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Victoria University of Wellington 1899 ~ 1999 A History

[eleven] — The creative edge

page 278

The creative edge

I HAVE STILL to be convinced that anyone can teach anyone else to be a poet or a novelist,' Ian Gordon wrote in 1949. ‘The way to write a poem is to write a poem and not to take a class on The Writing of Poetry.’1 But 50 years on, creative writing has become one of the English Department's and Victoria's most visible areas of distinction. That story is part of a larger one, of the growth of the creative arts as not only a legitimate activity of the university but also an outstanding one.

This is not to imply that Gordon's contribution to this history was wholly conservative or insignificant: on the contrary. It was with Gordon that Victoria's strength in English language and lexicography began. A remarkable clutch of dictionary-makers graduated from his department: Robert Burchfield, editor of the Oxford English Dictionary; Graham Johnston, editor of the Australian Pocket Oxford; W.S. Ransom, who compiled the Australian National Dictionary; and Harry Orsman, who stayed here, a medievalist and collector of local vernacular, whose crowning achievement is the Oxford Dictionary of New Zealand English (1997), a solo effort for most of its 40-year gestation.2 Gordon also nurtured the development of medieval language studies, which benefited as well from the presence in the department of veteran philologist Pip Ardern, just retired from Auckland, for a few years after the war: here, as well as the Renaissance, Victoria's English Department has at different times made its reputation. He lifted a department which he would later describe as a ‘depressed area’ when he came to it in 1937 – it had not produced one senior scholar in 30 years, and boasted a higher than 50% fail rate in English III – to become in the 1950s one of the university's best. It was turning out ‘a pretty high quality graduate’, he wrote, with characteristic pride, in the early 1960s.3 It would establish an impressive record of filling Oxbridge chairs, and personal ones here.4

Straight after the war Gordon made two notable acquisitions to his department: page 279 Joan Stevens and James Bertram. Bertram, an Auckland student and Phoenix associate of the early 1930s, had returned to New Zealand after a degree at Oxford, and several years as an international correspondent in Chiang Kai-shek's China and prisoner of war in Hong Kong and Japan, uncertain if he would stay or what he would do. As a teacher he was thoughtful and indirect (which was not to every student's taste). He found a literary research subject in the poetry of A.H. Clough and his milieu – although his more determined contribution within the university may have been his advocacy of Asian studies. Stevens had returned with her Oxford first to go teaching, and was a dynamic, enthusiastic lecturer especially to first-year students: a populariser both in the classroom and in print, she published several books on both New Zealand and nineteenth-century English literature. Capturing the imagination of first-year students was a skill rated highly by Gordon, who came from the Scottish lecturing rather than the English tutorial tradition of university teaching. (Having said this, he also effectively developed the tutorial as part of the department's teaching strength.) He took seriously too his responsibility to the many non-majoring students who chose or were compelled to take English I, in a course centred on teaching the right use of language (his own English Prose Technique was the course textbook) and training the critical mind. Stage-one English could develop a more literary emphasis when it was no longer compulsory for the law degree.

Packed classroom: English I, 1957. Evening Post collection, ATL F1957–919

Packed classroom: English I, 1957. Evening Post collection, ATL F1957–919

page 280

Don McKenzie, a Gordon graduate who became a junior lecturer in 1956, was also an exceptional lecture-theatre performer. Appointed to the second chair of English literature in 1969, and elected chairman of the department in 1974, he assumed Gordon's mantle in shaping the department with a definite plan. He came back from his postgraduate tour in 1961, having turned down English job offers but accepting an extended fellowship at Corpus Christi, Cambridge. This enabled him to establish a life-long habit of commuting, until he left Victoria finally in the late 1980s to become a full-time Oxford professor of bibliography and textual criticism. McKenzie has identified the formative influence on the direction of his academic career – and the distinctive edge of Victoria among New Zealand's English departments in that period – in Ian Gordon's honours paper on scholarship. The example of Bertram, combined with his own reading of writers of the left, stimulated his interest in printing and publishing as an economic activity; George Culliford gave him his thesis topic and specialist field, in textual criticism of Shakespeare. McKenzie conceived of an English Department whose academic character was scholarly and contextual, and of the department as a mini-faculty, which would nurture new academic areas, such as drama, art history, musicology and library studies, that might later become independent. Some got away that weren't supposed to.

The faculty of languages and literature, combining English, classics and modern languages, was created in 1966, not on the basis of a considered academic plan but for practical reasons. The lesser one was size. The existing faculty of arts contained 16 of the university's 25 departments and over half of the full-time academic staff, held together only by a common framework of degree regulations. The critical reason for languages and literature seceding was the refusal of the English Department to follow the rest of the faculty in replacing the MA with honours degree with the BA honours (a single honours year assessed by examination) and an MA by thesis. This reform was adopted by most of the arts departments in 1964 after several years of discussion about structure and nomenclature, prompted in the first instance by the problem of students who were passing their MA papers but could not finish a thesis (or vice versa). Not all students, as Gordon observed, were ‘research men’ – and not all disciplines were equally research-oriented.5 English was eventually to go this way in 1976; the language departments not until 1983.

Faculties, in the first analysis, are only administrative constructs. Arts and languages and literature continued to meet (and usually vote) together. Perhaps the main advantage of being two was the political one: it gave the university's arts departments two deans. The integrity of ‘languages and literature’ was never secure. In the early 1970s the faculty underwent an anxious self-appraisal, kicked off by a stern memo from McKenzie on the need for it to preserve itself against the threat of disestablishment. A number of things fuelled this fear, including the possible adoption of the BA (Hons) and a wider examination of the faculty structure. But the real threat lay in the fragility of its small classics and languages departments, exacerbated by the imminent retirement of two professors, and straitened economic page 281 times. The language departments were hard hit by the removal of the foreign language requirement for the BA from 1970 – a decade after the Students' Association had first requested its abolition. (The English Department held out again here.)6 Their rolls were predicted, correctly, to continue to fall, as the numbers of senior school students taking traditional languages did.7 A number of other factors made the moment opportune for taking stock, including the anticipated move into contiguous accommodation in the new Von Zedlitz building; but insecurity was the main one. ‘The recent and determined rise of Commerce is salutary,’ McKenzie wrote. ‘We are living on borrowed time.’8

Out of this exercise emerged a definition of the faculty in academic terms. It discovered its unifying theme in literature, complemented by the comprehensive development of language teaching. It would further develop interdepartmental activities, exploiting what it saw as its inherently interdisciplinary character and the flexibility offered by the new credit degree.9 It also identified a new responsibility in the creative arts, ‘to claim a role as an active, creative centre of University life, and more firmly to establish its right also to offer hospitality and work to writers, composers and artists as well as fulfil its more traditional functions as a centre of literary scholarship and criticism’.10 A radical structural proposal was the division of language and literature teaching by creating a language centre or institute and department(s) of literature, although the traditional ‘national’ majors (English, French, German) would be retained.


