Re­views of works by Chris Brick­ell, Ian Wedde, Pip Adam and Kirsten McDougall.

The kids were all right, whether thin­ning turnips or cre­at­ing tur­moil by go­ing top­less at Wai­heke.

Metro Magazine NZ - - Contents - RE­VIEW — FRANCES WALSH

Teenagers: The Rise of Youth Cul­ture in New Zealand Chris Brick­ell (Auck­land Univer­sity Press, $49.99)

Chris Brick­ell writes that in-be­tween­ers have rarely been the sub­ject of his­to­ri­ans’ scru­tiny, cast rather as bit play­ers — of­ten way­ward ones — in the world of grown-ups.

In Teenagers: The Rise of Youth Cul­ture in New Zealand, he of­fers a cor­rec­tive, chart­ing the grad­ual emer­gence of a co­he­sive tribe. Many young peo­ple, he elo­quently ar­gues in the ex­pan­sive and in­clu­sive his­tory, strained at the reins long be­fore the 1950s — when they be­came an iden­ti­fi­able thing, with their milk­shakes, mo­tor­bikes, and back-seatat-the-movies heavy pet­ting. “This was a cen­tury-long process of dis­ci­pline and re­sis­tance,” he writes.

Take 13-year-old Mary Stephen as proof pos­i­tive. In 1909, a 24-year-old sailor was caught fondling Mary some­where in Welling­ton and was ar­rested. The un­re­pen­tant girl told the po­lice: “I visit any war­ship I can get on ... I go in a lot for phys­i­cal cul­ture and am well de­vel­oped and I can box.” Jean McLeod of Wairarapa was equally as sassy, record­ing her re­sponse to her mother’s re­quest to strip her bed in her di­ary in 1939: “Bake me.”

Brick­ell, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor in gen­der stud­ies at Otago Univer­sity, largely turns his book over to his sub­jects. His sources are ex­ten­sive and nicely pruned: there are news­pa­per ar­ti­cles, mem­oirs, oral his­to­ries, let­ters and pho­to­graphs (“A colo­nial girl, Ruby Wilkin­son Ophir, poses with her catch from the rab­bit-in­fested Cen­tral Otago coun­try­side one day in 1895”).

The book of­fers a chrono­log­i­cal and highly sym­pa­thetic repo­si­tion­ing. Brick­ell com­mences with early set­tlers, tak­ing in con­tact be­tween Maori and Pakeha. In 1862, the Bri­ton Char­lie Brookes, aged 14, and his brothers were in the Kaipara: “At last we have got our land, and a beau­ti­ful place it is,” he wrote in a let­ter. “There are no less than a hun­dred va­ri­eties of ferns … it is a jolly life, an em­i­grant’s, to go through the beau­ti­ful woods and val­ley and we can say — ‘this is my own’.” Mean­while, in Dunedin, at the Vaux­hall Gar­dens, life seemed less in­no­cent: ado­les­cents played games called Whip­ping the Goose, Grop­ing for Sil­ver, and Catch­ing the Cock.

Brick­ell tracks to the

1870s, when school, work, ur­ban­i­sa­tion and an ex­pand­ing mid­dle-class be­gan to com­pli­cate the lives of young peo­ple, who be­gan to di­vide along lines of sub­cul­ture and class. There was the “masher”, an ed­u­cated boy who worked as an of­fice clerk, de­scribed by the Otago Wit­ness as “an aes­thete whose whole force goes to the wor­ship of beauty, grace, and del­i­cacy”. Then there was the work­ing-class “lar­rikin”

(if male) and “lar­rik­i­ness”

(if fe­male) “yelling like fiends, and gen­er­ally mak­ing them­selves merry”, ac­cord­ing to Welling­ton’s Evening Post.

