Book Review: Teenagers: The Rise of Youth Culture in New Zealand, by Chris Brickell

Available now in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_teenagersThe photograph on the cover of Chris Brickell’s Teenagers, which we learn inside is a New Year’s Eve party at Caroline Bay in 1962, is typical of the way many of us still see the quintessential New Zealand teenager: lanky, big-eared white baby boomer lads and soft-featured white baby boomer sheilas, living it up and looking cheeky. Because the ‘teenager’ as a phenomenon was first recognised in the post-war era, and the generation on whom the term was bestowed started celebrating their youth even before the war had ended, the image of what it is to be a young person in New Zealand seems as frozen in time as these cheeky faces: a 50s/60s mash-up of marching girls, milk bars and the Mazengarb report.

All of that is in Brickell’s book, along with a pretty comprehensive and never dry guide to the time’s socio-political factors, pressures and new freedoms. Given the ease with which baby boomers will talk about this sort of stuff, and their appetite for hearing it repeated back to them, it must have been tempting to give this sliver of time even more space. Key to Brickell’s success here, as in his excellent Mates & Lovers: A History of Gay New Zealand, is the balance he strikes between representing a plurality of experience while recognising common themes and behaviours over time.

It’s not untrue to say the book proves again that youth is youth and always will be, but that isn’t the only lesson here. It is the differences, not the similarities, which make Teenagers so engrossing. Brickell’s attention to those groups which fall outside of our received image of the past (see cover photograph) allows him to reveal a messier, more class-conscious New Zealand. Yes, there are stories of individuals revelling in teenage joy and discovery, but the various troubles of New Zealand’s teenagers often reflect all too neatly wider tensions around national security and identity.

The book is laid out chronologically, and the reader is drawn in to individual lives through diary excerpts, letters and oral accounts. Brickell only covers that time up until the 1960s, but it’s clear through the book’s closing chapter that the period of his own youth is just as fraught and storied as any which precede it. The book is rich with stories and diversions chosen with percipience, but there will always be more to say.

Reviewed by Jonny Potts

Teenagers: The Rise of Youth Culture in New Zealand
by Chris Brickell
Published by Auckland University Press
ISBN 9781869408688

Book Review: A Passionate Affair – Llewellyn Owen & Music, by Margaret Bean

Available in selected bookshops nationwide.

cv_a_passionate_affairIn 1986, Llewellyn Owen’s daughter Gwyneth Owen gifted to the Ashburton Museum assorted material relating to Llewellyn, a school teacher, private music teacher, composer, conductor, accompanist and solo performer. He lived in Ashburton from 1890 – 1917. Margaret Bean, a voluntary archivist at the museum from 1993 – 1917 began compiling some details about his life to accompany that material. That project grew to become this book.

Llewellyn Owen was the youngest son of a family who emigrated from England to New Zealand in 1879 – he was eight years old. There were four boys in the family. At a young age, Llewellyn showed considerable musical talent. He obtained music qualifications after some years of study with no clear path of instruction. He was well-liked and in many reports of concerts and social events, his talents were in high demand.

Later on, Llewellyn trained as a primary school teacher taking up a position as an Assistant Master at Ashburton School. He resigned after 18 months to persue a career in music. He then returned to teach in Lyttleton. During his career he also worked as a composer, accompanist and a conductor.

The Gates family dominated the local music scene in Ashburton and were firmly established by the time Llewellyn arrived. They remained so during his time in the town.
Richard Wood, violinist of Timaru also had an impact on the Ashburton music circles in the early 1890’s both as a performer and teacher of stringed instruments.

The Woods and Gates families both figured prominently in early orchestral performances, along with Llewellyn Owen.

Llewellyn Owen’s time in Ashburton may be divided into four periods:

1890 – 95 Appointment to staff of Ashburton District School ending as
Choir leader of the Methodist Wesleyan Choir Society
1896 – 1902 6 years of intense musical society activity marred by eye
problems – sought treatment in Europe.
1903 – 1908 Returned from Europe; marriage, birth of first child.
1909 – 1917 Visiting music teacher at local high school until his departure
from Ashburton and return to primary teaching.

Llewellyn Owen also had a number of his original compositions published. In this book seven of his musical works have been included, one of which was discovered during Margaret Bean’s research, as well as a CD of his music. The CD is included with this book.

As a non-musician I found this book intriguing. New Zealand was a very different world to today. Music was a very important part of life in small towns and cities throughout New Zealand as entertainment and as a suitable accomplishment for women, along with painting and embroidery. This book is a glimpse into the social history of Ashburton and its surrounds, and an important record of that time in New Zealand.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

A Passionate Affair – Llewellyn Owen & Music
by Margaret Bean
Published by Steele Roberts
ISBN 9781927242865

Book Review: Hello Boys & Girls: A New Zealand Toy Story, by David Veart

Available in bookstores nationwide.

Toys are for children to play with, and adults to make money out of, right? Not so says David Veart, in this fascinating look at toys in New Zealand.cv_hello_girls_and_boyx

The author’s approach is basically chronological, starting with pre-european Maori toys, and then the early colonists. Toys were important in Maori culture for both children and adults. Once the Europeans arrived the two peoples played together, sharing their toys and ideas. It is hard to believe that when my knuckle-bone champion sister made me practice with her we were playing a version with features of both European knucklebones and Maori koruru.

Toys came with all arrivals to New Zealand, and of course were made here, often by the users. Shanghais, bows and arrows, trolleys and dolls were often crude, sometimes dangerous. More refined toys were imported – before the First World War they were imported mainly from Germany.

Depression and both World Wars changed the toy world of course. The 1950s and 60s were possibly a golden age, then the toy market became more international. The author takes the story right up to the current tsunami of cheap plastic from China and the development of virtual games. He includes many asides, with snippets on landmarks from cereal box toys skateboards and protests against war toys. The author comments that he made a special effort to understand girls’ toys but this coverage is perhaps a little light apart from the dolls.

Its great fun to wallow in the nostalgia captured here. I found once again the toys that I had many decades ago – and those that I envied when my friends had them. Then later, the toys that my children played with, and even later those my grandchildren enjoy. But the book is more than a collection of stories about toys: much more. Two themes stood out for me.

First, the important role that toys have played in our lives both as children and as adults. Toys were intended, by adults at least, to amuse, to educate, and to tame children. Marketing tricks were used to capture children’s imagination: the Hornby Railway Company was world wide and seemed to be run by children. Of course adults did not always have the last word, and at times children took control as the many broken ceramic insulators on power lines can testify.

Second, the ways in which our economic fortunes have changed our toys. Wealthy colonists brought toys with them and the less well-off made their own. As the economy developed we began importing toys in colossal volumes, mainly from Germany and Britain. After the great Depression, these imports stopped, driving the development of a local toy industry, which became increasingly sophisticated. And following the magic of the Rogernomics reforms, toys became another global product, closing local factories once again.

David Veart is a historian and archaeologist, who has done a great job of digging up stories both large and small. We meet the schoolboys who helped support their family by making jigsaws in a bedroom. And the Auckland store that hosted the largest Meccano club in the world, with over 1000 members in 1927. And the strange, to me at least, practice of “Barbie Torture”, which turns out to pre-date Barbie dolls by many decades.

The book is lavishly illustrated, and there are suggestions for further reading as well as a full set of notes on the sources.

Reviewed by Gordon Findlay

Hello Boys & Girls: A New Zealand Toy Story
by David Veart
Published by Auckland University Press
ISBN 9781869408213