The language centre idea was never realised, but the progressive separation of language and literature studies is a central theme of the postwar history of the university's language departments. This followed international trends. The Department of Modern Languages marked the end of an era at the end of 1954 with the retirement of Boyd-Wilson, and the end of the French-teaching partnership of ‘Prof. Boyd’ and Frankie (Frances) Huntington: she had been appointed as his assistant in 1939 and a senior lecturer in 1947. She did not retire until 1973, one of the first and longest-serving women on the college's permanent academic staff. This was a good department, with an impressive record of senior scholarships. It was claimed then to be the only language department in Australasia teaching five languages – French, German, Russian, Italian and Spanish – although French was the core.11 During 1955, before a new professor was appointed, it enjoyed a brief, stimulating visit from Fraser Mackenzie, son of the foundation English professor, the department's most outstanding graduate and now professor at the University of Birmingham: he left behind a favourable report of the abilities of Victoria's students in comparison with Auckland's.12

Fraser Mackenzie recommended one of his Birmingham colleagues for the chair: Pierre Conlon, a Victoria and Auckland graduate, shy and scholarly with interests in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century literature; but he stayed only five years. Peter Norrish who succeeded him – as Victoria's first professor ‘of French’, in line with overseas practice – came from North Staffordshire; he was a Cambridge page 282

Modern languages visiting professor Fraser Mackenzie (left), retiring professor Edwin Boyd-Wilson and his portrait, November 1955. Dominion collection, ATL F145665 1/2

graduate and more modern in his tastes. His speciality was twentieth-century French drama. He set immediately to modernising the department's teaching, giving more emphasis to modern language and literature in the revamped undergraduate course, setting literary texts in full rather than in parts, and introducing oral examinations at finals. Norrish's reputation – and at least equally his wife's – lies especially in leading the development of the ‘communicative method’ in language teaching not only at Victoria but also in French departments New Zealand-wide. A language laboratory was established in 1967 under the direction of Norma Norrish, and Victoria's department became highly regarded for the standard of her teaching. A decade earlier the German lecturer, David Carrad, had politely but unsuccessfully requested some permanent accommodation for Modern Languages' gramophone, records, tape-recorder and visual aids, which would provide both an audio facility and a social space, an ‘activities room’ such as he had observed in universities overseas: ‘Moving the material from my study and attempting to set it up in a strange room usually means a nerve-straining flap before the lecture and … the alternation of electronic squawks and smothered lectorial exclamations for some time after it should have begun … As it is I hesitate, for instance, to plaster German posters over the walls of a botany classroom.’13 Voluntary at first, language laboratory sessions were formally integrated into the first-year French programme in 1974. The language was taught with an emphasis on its social and cultural contexts: French songs, for example, and news taped from shortwave radio broadcasts became teaching texts.

German peeled off to become its own small department on the establishment of a chair in 1964. Norrish had also had in mind a separate department of Russian, page 283 which had no more linguistic or cultural connection with French than it did with German, but this did not come about until 1968 – and with it the renaming of what remained of Modern Languages the Department of Romance Languages. For now this meant French and Italian. Spanish classes, started in 1945, were discontinued when Boyd-Wilson retired. He had also been offering Italian since 1923, but its continuing provision was made possible by financial support from the Italian government. An offer from the Italian consul had not been welcome in 1940, but between 1954 and 1965 the Italian government provided Victoria with a visiting lecturer to teach Italian units to stage three. Then the university created a permanent senior lectureship (appointing a New Zealander teaching in Australia).

An Austrian émigré, Paul Hoffmann, was Victoria's first professor of German. He had fled Vienna with his family in 1938, having completed but not yet submitted a doctoral thesis on the Austrian playwright Franz Grillparzer. In New Zealand he turned dairy farmer, married, studied extramurally at Auckland University College, and met the German exile poet Karl Wolfskehl, on whom he wrote his second thesis to complete his Vienna degree (the manuscript of the first having been lost when the boat carrying his family's possessions to New Zealand was sunk). He became a senior lecturer at Victoria in 1959: Norrish in supporting his appointment to the chair described him as an outstanding scholar and ‘one of the kindest, most gentle and most generous men I have ever met’.14 (His dog, however, was at times less welcome on campus, drawing complaints one year for lingering with intent in the student union cafeteria at mealtimes.)15 Hoffmann developed

The German ambassador (centre) presents German books to the university library: Professor Paul Hoffmann, left; lecturer David Carrad, right. M.D. King photo

page 284 German literary studies at Victoria and founded the Wellington Goethe Society, which became a Goethe Institut in 1980.

Supporting cultural organisations of this kind, and a mutually beneficial relationship with the international diplomatic community in Wellington, has been an important role of the university's language departments. Boyd-Wilson was a founding figure in the Cercle littéraire français de Wellington in the 1920s, and Norrish was responsible for its transformation into the Alliance Française in the 1980s. Personal connections (of the department's language teachers) facilitated relations with the embassy. The Wellington Tolstoy Society was founded by the Russian Department in 1975. Politics, though, could complicate these relationships. The French Department's annual French Week was suspended at the height of the controversy over French nuclear testing in the Pacific in the 1970s, and efforts begun in the 1960s to establish an official exchange agreement with the Soviet Union were periodically thwarted (especially by the Sutch affair and its aftermath in the 1970s); despite rapprochement during the Gorbachev era in the 1980s, they still failed.

