Skip to main content

Moral Panic or Critical Mass? The Queer Contradictions of 1950s New Zealand

  • Chapter
Queer 1950s

Part of the book series: Genders and Sexualities in History ((GSX))

Abstract

The New Zealand of the 1950s, we are usually told, was no dynamic place. These complacent and conservative years epitomised everything that was static and settled about the postwar world. Although the Second World War temporarily disturbed the social order, some historians suggest it ultimately changed little.1 Michael King argues that ‘the 1950s were dull, grey, conformist years in New Zealand — the calm before the storm that was the 1960s’, while Paul Millar laments the period’s ‘unforgiving puritanism’.2 Indeed, King goes as far as claiming that ‘stodginess permeated national life’, ‘clothes were drab’, ‘there was little variety in food’, citizens looked to ‘material comfort, suburban lifestyle and conformity’, and ‘there was still little tolerance of diversity’.3 Matthew Wright in turn suggests that this 1950s New Zealand was ‘a quintessentially white, blokeish and conservative society’.4 Back in 1960, visiting American scholar David Ausubel was even more condemnatory. He claimed that New Zealanders’ ‘apparently mild exterior’ barely disguised a ‘strong undercurrent of repressed hostility’ and a ‘punitive attitude toward personal inadequacy’.5

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this chapter

Chapter
USD 29.95
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
eBook
USD 89.00
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as EPUB and PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
Softcover Book
USD 119.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Compact, lightweight edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info
Hardcover Book
USD 119.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Durable hardcover edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info

Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout

Purchases are for personal use only

Institutional subscriptions

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Similar content being viewed by others

Notes

  1. For instance, Deborah Montgomerie, The Women’s War: New Zealand Women 1939–45 (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2001).

    Google Scholar 

  2. Michael King, After the War: New Zealand Since 1945 (Auckland: Hodder and Stoughton, 1988), 45;

    Google Scholar 

  3. Paul Millar, No Fretful Sleeper: A Life of Bill Pearson (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 2010), 253.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Matthew Wright, Reed Illustrated History of New Zealand (Auckland: Reed, 2004), 368.

    Google Scholar 

  5. David Ausubel, The Fern and the Tiki: An American View of New Zealand: National Character, Social Attitudes and Race Relations (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1960), 6, 18.

    Google Scholar 

  6. James Belich, Paradise Reforged: A History of the New Zealanders (Auckland: Penguin, 2001), 298.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Bill Pearson, ‘Fretful Sleepers’, Landfall, 23 (1952), 206. On Pearson, see Millar, No Fretful Sleeper.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Redmer Yska, All Shook Up: The Flash Bodgie and the Rise of the New Zealand Teenager in the Fifties (Auckland: Penguin, 1993), 16.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Nick Thomas, ‘Will the Real 1950s Please Stand Up? Views of a Contradictory Decade’, Cultural and Social History, 5.2 (2008), 227–236;

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Frank Mort, Capital Affairs: London and the Making of the Permissive Society (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010), 4.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Sandra Coney and Margie Thompson, ‘Signs of Rebellion against the Back-to-the-Home Movement of the 1950s: Housewife or Human Being?’, in Sandra Coney, ed., Standing in the Sunshine: A History of New Zealand Women since They Won the Vote (Auckland: Viking, 1993), 80–81; New Zealand Truth (12 June 1950), 37.

    Google Scholar 

  12. J. Dassent, ‘Rejectors of Their Sex’, NZ Woman’s Weekly (8 January 1948), 10, 37–38.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Oswald Chettle Mazengarb et al., ‘Report of the Special Committee on Moral Delinquency in Children and Adolescents’, AJHR, 1954, H-47, 7. I provide more detail of the ‘Mazengarb Report’ in Chris Brickell, ‘Sexuality Morality and Society’, in Giselle Byrne, ed., The New Oxford History of New Zealand (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 2009), 465–486.