The flap­pers ar­rived in the 1920s, all loose clothes and flir­ta­tion: “We are evolv­ing

In 1909, a 24-year-old sailor was caught fondling Mary, 13. The un­re­pen­tant girl told po­lice: ‘I visit any war­ship I can get on.’

into a race of tu­mul­tuous, tor­nado-like girls, whose hearts rebel against house­wifery,” a young girl wrote to the Star news­pa­per.

Mean­while, 13-year-old Hugh McMaster worked on his par­ents’ farm near Dunedin, record­ing in his di­ary: “Fine but cloudy.

Went to cream­ery. Thinned turnips till din­ner­time. Cut hay and ricked some to­day. Fa­ther and I set a dozen traps tonight and looked [at] them till about 9 o’clock. Caught two rab­bits.”

The term “teenager” had al­ready ap­peared in Amer­ica dur­ing the Great De­pres­sion. It was a lit­tle slower to catch on in New Zealand, where at the time Mar­garet Steven­son was work­ing in Welling­ton, hav­ing moved from Tau­marunui: “What with the hard work and poor pay I still loved the city. It was so very dif­fer­ent from what I had been used to. The crowds of peo­ple, the shops full of such beau­ti­ful things even if all I could do was feast my eyes on them. Rid­ing on the tram-cars, hav­ing the con­duc­tors make eyes at you, wolf whis­tles from young car­pen­ters on build­ing sites ... I was re­ally liv­ing. I was grow­ing up.”

World War II was in progress when a girl called Jean flashed on a mul­let boat off Wai­heke Is­land, as re­mem­bered by some­one who egged her on: “And so it was that a dare was pro­posed. Yes! Jean would do it! ... Un­der fore sail the gaff rigged yacht ghosted into Ma­ti­a­tia. The ferry had not long docked; yachts were at their moor­ings. Peo­ple were board­ing buses and a few cars. There, shock, hor­ror, one of the girls was bare from the waist up! Fel­low yachties cheered, old men gaped; chil­dren were en­closed in summer dresses lest their in­no­cent eyes wit­ness such de­prav­ity. The bay was in tur­moil.”

Down in New Ply­mouth, 15-year-old Valda Tyson joined the ANA (Army, Navy and Air­force) club, which hosted ser­vice­men on leave: “Us girls had a won­der­ful time as we had a fresh batch of keen young men ev­ery few months.” In Welling­ton, Mi­hipeka Ed­wards was like­wise pretty happy: “The Yanks are beau­ti­ful dancers.”

By the 50s and 60s, ac­cel­er­ated growth and pros­per­ity fu­elled teenage sub-cul­tures, and bod­gies, milk-bar cow­boys, wid­gies and Teddy boys were var­i­ously scar­ing the adults. Ros­alind Warburton, a Whanganui fifth-for­mer, wrote about a “tin­gling sen­sa­tion that fills me when I drive the car — pride that I am alone the mas­ter of a forty horse­power en­gine”. And teenagers in Auck­land went in droves to the Maori Com­mu­nity Cen­tre in Free­mans Bay, one fre­quenter re­mem­ber­ing: “Maybe pick up a boyfriend, I dunno, all de­pends. But, that was far from my mind, we used to dance. Al­ways had a live band [and] you could pick up a feed for 2/6 or 5 shillings. A boil up and a big cup of tea.”

Teenagers sign off proper in 1969, Brick­ell writ­ing a brief chap­ter up to the present day. It’s a great read, but for those of us whose teenage years are long gone, also an ele­giac one. Who wouldn’t want to be So­phie Tin­dall, in the 1950s, in Welling­ton, “rid­ing on the back of a mo­tor­bike … do­ing 90 miles from the Basin Re­serve right up Ade­laide Road … sit­ting on the back, no hel­met on or any­thing — say­ing ‘go faster, go faster’”.

FAR LEFT— A young trio pic­tured in Teenagers out­side a skat­ing rink in Para­pa­raumu, 1965.

LEFT— The Sub­ur­ban Reptiles also make an ap­pear­ance in the book. Formed in 1976, they were one of the coun­try’s first punk bands.

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