Victoria's first teacher of Russian, Nicolas Danilow, was another exile from war-torn Europe: a Latvian-born Russian, he had done his military service as a secretary–interpreter in the Russian Far East, then gone to Vienna in the 1920s, working in a hat factory and graduating in arts and law; in 1938 he fled to England and thence to New Zealand. He became a teacher at Scots College and enrolled in MA French and Latin at Victoria. An ‘exquisitely courteous and amiable polyglot’,16 Danilow was appointed to the university staff in the first instance to teach German, when the lecturer, A.C. Keys, took the chair of modern languages at Auckland. ‘I understand,’ Fred Wood later commented, ‘that he was not wholly successful in the teaching of German because he persisted in pronouncing German with a distinct German accent … My friend, Professor Boyd-Wilson, taught French with gusto and enthusiasm, but without, according to the experts, a very intimate knowledge of how to pronounce the French language.’17

If the college was to teach the language of its enemies, Danilow put to the principal when he arrived, it should also teach the language of its allies, of which the Soviet Union then was one. He began teaching Russian reading knowledge in 1942, a stage-one BA unit in 1945, and after a brief postwar hiatus had by 1951 established the subject to stage three, along with science Russian, and honours in 1962. He also taught extramurally, examined candidates from the other colleges, and wrote his own elementary grammar, Russian with a Smile. The beginning of a substantial library collection was assisted by a donation of some 400 volumes from the Soviet government in the 1940s and by Danilow's contact with the School of Slavonic Studies in London, and supplemented by his own 1500 volumes. He was proud to claim the teaching of Russian in New Zealand as ‘my child’.18 Victoria was the first in the field in Australasia (followed closely by Melbourne in 1945). Demand, though, was not huge.19 By the time he was pressing for the introduction of honours Danilow feared that Victoria was losing its place. (As to the question of staffing, he told the vice-chancellor, his stage-three students could take over the page 285 elementary teaching and free him for the honours work: last year they had earned 12/6 an hour as interpreters in the department stores when Russian whaling boats were in port.) The same concern propelled Norrish's argument for a separate department of Russian in 1963. The other universities were moving quickly into the field; Russian was added to the secondary school curriculum in the early 1960s, and was starting to burgeon in universities worldwide, fuelled partly by its growing importance as a scientific language.20

Danilow, having just turned 70, was not a candidate for the chair of Russian when it was advertised in 1966, and again in 1967. There were no applicants suitable, by age or qualifications, for a permanent appointment. Elizabeth Koutaissoff was engaged for two (in the event three) years. She herself was approaching retirement age after a long teaching career (at Birmingham since 1947).21 The foundation of the New Zealand Slavonic Journal in 1968 (taking over the Journal of the New Zealand Slavists' Association) confirmed the Victoria department's national profile. Staffing, however, remained a thorny field. One reason was common to the language departments: it was not possible to ‘grow one's own’ native speakers (unlike accountants).


The ‘fortuitously timed’ vacancies in 1973 of the chairs of Russian and classics, subjects with among the smallest enrolments and most favourable staff:student ratios in the university, threatened them, for a moment, with extinction. The Committee of the Vice-chancellor and Deans decided that both chairs should be filled by visiting professors while the newly established Academic Development Committee interrupted its wider-ranging deliberations on the ‘10,000 plan’ to consider their future. It recommended (McKenzie's advocacy was persuasive) that both be advertised for permanent appointment, emphasising the themes of interdepartmental and literature studies where the faculty had recently found its purpose. The faculty warned against assessing the value of any subject solely in terms of student demand; and about the psychological health of single-chair departments with small enrolments facing ‘constant threat of random disestablishment’.22

Classics, of course, was well used to defending itself against the charge of irrelevancy and the reality of declining interest – the classical languages had long ceased to be the lingua franca of the educated classes, and Latin had also lost its vocational application in medicine and law. This had been pretty much the subject of Rankine Brown's inaugural lecture in 1899, and of his successor, H.A. Murray from Aberdeen, another Latinist (and an exacting head of his department), writing in Spike in 1957 on the place of the classics in ‘the atomic age’. While the university must continue to teach Greek and Latin for the fewer and fewer students who wanted them, he recognised another constituency in the growing interest in the classics in translation, which had recently seen the Penguin edition of the Odyssey become a ‘best-seller’.23 The department pursued this in the 1970s – under its new professor, Chris Dearden, a specialist in Greek comedy. Greek History, Art and Literature, a ‘floating’ stage-one unit on the BA syllabus since the 1920s, was page 286 the precedent for the rapid development of ‘civilisation’ courses, starting with Roman History and Literature in 1973 and Etruscan and Roman Art in 1974. (On the advice of the visiting professor, however, they did not develop ancient history, in which a stage-one unit had been introduced only in 1970, although anticipated for several years by Professor Munz in History as well as by Murray; Auckland was well advanced in this field.) A classical studies major was introduced in 1976, and enrolments turned around. Perhaps there remained an amount of academic disapproval of ‘classical studies’, as the young Eric McCormick had found in the 1920s when he enrolled for Greek History, Art and Literature under Rankine Brown – but to him it was a revelation.24 By the end of the 1970s over three-quarters of classics students were taking classical studies courses rather than Latin or Greek.

This has been one of Victoria's quietly impressive departments. It was in the vanguard internationally in the development of classical studies, well ahead of Britain, and of Australia (where classics has developed rather in the ancient history direction). From the earlier era, Victoria can claim an outstanding scholarly achievement in Ronald Syme, a student in the early 1920s who was once rated as the twentieth-century's pre-eminent Roman historian; and then Peter Dronke, who graduated from classics as well as English to a chair in medieval Latin at Cambridge. In more recent decades it has produced very significant work especially in myth, and an impressive number of scholarship-winning students.

