Category Archives: Things Remembered

Four: (What’s so funny bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?

Hi there readers, tonight I wanted to jot down a few thoughts – let me warn you some of this will be a little meta as it concerns my sister channel, Tales of History and Imagination. The Tales channel is currently tied down with a couple of long, multi-part blog topics. The Tuesday blogs were intended as podcast topics – before I temporarily shelved the podcasts. They are massively time consuming, mostly from an editing perspective. They stand in stark contrast to the other blog posts (I’ll write, on average, 1800 words per blog there but my proposed 2 part podcast on Tom Horn ran over 9,000 words, the current series The wreck of the Batavia is still being written, 14,000 words and counting). This means some of my regular readers have been tuning out on the series. Because of this I wrote a Thursday series on pre and early rock and roll music… but after six weeks on that topic I began to worry I would fall into the same trap with my readers there.

Then, in the midst of my flurry of ‘Tales’ writing, the owner of the house I live in announced he was putting the place on the market. Suddenly I had another time consuming activity on my hands – finding a new home. Hence the Thursday tales stopped.

I was in the process of writing a Thursday Tale for that channel when the time sucking vortex of house hunting hit. June, after all is Pride month – that time of year when irrational and homophobic people alike rant at corporations on social media for uploading cover photos with rainbow colored logos – and, much more importantly, a time when the LGBTQI+ community can honor those who fought so hard to move society forward, celebrate how far they have come – and take stock of how far we must all go. Full disclosure, I had two pieces I started, but shelved this month.
Let me tell you a little about the first, for the Tales site: A petition was delivered to New Zealand’s parliament in November 1968 which has long fascinated me. Signed by ‘75 Prominent New Zealanders’ it called for the repeal of laws which saw many New Zealanders jailed for homosexuality.

If you don’t know much about New Zealand law, our law books proper start with our first government in 1853. For convenience sake we borrowed our law wholesale from the British books, and tinkered with certain laws when the need arose. British law around sodomy in particular stated one could be executed for the act. No-one was actually executed in New Zealand but many poor souls were jailed, some facing hard labor and the prospect of a life sentence. Of course there was a lot of negative stigma in just being outed as homosexual – you might lose your job, find yourself a pariah in your community, perhaps be thrown out onto the streets. A considerable number of gay New Zealanders committed suicide on being outed. In 1959, then attorney general Rex Mason was so upset at the suicide of an outed friend he fought to scrap the laws which led to his friend’s demise. He was, for the most part, unsuccessful – but his actions led to the scrapping of the life sentence in 1961.

For the sake of brevity (I did promise to keep these ‘disquisitions’ short after all) we can skip past the parts where I point out the other horrific things which happened to gay New Zealanders in the mid 20th century, such as being locked away in psychiatric hospitals and subjected to electro convulsive therapy. I don’t know if we ever carried out ice pick lobotomies such as some Americans did in the same era. I could point out tales of gay kiwis copping beatings from police – or the horrific January 1964 murder of Charles ‘Allan’ Aberhart. Well, ok maybe I should say a little about Allan.

Allan Aberhart was one of around 1,000 men convicted of homosexual acts in New Zealand. Having just been released from a three month prison term for being caught in a consensual relationship with another man, he was murdered by a group of teenagers while visiting a popular gay pick up spot in Christchurch’s Hagley Park. The six teens were caught, and tried for manslaughter, but found not guilty by the jury. There was enough outrage around his murder, and the acquittal of the six teens that many heterosexual New Zealanders began questioning the status quo. This allowed groups like the recently established Dorian society to begin to make some headway.

In 1968, another society – first named the Wolfenden Association (after the British, 1957 Wolfenden report, which would lead to the UK legalizing homosexuality in 1967, later renamed The New Zealand Homosexual Law Reform Society), created the petition in question. The petition would be presented to parliament in November 1968, handed over by leader of the opposition, Labour’s A.H. Nordmeyer. The petition was signed by ’75 prominent New Zealanders’ – and that is really all we have to go on. The names of these 75 superheroes in my books, have never been publicly acknowledged. The government of the time debated, then dismissed the petition in early 1969. New Zealand would not legalize homosexuality until 1985 after a considerable fight to get there. Various human rights legislation would follow. The country would bring in civil unions, then we would become the 14th nation in the world to vote for gay marriage. I might then have expounded on the hardships still faced by some LGBTQI+ people, including the battlefield which currently is transgender rights – something I myself have an interest in and wrote a university dissertation about. If I want to close this piece out at around a thousand words however, let’s shelve that for now. In a world based on winners and losers, us and them, and privileged minorities keeping their hegemony there is always work to do.

My original intention for the ‘Tale which never was’ though, was to acknowledge the heroism of the 75. To state the question if a hero choses to wear a mask, as the prominent 75 have, is it in poor taste for a history writer like myself to want to peek under the mask and find out who these great New Zealanders were? Sometimes superheroes need masks right? I also wanted to wax poetical on the power of love and reiterate love is what this post should really be about. To talk about a sexual act, and the draconian punishments for it on our law books for well over a century, I think it is important people know these things happened. It is perhaps more important to reiterate – for the irrational and homophobic people who rant at corporations with rainbow logos this month, Love is love. Everyone deserves the right to be their true authentic self, and to be head over heels in love with person who completes them.

The other piece I began, initially for this blog – I’ll save that for a rainy day. And, of course I did want to wish everyone celebrating (or commemorating) Pride month a happy Pride month.

Three: Dame Vera…

In the days leading up to the second world war a terror permeated the offices of the war planners. The Great War of 1914-18 was stuff of nightmares. The coming war, with its increased mechanization- tanks, planes, bigger bombs, aircraft carriers – would be several magnitudes worse. At any moment a murder of fighter planes could black out the skies of London, unleashing their deadly payload. While the damage could be catastrophic, the planners worried just as much of the psychological toll on the people.

In August 1915 the people of London experienced a brief taste of terror from on high, when a fleet of zeppelins flew over the city. The slow moving dirigibles dropped bombs and grenades out the windows on the unwitting populace below. This caused great distress among the people of London. This time, the war office believed, the trauma would be far worse. As bad as thousands of war dead would be at least you can bury them, grieve, and move on. Millions of shell shocked Britons? The country did not have enough asylums to contain them. Nowhere near the number of mental health professionals. What is the cost of a million catatonic mouths to feed? What is the effect of a million less pairs of hands to lend a hand in the war effort?

Of course the Battle for Britain descended. The Luftwaffe unleashed hellfire and thunder on the poor Britons. Their reply? The very British two finger salute – no Fokker was going to bring them down. I believe there is a myriad of reasons for this. Much of it comes from a unifying nature of the home-front in war – we’re all in this together – and the corollary – adversity gives us a greater purpose in a world normally full of purposeless or unfulfilling jobs. Some comes to the ability of leaders to rally the people behind the good cause. Freedom, liberty, the British way of life. Winston Churchill, for his faults, had an almost Shakespearean ability to turn a phrase “I have nothing to offer you but my blood, toil, tears and sweat”

Then of course there were those who reminded Britons of the little things they’d lost. Reminded them those things will return again.

“There’ll be love and laughter
And peace ever after
Tomorrow, when the world is free”

Dame Vera Lynn may have only been the conduit, others wrote the words, but she captured the zeitgeist of the nation “I remember well as the shadows fell, the light of hope in their eyes”. She promised “The valley will bloom again”. To every young man sent off to fight she was everyone’s sweetheart. When singing We’ll meet again, she sang to you.
Damn, 103 is a good innings. Rest in peace Dame Vera, you will be missed.