Rita Angus (1908-1970), painted the destruction of the forests in Scrub-burning, Northern Hawke’s Bay, a powerful work in which angry, colourful plumes of smoke fill the sky.

Another neo-expressionist painter, Tony Fomison (1939-1990), was also a social critic. His imagery focuses on race relations, the devaluation of non-European cultures and materialism which produced a darkness within his paintings. Other names from this period include: Gretchen Albrecht (1943- ), Billy Apple (1935- ), Greer Twiss (1937- ), Don Binney (1940- ), Ross Ritchie (1941- ), Pauline Thompson (1942- ), Robin White (1946- ) and Philip Clairmont (1949-1984).

As well as the artists, New Zealand poets during the ‘long sixties’ were also able to express themselves through the new freedom and diversity that this period stimulated: ‘These poets were young, they were individualistic, and their work was experimental’ (Sturm, 1998, p. 477). They often wrote diversely, without any attempt to conform to structures from the past and moving towards a more ‘open’ form of poetry without a definitive start, middle and ending. This led to freer forms of verse and an enormous variety of work was produced, although New Zealand’s size did restrict a full pop poetry revolution as Arthur Baysting explains in his 1973 book The young New Zealand poets: ‘It is unlikely that a parallel pop poetry will surface in this country – there is not the extensive youth culture to support it’ (p. 2). Poets of the time include Sam Hunt (1946- ), Bill Manhire (1946- ), Hone Tuwhare (1922-2008), Ian Wedde (1946- ), Alan Brunton (1946-2002), Peter Olds (1944- ), Bob Orr (1949- ), Jan Kemp (1949- ) and James K. Baxter (1926-1972).

Auckland had one advantage over other main centres during this time. Auckland University offered an American literature course, run by Roger Horroks, which was to expose a new generation of poets to overseas work. In an act of rebellion against conformist poetry, Alan Brunton founded the magazine Freed (1969-1972), funded by the University’s Student Association. It played a significant role as it disseminated the radical new poetry to a wider audience: ‘Several of the poets were intensively involved in, sometimes acting as leaders of, social, political and cultural change both in ideas and in the language of public debate and practical action’ (Gadd, 2001, p. 8). Other magazines were also publishing work at this time, The Listener (since 1939) and Landfall (since 1947), but from a more conservative stance. Māori magazine Te Ao Hou (1952-1976) under the editorship of Margaret Orbell from 1962 to 1966 was busy publishing and promoting poetry and writing by Māori authors. In 1973 Hone Tuwhare, Para Matchitt and Taura Eruera convened the first Māori Writers and Artists Conference.

Many poets were independently discovering the counterculture and were influenced by what they saw on television or read: ‘On the powerful tide of the media came the popular culture of the ‘youth revolution’ with its songs of protest, lyric appeal to the natural and the simple, mockery of entrenched structures and institutions, and its sense that poetry, politics, and people might be brought together’ (Sturm, 1998, p. 477). This poem by Lewis Scott on the Vietnam War is typical of the issues of the time:

To whom it may concern:

this telegram is to inform

you of the death of your son

in Viet Nam

Please let us know if you have one more

Sincerely yours

The American People

Along with poetry, literature was going through its own mini-revolution at this time. The counterculture itself with the changes it brought to peoples lives gave novelists, poets and playwrights the material and creativity needed to produce more diverse novels than previous New Zealand writers. Pounamu Pounamu (1972) was the first novel published by a Māori author, Witi Ihimaera (1944- ) and Tim Shadbolt’s (1947- ) Bullshit and Jellybeans (1971) appeared as well as the Whole Earth Catalogue (1972). As Sturm (1998) writes ‘The most obvious challenge faced by the earlier post-provincial novelists was to develop new themes and explanatory patterns to deal with the great social changes of the 1960s and 1970s’ (p. 184). Authors of the time include Maurice Gee (1931- ), Bruce Mason (1921-1982), Noel Hilliard (1929-1997), Janet Frame (1924- 2004), Frank Sargeson (1903-1982), Marilyn Duckworth (1935- ), Ronald Morrieson (1922-1972), Joy Cowley (1936- ), Patricia Grace (1937- ) and Barry Crump (1935-1996). Publishing houses increasingly began to publish New Zealand fiction and non-fiction.