Other departments followed the pattern – though did not attain the same scholarly reputation – in the face of the unpalatable but plain truth that they were losing their students. The new professor of Russian, Patrick Waddington, was as required a literary scholar, a specialist on Turgenev. He came here as the visiting professor in the first place, anxious to leave Belfast where he had been teaching for 10 years (and keen to stay despite having inherited a ‘complex and delicate’ staffing situation, to his dismay).25 The department had introduced Russian literature in translation in 1972, followed by Russian civilisation in 1976, and moved its foundation Russian literature course to stage two. The new, non-majoring stage-one courses were popular – Russian civilisation attracted over 150 enrolments in the early 1980s – although failure rates were also high. Koutaissoff, on the other hand, had seen the retirement of the department's teacher of Old Church Slavonic and early Russian literature (an area of minimal student demand) as an opportunity to ‘modernise’ by developing Russian studies or Sovietology, but this was neither practical nor in line with the faculty plan. (Nor was a more ambitious scheme of an interdisciplinary Centre of Russian and East European Studies, another variation on the area studies theme.) Language, nevertheless, could also be modern. Forty years after Danilow had hoped to import Russian printing fonts to produce a Russian newspaper, one research project in the department in the 1980s was the development of Cyrillic fonts for Apple Macintosh computers.

The French Department took this road a little later. It suffered the most of the modern languages from the changing academic interests of teenagers: enrolments in University Entrance French fell nearly 60% between 1970 and 1981, twice as page 287
George Culliford and French lecturer Norma Norrish top off the Von Zedlitz building, March 1977; Professor Norrish looks on

George Culliford and French lecturer Norma Norrish top off the Von Zedlitz building, March 1977; Professor Norrish looks on

far as German. It remained the most studied language in New Zealand universities, but these were stressful times. The department's staff was reduced from 11 to five between 1974 and 1988. By the end of the 1970s it had reduced its literature programme and its major requirements to the minimum it believed academically defensible, and was restructuring its courses to increase their ‘civilisation’ content to meet this demand. There were other contexts, however, for the development of French studies in the 1980s, one of which was the growing discourse of national identity (New Zealand's). An emerging field was research on French explorers and early French writing about New Zealand (following the lead of John Dunmore at Massey), as well as some strength more widely in ‘la francophonie’ (French outside metropolitan France).

German was spared the same trauma: its enrolments remained steady. In fact in 1980 it reported that it was enjoying its largest stage-one classes ever. Hoffmann had accepted the chair of modern German literature at Tübingen in 1970, for a year initially, and then had decided to stay. He was replaced back here by Con Kooznetzoff, an Australian and specialist in medieval German from the University of Melbourne. Kooznetzoff revitalised the department and vigorously promoted German studies at a national level: launching a quarterly newsletter for secondary school teachers; helping to found the New Zealand Association of Language page 288 Teachers (Hoffmann and Norrish had started a Wellington one in the 1960s); securing the establishment of the German DAAD scholarship scheme in this country. When he died suddenly in 1980, rumour that the university meant to disestablish the chair drew strong protests from other German departments as well as its own. Either this fear was misplaced or their campaign successful. The next professor, Hansgerd Delbrück, who came in 1982, had been an academic assistant to Hoffmann at Tübingen. While German followed the disciplinary trend – a separation of language and literature study and the introduction of audio-lingual teaching – it also responded to the challenge facing university languages in another way. A course in German business studies was introduced in 1984, designed to attract commerce and law students, and in 1987 became a new major alongside the traditional language and literature streams.

The plight of the Romance languages, meanwhile – in particular, the Italian problem – prompted another soul-searching at the end of the 1970s. The loss of a junior lectureship had reduced the Italian staff to three, one of whom was also teaching Spanish: barely enough to sustain a full degree programme to honours level, for which there was a steady though small demand. An introductory course in Spanish had been reintroduced in 1978, in the context (belatedly) of New Zealand's growing economic, diplomatic and development links with Latin America as much as the study of European cultures.26 It met a good demand. The faculty considered its options, until the Academic Development Committee intervened and directed it to have a harder and wider think about its language policy before making any precipitate decision to abandon either the Italian major or Spanish.27 This lengthy and delicate exercise essentially confirmed the status quo: French, German, Italian and Russian would remain the university's major European languages (although not necessarily to the extent of a major) and Spanish a minor one. It also confirmed the place of Asian languages, the lecturers in Indonesian and Chinese having recently been relocated in this faculty from the ruins of Asian Studies.

Not yet, however, did the faculty really engage with the question of why Victoria taught the languages it did, and on what grounds it might teach more. Aside from the core (the classics, French and German), languages had been introduced because there were staff who were willing and able to teach them: Danilow with Russian; Enrico Chiessi had offered Spanish; Bulgarian was taught from 1982 by a member of the Russian Department, which also had passing ambitions for Polish and Ukrainian. Back in the 1940s the professor of political science had plumped for Hindustani (but the Professorial Board had rated Maori more important). Local ethnic communities and diplomatic representatives also had an interest in seeing their languages taught, and foreign governments might pay. In 1974 the Dutch and Belgian embassies approached the university about the introduction of Dutch. A decade later the Saudi ambassador to Australia offered a professor to teach Arabic language and Islamic studies here, to which the faculty responded with cautious enthusiasm (Arabic language was welcome but ‘Islamic proselytism is not a high priority for us’). Neither proposal progressed.28

page 289

Nor, it might be argued, did the language departments really engage with the hard question of the relationship between foreign language and literature teaching in a university. These deliberations also disposed finally of the language institute idea, which had remained in the faculty plan since 1973. Don McKenzie argued strongly for this – a comprehensive restructuring of the faculty which would separate language and literature studies, as a pragmatic as much as an academic solution to the faculty's woes – but others thought it academically unsound.29 A language major was instituted, however, in 1981. A recommendation that the separate departments amalgamate to form (or re-form) a Department of Modern Languages was implacably opposed by their professors, Russian's Waddington especially – and was not to be raised again until the end of the 1980s. With the Italian staffing now down to two, in 1984 this major was dropped, not to be revived until 1996.


It was ironic (perhaps) that as Italian was struggling for its survival as a degree subject, it was thriving in the field of ‘extracurricular’ cultural activity that has always been more than an adjunct to the language and literature departments. There were one or two dramatic performances in Italian each year, and senior lecturer David Groves also produced operas with the Music Department. Annual productions of drama in its original language were a longer tradition of the French and especially German departments, while in the 1980s the German Department also supported a choir and a film society (established by honours students in association with the Goethe Institut). The Russians were less active – although the 1949 performance of Griboedov's Woe from Wit for the college jubilee was (Danilow claimed) the first performance of a play in Russian in New Zealand.

