Hippies dancing

We want the world and we want it now! The counterculture in NZ

October 30, 2022
6 mins read


Jumping Sundays REVIEW

Nick Bollinger (Auckland University Press)

It was us against them and the dirty longhairs were going to overthrow (or at least throw up on) the establishment. GARY STEEL looks at a new book through his own lens.


Arriving just on the tail-end of the boomer years, I was just a little too young to participate meaningfully in the hippie revolution. Sure, I got an alternative sex education through The Little Red Schoolbook, which I took to intermediate school, and where it was promptly confiscated when I shared it around the class. And yeah, the BLERTA travelling freak show blew my tiny mind when they performed at lunch break.

I barely knew of the word “counterculture” but I lived and breathed its ideals between the age of 11 and 15, living vicariously through a sister five years my senior; digging the pungent sound of Human Instinct’s Stoned Guitar blaring from the stereo in her student flat, convincing her to take me to Sunday afternoon “happenings” at Hamilton Lake featuring the likes of the very hot Ticket.


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Even in sleepy Hamilton, the ripples of the counterculture were strong, and I was on an urgent mission to grow my hair, not for a fashion statement but because it showed which side you were on. The woodwork teacher at Peachgrove Intermediate had a wooden leg he’d got in the war, and he was old enough to still hate the Japanese. Was it any wonder that he also hated little shits like me who’d never had to suffer the indignity of conscription or hand-to-hand combat or food rationing or the various other privations that war wrought?

To me, as with the older baby boomers who comprised the counterculture uprising, none of that mattered and our parents’ suffering was yesterday’s news, their story. We were the future, and why should we care about all that? All I wanted to do was grab my oversized copy of The Whole Earth Catalogue and run off to the imagined utopia of some commune where everybody loved each other. Anything to escape the stifling neuroses of suburbia.

Jumping Sundays author Nick Bollinger

Nick Bollinger’s new book Jumping Sundays does a terrific and fairly comprehensive job of describing New Zealand’s at least partially unique response to the hippie movement, how it varied from overseas iterations and the ways in which it took hold here. Not content with simply explaining its existence, however, he digs into why it came about in the first place – putting everything into context and the correct chronology – and what lead to its eventual, inevitable demise.

I love that Bollinger personalises the book by using his own experiences growing up with politically progressive parents in Karori, Wellington. Just as his previous book Goneville acted as both a kind of memoir and a social history of music in the 1970s via his own experiences, Jumping Sundays benefits from a network of notables who feature in the book.

His parents are pictured in a youthful anti-nuclear demonstration, a baby Nick hoisted onto his Dad’s shoulders, and the stories of various friends of the family are included. This is not nepotism, it shows how close to the rise of the counterculture Bollinger (and family) were. It’s also indicative of just how small New Zealand was back then, that so many of the stories and people in the book are linked.

Jumping Sundays “happen-in” at Auckland’s Albert Park

There are so many revelations in Jumping Sundays (named after the spontaneous and slightly illegal Sunday afternoon “happenings” in Auckland’s Albert Park) that it’s hard to know where to start, as I’m sure Bollinger was when he wrote it. How do you write about a movement that encompasses activism of various kinds, a new attitude to drugs and sex (together with lots of rock and roll), alternative lifestyles, weird new religions and so much more? The author opted for a compromise: rather than being strictly chronological or strictly by individual subjects within the overall orbit, the story is told with a back-and-forth approach encompassing chapters and a lot of subheadings. This can at times make it feel a little episodic, and occasionally I felt as though I was being wrenched out of a fascinating story and slammed straight into another tributary. (Note that this isn’t a complaint, exactly, because I don’t know how else he would have approached its telling).

Inevitably, some passages might seem overfamiliar, especially the linking explanations of overseas countercultural events. For the most part, however, I felt that I was either hearing completely new stories or having sketchy ones filled in for me. This is not just a welcome book, but an important one, because the counterculture story was never properly or accurately represented at the time by the mainstream media, which occasionally published tut-tut admonishments which were really just for the generations that came before. Jumping Sundays tells the story of counterculture periodicals and the huge impact these had on their avid readers, together with the controversies they courted.

Hippies dancing

As Bollinger explains, New Zealand was a strange mix of politically progressive and socially retarded back in the 1960s when the first hints of a youth revolution started to bloom. We had a notion of egalitarianism that few other Western countries could boast at the time but we were also horribly insular, blokey and repressed. The counterculture didn’t entirely dismantle the “rugby, racing and beer” stereotype but it certainly messed with it.

Packed with extraordinary personal histories as well as recounting those moments in the modern history of Aotearoa that contribute to the theme, I found it a moreish read. But is it just for those who were there, or like me, wanted to be? I don’t think so. Boomers have long been targets for successive generations to lampoon and deride and accuse of privilege, and to some extent Jumping Sundays puts this into perspective. It explains that when the movement inevitably splintered, they didn’t all become investment bankers or get jobs in the family accountancy business. Many members of the counterculture remained activists for various causes – feminism, gay rights, the environment. And the Values political party (one of the first “green” parties in the world) ended up evolving into the Green party we have today.

Hippies in bed

Happily, discovering Frank Zappa dissuaded me from my notions of dropping out and joining a commune. His anti-flower-power stance in favour of an individualistic “freakdom” appealed to me much more, and prepared me for the punk movement that was just around the corner. That’s one thing that Bollinger doesn’t mention in Jumping Sundays, and it’s a pity. Many late-boomers or early Gen-Xers had one foot in the hippie firmament and one in punk, and that gave rise in the late ‘70s to English groups like Crass (who had their own commune). They were less conspicuous in NZ but some of the older punks ended up joining communes or getting into alternative health or “consciousness” in a big way. Sadly, some even got hoodwinked by the anti-vax movement.

One small gripe is that Bollinger refers to the predominantly white young members of the counterculture as privileged and portrays them as having money and freedom, describing his own family as comfortably middle-class. My family, by contrast, was lower-middle class and we never had much money. I wasn’t given the opportunity, like him, to go to university. While life in the ‘70s and into the ‘80s was cheap in some ways (cheap rent, power, etc) few had the money to own cars or even TV sets. There was certainly the freedom to have a roof over your head back then, but those of us from less salubrious backgrounds really had to scrimp and save.

Bollinger’s perspective on Maori is also idealised and conditioned by present government initiatives to prevent dissent on anything Iwi-related, but that’s not surprising. Another small flaw is the omission of the Soil And Health Association, who have been pushing an alternative – organic – agenda for fruit and veg in NZ since 1941, and even had hippie journalist Chris Wheeler edit their periodical in the 1980s.

But those are relatively small gripes. Jumping Sundays is an extraordinary story (and a real page-turner) that many will find surprising and profound, and hopefully not the last word on a part of NZ history somewhat neglected up to now. Bollinger’s prose is as always well-paced and you can easily imagine him reading it with his usual open-hearted enthusiasm on one of his RNZ broadcasts. It’s also packed full of great period photos and Auckland University Press has done a sterling job of its startling design. (And I hasten to mention that even the proofing is top-notch).

* Buy Jumping Sundays from my friends at NZ Bookshop Of The Year 2021, Schrodinger’s Books.


Steel has been penning his pungent prose for 40 years for publications too numerous to mention, most of them consigned to the annals of history. He is Witchdoctor's Editor-In-Chief/Music and Film Editor. He has strong opinions and remains unrepentant. Steel's full bio can be found here

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