Nappy Lane Hippies

CHAPTER 11 – Nappy Lane Hippies 1967-72

Life changed in Nappy Lane. With Aubynne and I both attending Uni we could not help but bring the cultural revolution into our suburban life. We were now outsiders in Nappy Lane. Long-haired, flowered, and flared. We played, on our little stereo, music which was totally alien to our neighbours. Music of “hard rock” and the Band, the late Beatles and the Stones. Even the Dillons could not appreciate the Beatles now that Paul and John had left the teenage themes behind. We used a strobe light at parties and invited both our university friends and our neighbours and our old friends to parties which were loud, long and totally inconsiderate of our neighbours. We had seemingly endless visitations of drop-out friends: among them a heroin drug addict ex-sailor who tried to finish just one term at university (the last communication from him was a postcard from Katmandu); Conrad, a convert to Hinduism and philosophy student who would endeavour long to convince me of the contradictions of Catholic belief; a graduate music student, Ross Harris, who wanted to give up music for medicine; and a folk-music cultist who introduced us to the Holy Modal Rounders.

Friends – Old and New

And then there were Brian and Heather Grouden. Brian, my oldest friend from Napier, had left his draughtsman work to study for a Fine Arts with sculpture diploma. He made a huge wooden pop-art style sculpture for us to place in the backyard in return for my typing his thesis. This huge blue and orange construction became the focus of much disparagement from the neighbours. How they hated it. It stood as a symbol of all that was new and supposedly meaningful in the new Cultural Revolution as did the New Music.

Brian’s 2.5m wooden study in complimentary orange and blue.

Brian desperately wanted to make his love of wood and his love of form meaningful. We would talk for hours about the future of sculpture and the need for patronage by the Church – as a good practising Catholic in those days, he would have loved to have been part of a new art movement within the Church. He started his new career out at Southbrook where he hand-made children’s toys: large wooden trucks, rocking horses and stackable colourful toy boxes. Later he would make his greatest work – a huge wooden cross for the Anglican Cathedral in Napier, a cross which hinted at the traditional Catholic crucifix – which he saw as a little secret between him and his Catholicism.

And there was Peter O’Brien, an English graduate, a total Catholic rationalist of immense intellect but little understanding of people, totally opposed to everything in the modern world and who just could not fathom how Aubynne and I nor Brian and Heather could survive with any sense in this Brave New World.

In late 1969, Abbey Road was released and again I hurried to get the first LP in Christchurch. At 2am on a Friday sat Ross Harris and myself, analysing the development of the Beatles and the future of music. Ross was a music graduate and played the French horn. He was absolutely astounded by this production. There were brand new musical ideas introduced in some of these songs which were not only revolutionary but musically true to the form. The concept of a symphonic structure was developed but not complete, perhaps heralding finally a new “high” musical form on which the world of music would launch out from into the future? Ross, who later became a lecturer in music at Victoria University, Wellington, predicted that it wouldn’t. That the music of the future would be more like that of Hinduism: cyclical, repetitive, with a chant-like refrain. He was a convert to Hinduism – fascinated with the samsaric cycle, karma, and the richness of pagan beliefs. He proved to be right in his prediction, and much of his own “serious music” academic compositions reflected these beliefs. Within 10 years both modern classical music and popular had fixed on endless tapes, repetition, and chantlike refrains as in rap and in techno. Gone was my hope in a new vibrant lyrical structure – the future now was pagan. Hopeless and Deadly.

The Family Grows

In the midst of all this – our children. Simon was now attending Christ the King school in Burnside and had by 1970 established a group of friends in Bishopdale and expressed an interest in playing soccer. He joined the largest sports club in New Zealand: the Burnside Football Club which had a huge number of junior soccer teams.