A myriad of connections, formal and informal, among departments and between ‘town and gown’ contributed to the university's growing business of supporting the creative arts. The Théâtre des Iles in the 1970s was a most enterprising one. A semi-professional company formed in 1972 by Jean-Pierre and Claire Jugand of the French Department and drama lecturer Phil Mann, Théâtre des Iles toured bilingual productions of French drama around New Zealand and French Polynesia, often to places where professional theatre had never before been seen – taking Molière, for example, on the 300th anniversary of the playwright's death, to 14 villages in New Caledonia – until 1977 when the Jugands went back to France. Opera was also a fertile area. Staff from the language departments contributed to music courses on opera as drama and European languages for singers; a German Department lecturer who was also a professional baritone co-conducted a music honours course on lieder interpretation (there were two singers in the German Department, in fact); English's Jeremy Commons eventually left the university and Augustan studies to pursue his other passion of rediscovering minor and forgotten Italian operas. A notable operatic collaboration, Waituhi, was written by Ross Harris of the Music Department, the libretto by Witi Ihimaera (the university's 1982 writing fellow) and was produced by Adrian Kiernander of Drama Studies page 290 in 1984. In this faculty, ‘interdisciplinary’ denoted something less formal and more fertile than an ‘academic meccano set’ (to quote a somewhat cynical law faculty committee on the subject).30 The creative arts flourished at the interstices of disciplinary structures.

Formal interdisciplinary projects found mixed success. Comparative literature was an unsuccessful plan of Paul Hoffmann in the 1960s, keenly supported by Don McKenzie. Earlier still Bertram had been promoting this in the late 1940s. But it was not until the mid–1970s that two ‘genre’ courses, European tragedy and European romanticism, were established (tragedy was more successful than romanticism). This fell some distance short of a lectureship and a major, let alone the department and chair of comparative literature that had been hoped for.

Lectureships in linguistics and drama were the first faculty positions created. Janet Holmes was appointed in 1969 to develop general linguistics within the English Department programme, an area the faculty had had in mind for some time. The discipline of linguistics had grown rapidly in North America and Europe in the 1960s, having already moved from its origins in philology (the historical and comparative study of languages) into structuralist and descriptive linguistics before the revolutionising influence of Chomsky in the 1960s. The creation of New Zealand's first Department of Linguistics in 1988 gave visible recognition to an area that had been developing in the preceding 20 years as one of Victoria's areas of distinction, but in an untidy way. There had been a chair of English language in the English Department since 1962 (this was also a first in New Zealand), although established more in the philological mode, and an English language major was developed; but a first move to establish a general linguistics course in this decade faltered with the early departure of the English language professor, L.F. Brosnahan. Elsewhere in the department, meanwhile, Harry Orsman was quietly
The state-of-the-art Memorial Theatre in the new student union building. M.D. King photo

The state-of-the-art Memorial Theatre in the new student union building. M.D. King photo

page 291 advancing his lexicographical magnum opus. Applied linguistics – the theory and methodology of second language learning – was advancing over in the English Language Institute.31 In other parts of the university too there were pockets of linguistic interest, from anthropology to information science, but most impressively in Max Cresswell's work on logic and language in Philosophy.

A faculty study group convened in the early 1970s had thought a department of linguistics was premature, but supported the subject's active development, identifying a likely area of specialisation in sociolinguistics, as would indeed be the case. A further investigation of linguistics' institutional status in the early 1980s stumbled on the ‘fearsome’ academic, administrative and personal implications of rearranging the relationship between linguistics, English language and the English Language Institute (particularly because of the unwillingness of the English Department to wholly relinquish its language function and staff). An institute (on the geophysics model) was proposed. Instead a board of studies was constituted, and a recognisable linguistics major established by appropriately labelling all the relevant courses32 – with the exception of one essentially philological course taught by Brosnahan's successor in the chair of English language, John Pride (although he was really a sociolinguist). Linguistics became a quasi-department at this point; but as Janet Holmes remarked in 1988, when it gained its independence proper, ‘there is no department which can testify more eloquently to the symbolic significance of a name’.33

Linguistics' enhanced visibility within the university infrastructure was matched by its growing profile in more public arenas. Holmes was now internationally regarded in sociolinguistics – she would be appointed to a personal chair in 1993 – while at closer quarters Victoria's staff were regularly called upon by government agencies in the 1980s and 1990s to advise on linguistic interpretations of legal texts, or on the influence of broadcasting on Maori language or, most frequently, on non-sexist language. Policy advice to government was not the preserve of the economists. Janet Holmes' research on gender and New Zealand English gained a high profile. The publication of her and colleague Allan Bell's New Zealand Ways of Speaking English (1990), together with Harry Orsman's dictionary, put a Victoria stamp on the study of Kiwi-speak.


Drama took off spectacularly well; and had been a long time in gestation. Back in 1948, on Bertram's suggestion, the college's first quinquennial submission had included a request for an ‘instructor–producer’ in drama, to work in co-operation with the departments of English, Education, Classics and languages, with college clubs and to give lectures. It was another decade before the matter was pursued again, soon after an approach to the university from the New Zealand Drama Council. A faculty committee was convened by Ian Gordon – who had also in the late 1940s entertained the idea of drama (unlike creative writing) as a future development for his department. It proposed that a manager and producer for the Little Theatre be appointed, who would also teach a course in drama in the English page 292 Department: a combination of academic and practical training would be ideal, but if this could not be found, practical experience was to be preferred. A new theatre was anticipated in the planned student union building, ‘which can be with proper advice the best small theatre in New Zealand’.34 The position was duly advertised in 1961, then proceedings stalled when it was suggested that it should be a limited-term appointment. Drama, Peter Munz argued, was a dynamic art, which needed the constant stimulus of new ideas and techniques: ‘It would be deplorable if the lectureship in Drama were to become an institution … Drama is not the sort of academic discipline that improves with the advancing age and sedentary experiences of the man that professes it.’35 So the advertisement was withdrawn, another committee appointed, and the position redefined as a five-year one. Then Gordon requested that the advertisement be deferred until his return from a sabbatical winter in Britain. He, in fact, was hoping to appoint Richard Campion of the New Zealand Players. Others had in mind a more scholarly appointment – and the drama lectureship fell into abeyance for several more years.