In 1964 photographer Ans Westra (1936- ) caused a stir when she published ‘Washday at the Pa’ portraying the happy rural life of a Māori family with nine children that she stayed with for two days while travelling around the East Coast of the North. The photographs and fictional text were objected to by the Māori Women’s Welfare League on the grounds that the living conditions did not depict typical Māori life. Controversy spread throughout the country and helped to highlight Māori issues.

New Zealand’s first ‘pop’ television show was In the Groove from 1962 to 1965 featuring a studio of dancers dancing to overseas hits. From 1967 C’Mon featured go-go girls hosted by Peter Sinclair  and featured local musicians such as Dinah Lee, The Chicks (Sue and Judy Donaldson), Ray Woolf, Fourmyula (1967) the La De Das (1964) and Underdogs (1965). The Beatles visited New Zealand in 1964 causing a sensation and in 1966 illegal radio station Radio Hauraki broadcasted 24 hour rock ‘n’ roll to Aucklanders. Their decision to play 20% local content helped nurture New Zealand music. Brooking (2004) explains: ‘The counterculture flourished in some isolated locations, and rock music swept all before it’ (p. 141).

Other influential musicians include Ray Columbus and the Invaders with the memorable “She’s a Mod’ (1964), Mr Lee Grant, the Avengers and the Blue Diamonds with Midge Marsden.  In 1973 the Great Ngaruawahia Music Festival was held where new bands Bruno Lawrence’s ‘Blerta’, Dragon and Split Enz amongst others played. The early seventies saw the emergence of female vocalists Shona Laing and Sharon O’Neill, then later Hello Sailor and Dave Dobbyn in Th’ Dudes amongst others.

In 1970 Up from Under was published being New Zealand’s first periodical of the second-wave feminist movement. ‘Second-wave’ feminist counterculture seemed to focus mainly on the inequalities experienced by women in a patriarchal society dominated by the white middle-class male where securing their future by marriage was widely thought to be the only viable option available.

In New Zealand, the women’s movement was influenced by the publication of American Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique (1963). Women were now calling for equal opportunities along with equal pay. Conscious-raising groups were being formed and included NOW (National Organisation for Women) and WOW (Wellington Organisation for Women). Germaine Greer (author of The Female Eunuch, 1970) visited New Zealand in 1972, the same year that equal-pay for women in the private sector was introduced. 

The first United Women’s Convention was held in 1973. The movement included such names as Sue Kedgley, Ngahuia Te Awekotuku (Te Arawa Māori activist), Marilyn Waring (National MP), Phillida Bunkle (Victoria University) and Rosemary Seymour (Waikato University). Sandra Coney was one of the founding editors of Broadsheet, the voice of radical feminism. In 1975 the Women’s Electoral Lobby was established. Feminist counterculture was the means feminists used to help create a new political, economic and cultural society. 

It could be argued that the 1981 Springbok Tour of New Zealand was the culmination of the ‘long sixties’ in New Zealand. A country that was radically changing from its colonial past, better educated and embracing new ideas, new music, poetry and literature and starting to redress the injustices of the past was suddenly divided. Prime Minister Robert Muldoon had approved the Springboks (South African rugby team) tour whereas younger Māori and Pākehā empathised with oppressed black South Africans living under apartheid and opposed the tour. As Brooking (2004) suggests ‘The tour had induced the greatest civil unrest in New Zealand since the wars of the 1860s’ (p. 148).

The long-term affects of a counterculture are to absorb previously fringe ideas into mainstream culture which is discussed by Marwick (1999) who states that ‘The various countercultural movements and subcultures, being ineluctably implicated in and interrelated with mainstream society while all the time expanding and interacting with each other, did not confront that society but permeated and transformed it’ (p. 13). The evidence exists to prove that as a result of the ‘long sixties’ New Zealand society underwent major change and rejected much of its colonial past. 

The ‘long sixties’ can be seen as a coming of age of New Zealand, where we now celebrate the rich creativity of our artists, writers, musicians and poets and exist more aware of the past and the current issues that surround us. Although at the time there was not a unified counterculture, each discipline, person and development added to the general mix of ideas and change. This would suggest then that counterculture is an appropriate term for the ideas that have shaped the way that New Zealanders live in 2009.



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