Dominic started school in 1969 at Bishopdale Primary School, but after the second year he was also at Christ the King school. His thirst for knowledge was unquenchable. Dominic had met a Bolivian boy at school and this triggered Dominic to learn about Bolivia, then South America, then all the continents, the rivers, the seas, the coastlines, the cities … He sold, for the cost of a lemonade drink, hand-made off-the-cuff sketch maps of anywhere in the world, as competition to the lemonade stands of other kids. He then wrote the Great Tourist Trip Around the World in which he drew and wrote a complete 100-plus page imaginary adventure about himself and his trip around the world.

And then along came Clarissa in March of 1972. The summer of 1971-72 was glorious. Aubynne had graduated, had her teacher’s diploma, and aimed to gain an MA before going teaching. We surfed at Taylor’s Mistake, Aubynne large with child, trying to stay within the curl of the waves but bobbing up frustratingly with one perfect wave after another, and with all the promise of a new future. I attended Teachers’ College and we were able to stay financially afloat by tutoring students and part-time Reading Room work on the Press. 1972 consumed Aubynne with a demanding Clarissa and the demands of post-graduate study.

Aubynne, Clarissa, Simon and Dominic in Canaan Land, Takaka Hill, Nelson.

The Sociology Grind

Teachers’ College through 1972-73 was a trial in patience – a trial which I lost. As a history major we had to take Social Studies and it was here that the new ideological foundations were introduced to us trainees: Bloom’s Taxonomy of skills became the gold standard and that meant that the handing down of knowledgeable content was of far less importance than the skills of aquiring the content. What was my aim in teaching after all? To hand down the flag of Western Civilisation, the great narrative of the attainment of knowledge from the Ancient World, from the Greeks and Romans, through the Dark Ages to the fusion of Medieval Christendom and then on through the Renaissance to Modern Man.

I was now informed that we do not need that knowledge – any set of facts would do, any slice of history, there is no grand narrative. The New Social Studies and History curriculum were to be sliced up to portray sociological themes of investigation rather than any understanding of our past as our past, or understanding of our culture as part of the foundations of who we were. I argued day by day about how wrong this approach was but to no avail. I insisted on choosing the most traditional areas of study for my trainee lesson plans to illustrate just how magnificent were the discoveries of our culture.

We were not given any grounding in the actual content of the subjects we would soon be teaching our students, but a set of behavioural and sociological theoretical studies. Years of teaching later, I was to find out that many History teachers had no understanding of why they were placed in such a difficult position because students were told that History was like their Social Studies and they knew instinctively that this Social Studies was propaganda and deadly boring. In the New Social Studies one was allocated six weeks of historical study per year – a study chosen to produce a sociological conclusion.

Christ’s College in the Heat

One highlight for me was a teaching training section at Christ’s College, in February, 1973. Christ’s College was the New Zealand equivalent to Eton or Harrow. Many of the staff, especially the House Masters, were from English public schools. The boys wore their black and white striped blazers, and their straw boaters. The history department resources were outstanding, and many of the staff were outstanding professionals and leaders of education in New Zealand. Peter Smart, the writer of a whole series of standard English textbooks for New Zealand schools, was in charge of my English teaching in one classroom. His teaching to Year 9 boys was whimsically amusing, witty, light, and with total control of his students through this urbane style. On the other hand, John Taylor, was in charge of my other Year 9 boys’ class. The contrast could not be different. Control by strict old-fashioned caning or control by subtle manipulative entertainment!

Oh! the weather in Christchurch over two days that February at Christ’s. A cold southerly had brought the temperature down to 15C, but the next day in the morning a coming nor’westerly boiled the clouds bringing 90% humidity and 30C. I had the afternoon off, and during the afternoon the temperature sky-rocketed to over 45C – a 30C change in temperature in 24 hours. The north-westerly gale melted the candles and the tomatoes at home. It made havok with the animals and the elderly. We sought refuge at the Groynes – a spring – and stood in icy cold water to our waists while being blasted above. A teacher at Christ’s said that it reminded him of his army days in the Middle East: an extremely dry, hot wind with all the moisture being driven out of it. I was to experience this kind of weather in Sydney many years later.

Finally I got my teaching “ticket” in May, 1973. I desperately needed a job after years of study.

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