During these years Victoria played a prominent role in an important moment in professional theatre in Wellington: the foundation in 1964 of Downstage. Five members of the university staff were on Downstage Theatre's inaugural committee, including John Roberts (its president) and Don McKenzie (a vice-president).36 The first production, Ionesco's Exit the King, was staged in the Memorial Theatre. Already, however, Victoria had made a significant contribution to theatre downtown. The capping Extravaganzas in their heyday in the 1930s and 1940s, and the college drama society (along with the teachers' college's), had provided a large number of the membership of Unity Theatre, Downstage's precursor, when it moved away from its wartime, anti-fascist, agitprop beginnings to become a paler-hued but still earnest, socially conscious theatre, and a training ground for the country's nascent theatrical profession. Among these were Richard and Edith Campion, who then founded the New Zealand Players in the 1950s, Bruce Mason, sometime Victoria reference librarian Nola Millar, and John McCreary.37

It was at Downstage in 1969 that McKenzie met Phil Mann, an energetic Yorkshireman recently arrived in the country via California and looking for a job. Victoria was looking (at last) for a lecturer, and Mann was appointed at the end of this year. He was to remain at the helm of Drama Studies until 1994 – apart from a brief sojourn in China in 1979–80, from which he returned with a revitalised interest in oriental drama forms – while pursuing careers as a professional theatre director and an author of science fiction novels on the side. McKenzie had set out in a memo a year or two earlier what was to remain the operating principle of drama studies at the university. It was not the university's function to provide vocational training for the theatre: its role was to provide an audience, to ‘educate audiences to the values expressed in drama’, extending ‘the informed and disciplined intelligence’ that academics practised beyond the academy.38 Mann offered the required mix of academic and professional experience, with degrees in English and drama from the University of Manchester, and an MA and a stint at directing experimental theatre at Humboldt State University, California.39 He also brought page 293 the right measure of enthusiasm and ability to communicate it. A key factor in the creative synthesis of the academic and practical, performance and study, was a contract (or at least a verbal agreement) that allowed him to work in the professional theatre while teaching – much as law lecturers were permitted to practise. This he did mostly with Downstage, for a time ‘seconded’ half time as artistic director in the 1980s: his productions of Brecht and of local plays, Greg McGee's Tooth and Claw and Vincent O'Sullivan's Shuriken, mark this time as one of Downstage's finest.

There was, Mann observed, some quiet rumbling in the university at first about the academic rigour of drama courses, ‘regarded as advanced kindergartens where some students could “do their own thing”’, but which soon dissipated in the face of the ‘singular focus and blind enthusiasm’ of the students.40 The courses were restricted and always oversubscribed: 80 applied the first year, 35 were accepted. The first course, Drama II, started in 1970; third-year courses in film analysis and oriental drama began in 1972, and production in 1974. Drama Studies made its physical entrance in a semi-derelict house in the upper reaches of Kelburn Parade, the billiard room converted into a studio; it moved next door to ‘Drama House’ in 1974 – ‘a temporary stopping place on the road towards a Performance Centre’, it was thought, although this would turn out to be a longer and more winding road than imagined.41 Temporary remained the operative word, as it was for many university departments in the 1970s and 1980s, only this was more constraining for Drama Studies (and Music) than for most. Matters were not improved when Drama House was burnt out by the Kelburn arsonist on Christmas Eve 1984.

Public performance was a by-product rather than a primary purpose of the practical part of Drama Studies – which grew – but an obligation was accepted to present obscure, difficult or ‘unpopular’ works which the professional theatre wouldn't or couldn't, and to be a ‘fertilising influence’ on the development of an indigenous drama: at the beginning of the 1970s there was much fervent discussion about what this might be.42 The first Drama Studies class presented Alistair Campbell's When the Bough Breaks, for example; there was Beckett at Unity while Mann directed Büchner's Danton's Death for Downstage in 1971; there was Euripides and Rewi Alley; a medieval mystery play (and non-stop screenings of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton films) for the opening of the Von Zedlitz building in 1979. In the 1980s annual large-scale productions gave way to more flexible ‘workshop’ styles with greater student involvement, and student-generated work increasingly formed the material of the production course. Drama Studies came to define its role more clearly in production and writing. It was providing more than audiences, although still less than a vocational course for theatre practitioners. Graduates made their names as playwrights (often via the English Department's original composition course), and via the New Zealand Drama School as writers and directors.

Wellington has long claimed to be New Zealand's theatre capital, by virtue of the vitality of its professional theatre life and as the home of the national drama school. An important part of the ‘town–gown’ link that made Victoria part of this, page 294 in addition to being the first university in the field, was its association with Playmarket, the New Zealand script advisory service and playwrights' agency. Founded in 1973 (by a graduate of the first drama class, playwright Robert Lord, and the drama lecturer's wife, actor Nonita Rees), Playmarket was given a home at Victoria from 1976, at first under the stairs in Drama House. It provided some secretarial services for Drama Studies (which was administratively attached to but geographically remote from the English Department) in turn, but more importantly was a social and focal point ‘where the theatre professional rubbed shoulders with the theatre scholar and both met the writer’, until it was unceremiously evicted by the university in the late 1980s, to make way for the Department of Librarianship.43 (It had not been singled out, as the aggrieved Drama Studies staff may have felt: the mounting accommodation crisis had led to a decision to ask all non-university organisations using university space to leave.)44

It had not been planned for Drama Studies to evolve naturally into an independent department: this was intentionally a faculty affair. An undergraduate major, though, was discussed in the late 1970s, as too was a major in creative arts – at a time when quinquennial planning and the pressure of falling rolls produced some creative thinking about both academic and institutional structures, along with a renewed commitment to developing the creative arts (the language centre, majors in comparative literature and languages, fellowships in creative arts, and a performance centre were also under discussion here). Both developments, a drama major and a department, came about at the beginning of the 1990s, under the new name of Theatre and Film. This was almost a misnomer. Film was a smaller part of the department's work than had been planned. A course in film production had been introduced without fuss in 1974; a second, history and criticism of film, in 1979 when a full-time lecturer joined the staff. They were popular, and the establishment of the quarterly Illusions, ‘a New Zealand magazine of film, theatre and television’, by a group of former students in 1986 gave the department a national profile in this fast-developing field. But a comprehensive development depended on the establishment of two more full-time positions in the new department, and only one – in drama – was granted. Financial assistance from the New Zealand Film Commission enabled a course on New Zealand theatre and film to begin in 1991, the department's first that was wholly New Zealand in content. Elsewhere, at Auckland, film studies made a robust although later start, there in association with television studies, which remained a conspicuous absence at Victoria. Unique to this university has been the combination of drama and film.


