Lust, milk­shakes and a Hutt panic


‘‘A no­to­ri­ous den of teenage lust’’ is how one writer de­scribed Lower Hutt’s in­fa­mous Elbe’s Milk Bar.

It is easy to dis­miss such words as hy­per­bole but as any­one who stud­ies Lower Hutt his­tory would tes­tify, Elbe’s Milk Bar is a defin­ing icon of the city.

That is a big claim to make about a High St Milk bar that served milk­shakes and choco­late sun­daes from the 1940s to the 1960s.

It rose to fame af­ter a gov­ern­ment in­quiry into moral delin­quency, the 1954 Mazen­garb Re­port, made a se­ries of find­ings.

To­day the re­port seems lu­di­crous, but at the time it was taken very se­ri­ously as moral out­rage swept the na­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, Elbe’s Milk Bar was used by Lower Hutt teenagers to ar­range sex­ual en­coun­ters and was the haunt of ‘‘milk bar cow­boys’’ who rode mo­tor­bikes and were seen as a threat to so­ci­ety.

The find­ing caused what we now re­fer to as a moral panic, with al­le­ga­tions that school kids were hav­ing a milk­shake be­fore go­ing down to the Hutt River for sex.

The re­port re­sulted in in­creased cen­sor­ship and a ban on con­tra­cep­tion for un­der 16s.

Coun­cil ar­chiv­ist Jen­nie Hin­ton is or­gan­is­ing an ex­hi­bi­tion, Milk Bar Cow­boys, Ice cream and the Mod­ern Of­fice – 1950s In The Hutt, to look at the im­pact Elbe’s has had on our cul­ture.

The venue is a pop-up shop at 132 High Street, not far from where Elbe’s used to be.

Speak­ers in­clude his­to­rian Red­mer Yska on Bod­gies and Wid­gies, and Bron­wyn Labrum on what ev­ery­day life was like dur­ing that pe­riod.

Plans and pho­to­graphs of Lower Hutt mod­ernist build­ings will be on dis­play. It will also fea­ture rock’n’roll dis­plays.

Milk Bar Cow­boys, Ice cream and the Mod­ern Of­fice – 1950s In The Hutt. 132 High St, Lower Hutt, Septem­ber 21 to 24.

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