CHAPTER 10 – The Cultural Revolution 1967-72
Before the great 1968 Cultural Revolution struck home I had a novitiate’s appreciation of Bach, and then Mozart string quartets without any really deep understanding of this music. Bach was great. His music reached into my soul deeper than jazz (which by the mid-1960s was dying out) and rock and roll. I could never really come to grips with Father Jack’s love of Beethoven. I seemed to prefer the chamber music of Bach, Handel and Mozart.
Discovery of The Beatles
One day in 1966, I went to a music shop to buy my first EP or LP of Mozart. The shop assistant recommended that I really ought to listen to this new group called the Beatles (of whom I had never heard of even though they had visited Christchurch) and their new songs Yesterday and Eleanor Rigby which both featured bowed strings. I was enchanted. I also was enchanted by Good Vibrations by the Beach Boys (again a group I had never heard of before). I bought these 45s and soon shared this interest with my friends at the Press – especially the Wisdom brothers.
The Wisdom brothers, Elie and Theo – were Anglican vicar’s sons, and were long time fans of the Beatles. They encouraged my interest and Ted Dillon, my Martbern Crescent neighbour, also apprised me of his love of the Beatles.
Why this passion for the Beatles and the music movement of the late 1960s? Christopher Dawson, the great Catholic cultural historian of origins of Europe, had drawn together the elements which made European civilisation into a book The Making of Europe. Through my conversion I had begun a life-long love of Medieval Europe, especially the artistic and cultural melding of the barbarian Gothic, the Classical and Catholic beliefs but with no aesthetic other than the rules of necessity. The unselfconscious art of the Middle Ages was dynamic, human, and at the same time humble before God. It was full of joy, of sorrow, of grandeur, of endless variety, and of life. It was not sorry for itself as is the dominant Romanticism and Rationalism of the 19th and 20th Centuries.
And in the late 1960s popular music was starting to join together an exciting meld of different forms, full of enthusiasm, of life, of plaintive teenage love, dynamic, and human, and seeking the transcendent. The Beatles were at the head of this movement. There was promise here that a new culture was forming which would be as world-shattering and revolutionary and lasting as was the culture of the 1000 years of the Middle Ages. Revolver was but a beginning. Then came the announced release of Sergeant Pepper.
On a Friday night in 1968, the first Sergeant Pepper album hit the shops in Christchurch. I, with the Wisdom brothers strong support, bought one of the first in Christchurch. Work in the Reading Room at the Press finished at 1.30am. The Wisdoms came back to my home in Martbern Cres and there we played Sergeant Pepper on my 2.5 watt Philips stereo set till morning. And there we analysed in detail the Beatles cultural revolution. There were of course the transcendental elements of Hinduism, but also of modern classicism, of many old British popular themes, of the drug culture, and earthy, grubby humour.
Was this the beginning of a new culture? Would contemporary Catholic musicians take up the challenge and create a music for Mass which heralded this new culture? No. Liberation Theology fitted best with social justice protest songs and that meant a culture based on the easier folk music, not of the lyrical Bob Dylan but of the puerile and easy-to-play self-reflective angst.
Aubynne Leads the Return to University
Meanwhile, Aubynne was now determined to return to university and gain a BA in English and Russian. I was earning enough for her to only need work part-time to supplement our income. She with her friend, Laurelle, became the first to establish a childcare centre at the University of Canterbury. And she entered the spirit of the times, marching against the Vietnam war, and for Women’s Liberation. And so, I took up the challenge to also return to university to be a secondary-school teacher. I had only two options for my career by then: either I stayed in the Reading Room or sought a Sub Editorial desk as many of the readers did. By now I saw that newspaper life was really “higher gossip”, and I had no particular interest in subbing a special interest page.
This time, 1969, I aimed for my strengths, History and Religious Studies. University life had changed markedly. gone were the Beatniks and Buddhism, and the black stockinged, black nail-polished females – now it was Hippies, Hinduism, multi-coloured stockings and tie-dyes. “Happenings” happened. Everything focussed on protest and social and political action. In the early 1960s, student politics did not seem to exist. The Arts students dominated everything replacing the Engineering students of the early 1960s. The university was over-flowing. The Baby Boom generation were in full – I was a ‘tween-war born bystander observing the revolution from outside. Our friends were all now of the Baby Boom generation, and as we both entered student life more deeply, our contacts with our old friends declined. I had lessons on how to write History essays from Mike Beveridge, doing a doctorate in Sargeson, while his wife, Wynnis, enjoyed a growing friendship with Aubynne as they studied English. Aubynne formed long-standing friendships with Laurelle, a pol-sci student, and Noeline, a history and English student.
Proofreader, Window Cleaner, Student, Dad
The proof-reading work at night enabled me to catch up on reading textbooks between proofs, and with my part-time job as a window-cleaning sub-contractor we had enough money to supplement the cost of fees. One memorable day was the 10th of April. My contract required that I clean the Christchurch Hospital windows once every three months. There I was sitting half in and half outside a nurses’ home window, trying to polish the glass in a dark, threatening sky. Rain drops – the bane of every window-cleaner – had just started to fall, and I had to finish the contract that day. The wind turned into a gale. I managed to complete the job most unsatisfactorily and got home to find that the Lyttleton to Wellington ferry, the Wahine, had sunk in the cyclone-tossed seas in Wellington Harbour. It was the edge of that cyclone which was trying to push me off the Nurses’ Home window.
Religious Studies which I thought would be about the history of Christianity, had by now become multicultural and multireligious. I just lasted two years with increasing impatience with a department based on logical positivist philosophy which set up a structure of discussion limited to scientific truth. So any discussion about truth and religion was doomed from the start. The only enjoyment I had was in studying Hinduism – the trendy subject of the times.
For 1970, I decided that I had to take on study full-time or I my determination would pale doing only part-time studies. I studied papers in English, History and Religious Studies at two and three-year levels. I worked full-time at the Press from 6pm till 2am, rose in the morning at 8am, attended lectures, then cleaned windows as a sub-contractor in the afternoons. The next year, 1971, was a breeze: History III and English II – I had become a confident successful student and could finally see a BA degree around the corner.
By 1972, I had most of a degree, needing only a paper in New Zealand history to finish. So I went to the Department of Education for funding to finish the degree. In 1960 I had broken my contract with them regarding the student teaching loan. I showed them my university results and convinced them that I wanted to be a teacher. They were desperate for teachers. The Baby Boom created a huge demand for schools, and for teachers. I was readily accepted and entered teachers’ college for four terms graduating in April 1973, and certificated as a secondary school teacher in May.