Musicology, by contrast, was an unrealised part of McKenzie's vision for the English Department as a mini-faculty of contextual literary scholarship, for the graduate he brought back from Oxford in the 1970s to develop this field – Peter Walls, a Baroque specialist who combined his literary and music interests in the study of the English courtly masque – soon decamped to the Music Department. A similar McKenzie scheme didn't get this far. In 1972 separate requests from English and page 295
Don McKenzie, professor of English

Don McKenzie, professor of English

Music – for a junior lecturer in drama and music, and a music lecturer in ‘aesthetics, criticism and communication’ – led to a proposal for a joint position, for which he had in mind a former member of his staff, Roger Savage, who had been a prominent figure in university drama and music in the 1960s and was now at Edinburgh. He would have liked to offer the job without advertisement (no other candidate would do), but although the vice-chancellor agreed, the pro-chancellor saw a ‘jack up’ and the Council demurred. In Taylor's view there was nothing irregular about flexibility ‘if men of distinction are on offer’, and ‘To my mind, Music and Drama are flowering areas in Victoria … I am delighted in this flowering too because it so nicely counter-balances the other flowering areas, Business Studies, etc.’45 In the event, however, Savage declined to come.

Library studies was also, in this scheme of things, a disappointment. However, the establishment of a Department of Librarianship (in 1980) has a considerably longer history, which places it in the different context of special schools and professional courses. Since the 1950s the library profession had entertained the idea of the National Library School diploma, inaugurated in 1947, gaining status by association with a university.46 There were informal discussions on this theme between the national librarian and Victoria's Council in the early 1960s, although the vice-chancellor then (Williams) was somewhat less than enthusiastic. So it appears was Taylor, who stated in 1969, ‘without committing the university in any way, that I believe the prospect [of transferring the graduate part of the library course to Victoria] is worth further exploration when the time is ripe’.47

The New Zealand Library Association was behind this plan, as, at Victoria, were the librarian, John Sage, and his deputy, David Wylie (a leading figure in the page 296 Association). A ministerial working party, however, recommended the establishment instead of an autonomous college of librarianship, which would co-operate with Victoria at the higher levels of its programme, leading to a masters degree. Victoria considered this, and proposed that the university set up its own department of librarianship, to teach a postgraduate diploma and masters. This plan gained provisional approval from the University Grants Committee, but a quinquennium went by while complex manoeuvrings ensued over the relationship between the proposed university course and non-degree library training: the certificate course taught by the Library Association, in which Victoria had no interest. A new proposal (from the director-general of education) was for all library training to be based at Wellington Teachers' College, with an association with Victoria at degree level: the university, that is, would grant a degree taught by the college. This, unsurprisingly, did not find favour at Victoria.

In the event the Teachers' College did get the certificate course, and Victoria held on to the diploma. A new committee was convened by McKenzie to finalise the plan for a department, and set about looking for a professor. Victoria's Diploma of Librarianship was launched in 1980 with 45 students, and a masters course began in 1981, but the amount of scholarly research in the department continued to disappoint. Victoria had gained another professional school. The professor (Rod Cave) was appointed with a literary, bibliographical context in (at least McKenzie's) mind. He was a specialist in rare books and the history of printing and publishing. But the future of library practice and training, as he observed in 1983, was in management and information science. Librarians became ‘information workers’; the department became Library and Information Studies in 1988. In the 1990s it found its institutional place in the faculty of commerce rather than language, literature or arts.


A professional school of art, such as Canterbury's Ilam and Auckland's Elam, was not what Bertram's sub-committee on academic development had in mind in 1948 when they suggested the development of ‘fine arts’ as well as comparative literature and drama. It was really art history, something like the original conception of drama: ‘an undergraduate course … of an academic and non-vocational nature’, one function of which was to educate an audience, but without the integral practical component of the drama course.48 The faculty's expansive 1978 quinquennial submission did, in fact, raise the question of giving degree credits for practical work in the visual arts, as in creative writing, music, drama and film, but noted that it was more difficult to do in this case (without elaborating why).

The chief protagonist for the introduction of art history was Reg Tye, a senior lecturer in the English Department from 1965 (and before that at the Palmerston North outpost) with a passion for the Victorians. He inaugurated the department's winter-term visual arts programme in 1966, a lunchtime programme of slides and films. He and G.J. Dunn of the Classics Department formed a two-person faculty committee in 1972, and found a good number of reasons to recommend the page 297 expansion of the university's art history offerings beyond a few classics courses, a History Department one on Renaissance Italy, and some in anthropology and Maori; and the University Extension art classes begun in 1966 by Paul Olds. Those reasons included the importance of an appreciation of art as ‘a safeguard against cultural alienation’, student interest, and a respectable university tradition ‘dating from Ruskin's lectures in Oxford in the last century’.49 They wanted to start boldly with a fully fledged department and a major. Research should focus on colonial and Polynesian art (there would be little chance of attracting distinguished scholars all the way out here to study European art).

In reality art history made a more modest appearance, with a faculty appointment to the English Department in 1976, Tony Bellette. He began with Renaissance art in 1977 to complement the English Department's (and, it was hoped, faculty's) strength in ‘Renaissance studies’, followed by the origins of modern art in 1979 (assisted by Tye and a lecturer from the French Department), Baroque and neoclassical in 1981, the twentieth century in 1986. A major was instituted in 1990; courses in New Zealand and Australian art, North American, Byzantine and women's art were added. Already a full art history major was offered at Auckland and Canterbury. Here the subject had attracted a steady demand, and was especially popular with mature students.