    Google Scholar 

  14. See, for example, Alison Laurie, ‘Lady-husbands and Kamp Ladies: Pre-1970 Lesbian Life in Aotearoa/New Zealand’, PhD thesis, Victoria University of Wellington, 2003.

    Google Scholar 

  15. For a pioneering example of the use of oral histories, see Jeffrey Weeks and Kevin Porter, eds, Between the Acts: Lives of Homosexual Men, 1885–1967 (London: Rivers Oram, 1998).

    Google Scholar 

  16. I offer further discussion of photographs as evidence of homoerotic sociability and subjectivity in Chris Brickell, ‘Visualizing Homoeroticism: The Photographs of Robert Gant, 1887–1892’, Visual Anthropology 23.2 (2010), 136–157.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Stanley Cohen, Folk Devils and Moral Panics: The Creation of the Mods and Rockers (Oxford: Martin Robertson, 1980), 9.

    Google Scholar 

  18. New Zealand Truth (25 August 1954), 1; (1 September 1954), 21; 22; Julie Glamuzina and Alison Laurie, Parker & Hulme: A Lesbian View (Auckland: New Women’s Press, 1991), 84;

    Google Scholar 

  19. James Bennett, ‘Medicine, Sexuality and High Anxiety in Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures (1994)’, Health and History, 8 (2006), 147–174.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Reginald Medlicott, cited in Glamuzina and Laurie, Parker & Hulme, 89. The term ‘lesbian’ appeared in several New Zealand newspapers during a well publicised 1936 court trial, but the extent of the term’s use during the 1950s remains unclear. See Dianne Haworth and Diane Miller, Freda Stark: Her Extraordinary Life (Auckland: HarperCollins, 2000); Laurie, ‘Lady-husbands and Kamp Ladies’, chapters 6; 18.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Chris Waters, ‘Disorders of the Mind, Disorders of the Body Social: Peter Wildeblood and the Making of the Modern Homosexual’, in Becky Conekin, Frank Mort and Chris Waters, eds, Moments of Modernity: Reconstructing Britain 1945–1964 (London: Rivers Oram, 1999), 134–151, esp. 139.

    Google Scholar 

  22. See also Richard Hornsey The Spiv and the Architect: Unruly Life in Postwar London (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  23. Garry Wotherspoon, City of the Plain: History of a Gay Subculture (Sydney: Hale & Iremonger, 1991), 110;

    Google Scholar 

  24. John D’Emilio, Making Trouble: Essays on Gay History, Politics, and the University (New York: Routledge, 1995), 68.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Chris Brickell, Mates & Lovers: A History of Gay New Zealand (Auckland: Random House, 2008), 203.

    Google Scholar 

  26. A.E. Manning, The Bodgie: A Study in Psychological Abnormality (Wellington: Reed, 1958), 15.

    Google Scholar 

  27. John Jolille, cited in Mark Beehre, Men Alone — Men Together (Wellington: Steele Roberts, 2010), 224.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Wotherspoon, City of the Plain, 155; John Howard, Men Like That: A Southern Gay History (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1999), 95.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Tony Stanley, ‘The Life and Times of Derrick Hancock’, Sociology Research Essay, University of Canterbury, Christchurch (1996) 28.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Authors

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Copyright information

© 2012 Heike Bauer and Matt Cook

About this chapter

Cite this chapter

Brickell, C. (2012). Moral Panic or Critical Mass? The Queer Contradictions of 1950s New Zealand. In: Bauer, H., Cook, M. (eds) Queer 1950s. Genders and Sexualities in History. Palgrave Macmillan, London. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137264718_7

Download citation

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137264718_7

  • Publisher Name: Palgrave Macmillan, London

  • Print ISBN: 978-1-349-33648-7

  • Online ISBN: 978-1-137-26471-8

  • eBook Packages: Palgrave History CollectionHistory (R0)

Publish with us

Policies and ethics