Jumping Sundays: The 1960s counterculture that rejected conservative New Zealand | Culture
JThe umping Sundays were a series of weekly “happenings” that took place in Auckland’s Albert Park in the late 1960s. In a kaleidoscope of guitars, bongos, ponchos, beads and kaftans swirling among puffs sticks of incense and marijuana, hippies – contemptuously referred to as freaks, freaks, radicals and dropouts – gathered to listen to live music and dance, listen to anti-war speech music and find a sense of community in a shared rejection of the monochromatic conservative landscape of New Zealand at the time.
Armed with a desire to embrace longer-term utopias and alternative approaches to their parents’ life situations, politics, culture, and sexuality, they also came together to protest the Vietnam War.
These gatherings were not strictly legal but were tolerated by the city council on the condition that they were restricted to Sunday afternoons.
Born in 1958, Wellington-based writer Nick Bollinger was just a child when the rumblings of New Zealand’s burgeoning counterculture began, but with his keen sense of curiosity he was in phase with a sense of cultural change.
“All these exciting things were happening around me,” he says. “Then when I was in high school, on Friday nights my friends and I would go to [counterculture bookshop] Resistance Books and sit and read stuff on the shelves. It was a portal to a different world.
A lifelong curiosity about New Zealand’s specific angle on the global counterculture movement forms the basis of Bollinger’s book Jumping Sundays: The Rise and Fall of the Counterculture in Aotearoa New Zealand. In this lively social and cultural story, Bollinger chronicles the music, radical politics, drugs, sex, religion, spirituality and communities that have been at the center of New Zealand’s countercultural awakening.
“People were starting to think, ‘To hell with school, to hell with haircuts. There’s a new world out there and I’m going to be part of it,’ Bollinger says.
“Some had blown up buildings, others had lost their minds.”
The music had a significant influence on the New Zealand counterculture, with Bollinger comparing Jumping Sundays events to local covers of international songs heard on the radio in the 1960s, a kind of goofy interpretation. Women made their own clothes, but instead of being influenced by fashion magazines, they studied what Jimi Hendrix wore on record covers.
The festivals created a strong sense of community, and Bollinger says the two most successful festivals were the Serenity Festival in Pūtiki, Whanganui, in 1972 and the Great Ngāruawāhia Music Festival in 1973, while the Redwood Festival of the 1970s in West Auckland was a disaster.
“In Redwood there was a riot with a wall of police. No one knew how to run a festival,” says Bollinger. “It was only three months after Woodstock. The Woodstock movie hadn’t even been released so there wasn’t really an established pattern. It was a disaster, there were police who seized the microphone.
Alternatively, the Great Ngāruawāhia Music Festival brought in a community-minded Māori security company.
“The big Ngāruawāhia music festival was like the sun coming out. People were just left alone and there wasn’t really a problem.
Manaakitanga, or hospitality, was the main difference with Redwood. Significantly, the organizers of Serenity had partnered with the local iwi. “On the last day there were 500 people left so the marae put up a hangi for the hippies, they even had a vegetarian hangi. It wouldn’t be like a rock festival anywhere else in the world!
Another notable New Zealand feature is the Norman Kirk Labor government-endorsed Ohu scheme that allowed for state-sanctioned townships. The idea of the communal movement was imported. Americans came here trying to escape conscription or they were disappointed politically. New Zealand had a romance about it. An optimistic promise to be able to start again.
“New Zealand had so much space and although it wasn’t very easy ground, it was quite easy to get off the grid here. Norman Kirk was like, ‘oh these kids want to live off the land, let’s see what we can do to help,’ Bollinger laughs.
“I don’t think there’s been anywhere else in the world where living off the land was seen as a positive thing by the government.”
Among a dizzying cast of bohemians and radicals, Jumping Sundays shines a light on the gripping story of New Zealander John Esam. A young poet from Gisborne, Esam eventually moved to London, where he dated beat poet Allen Ginsberg and poet and founder of San Francisco’s City Lights Bookstore and Publishers, Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
Esam also had the disastrous role of being Syd Barret’s source of LSD and was the first person in London to be arrested (although eventually acquitted) for possession of LSD.
“He was a true Hawkes Bay bohemian who was taught by nuns.”
Bollinger says that by the time Nambassa’s series of more traditional festivals took place between 1976 and 1981, the counterculture in New Zealand had already split into different interest groups that had less in common.
“The women’s movement is an example. They realized ‘oh, those hippie men are not going to help us! They are as sexist as our fathers.
“And it was the same with the Maori and the Pasifika. The realization that we have more important things to defend than the right to smoke marijuana in a park. It was more like ‘we have to change the system!’ »