Victoria's other ‘extracurricular’ contribution to the fine arts is its art collection, consisting by the late 1990s of nearly 250 works by New Zealand artists. The origins of the collection date back to the 1930s and 1940s, and the belief, expressed by J.C. Beaglehole in 1949, that the college had a duty beyond as well as in the classroom to cultivate the arts. A history of art at this university should include also the Carnegie collection of books and prints, and the opening of the art room in the 1930s; Fred Page (he later recorded) hung Matisse's The Dance in the music room ‘but found at the end of the first term vacation that it had disappeared. A prissy librarian had removed it on the grounds that it was “unsuitable”.’50 The purchase of original works of art was initiated by Beaglehole. In 1947 he inaugurated the Staff Common Room collection, which was funded by an annual levy of five shillings on each member of staff. Early purchases were Daffodils by Sam Cairncross, a John Weeks landscape and (to the consternation of some) Frances Hodgkins' Kimmeridge Foreshore, which was bought by Beaglehole and Douglas Lilburn in London for £180, almost twice the limit they had been given, and by far the most expensive acquisition for this collection. By 1970 when it was given to the university on permanent loan, the Staff Club collection numbered 16 works, including a McCahon and a Woollaston, and a van der Velden watercolour, although most were oils (and most purchased before 1963).

Separately, a request from the Students' Association prompted the university Council to appoint a purchase of pictures standing committee in April 1958 and establish a £100 annual grant ‘with a view to establishing over the years, a collection of pictures which should be regarded as meritorious and which would eventually constitute a valuable historical record of the graphic arts in New Zealand’.51 Lilburn was the staff representative on this committee until he resigned in 1963, page 298
Chancellor Ivor Richardson (left), Kevin O'Brien and Colin McCahon's Gate III, 1984

Chancellor Ivor Richardson (left), Kevin O'Brien and Colin McCahon's Gate III, 1984

and was replaced by Tim Beaglehole, who formed the collection thereafter (although it was placed in the formal custody of the university librarian, who thus gained the additional title of curator, in 1966). The establishment of an official university collection also stimulated the occasional donation or loan, notably several gifts (etchings and prints mostly) from Jack Ilott, while in 1959 T.D.H. Hall, law graduate (and son-in-law of Professor Mackenzie), sent over his collection of some 30, mostly nineteenth-century watercolours because he had moved house and had nowhere to hang them. It had originally been hoped to build a collection of ‘historical value’ – the first attempted purchase was of a John Gully watercolour at auction, but the college was outbid – but this was not pursued. Tim Beaglehole followed, otherwise, the curatorial policy adopted by the committee at the beginning: to buy works of ‘contemporary artists of note’, keeping ‘an eye open for purchase from young painters of exceptional promise before their prices go too high’, adding his own belief that a university environment called for paintings with people as well as landscapes.52 The collection was meant to be displayed for public view (at first on the second-floor landing of the main Hunter stairway and in the music room). Items were also regularly lent for public exhibitions, and the first university Christmas card with a work from the collection (Charles Tole's Farm buildings, Canterbury, from the Staff Club collection) was produced in 1970. By the late 1970s the combined university and Staff Club collection was worth almost $125,000, and the Council's annual contribution now $1000. By the mid– 1990s its market value was some $2 million.

Aside from portraits of chancellors and foundation professors, the university has not generally been in the business of commissioning art. One exception was a memorial sculpture in honour of Ernest and J.C. Beaglehole, to be placed in the Rankine Brown courtyard. A fundraising effort for this purpose was launched in mid–1967, and in two years had gathered $2700. But the scheme had a complicated page 299 progress. Fred Page had already had in his mind, before the Beaglehole project was initiated, ‘a large piece of red rock from Ohiro Bay’ for the courtyard in front of the new library building.53 Tanya Ashken, who was commissioned to sculpt the Beaglehole memorial in 1969, started on a piece of Carrara marble from Dunedin; in 1975 a bronze (entitled Seabird IV) was installed without fanfare in the main floor of the library. The better-known memorial to the historian Beaglehole is the J.C. Beaglehole Room, home to the library's manuscript and rare book collection, which was planned in recognition of his award of an OM in 1970, and also opened in 1975 (having also had its share of controversy).54 The George Kojis obelisks that were unveiled in the Rankine Brown courtyard in 1979, meanwhile, were commissioned to mark the opening of four new buildings. A policy of commissioning or purchasing a suitably large piece of art to adorn each new university building had been established a few years before, but it was not conscientiously followed. A Fred Graham sculpture, Tane and Tupai, in kauri and totara, was commissioned for the first Cotton block but had to be removed several weeks after its unveiling because of vandalism.

The biggest painting in Victoria's collection, physically, financially and in reputation, is Colin McCahon's Gate III – popularly known as ‘I AM’. One of several commissioned by the Auckland City Art Gallery to mark its reopening after the construction of a new wing, it was purchased for Victoria in 1972, where it adorned a brick wall in the Maclaurin lecture block. Half of the $4000 purchase price came from the university's art fund, the other half from the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council in the form of an ‘award for achievement’ to honour the artist. It is this painting that has called attention whenever the university has felt obliged to defend its ownership of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of art. If it were sold, one could argue (not very convincingly), half the income should be returned to the Arts Council. The real point to argue is the place of the art collection in the university's ‘cultural and civilising role’, in Tim Beaglehole's words, and its commitment to the creative as well as the scholarly arts.55


Victoria has supported the literary arts as well, in both curricular and extracurricular ways. A writer's fellowship was established in 1978, funded by the New Zealand Literary Fund and a half-lectureship from the English Department. Although this had been in the faculty plan since 1973 (McKenzie had the first idea), the effective initiative came informally from the Literary Fund and formally from the minister of arts in 1977. This was the second literary fellowship at a New Zealand university. The first, Otago's Burns Fellowship, had been privately endowed; the others that followed were also supported by the Literary Fund. The fellowship was never to be restricted to writers of poetry, prose fiction and drama, and incumbents have included the odd historian; but in practice it mostly has been. The first fellow was a playwright, Joseph Musaphia: appropriately, it was felt, in the context of Victoria's leading edge in drama studies.

Original composition made its way into the English syllabus in 1975, ‘as a sort page 300 of undergraduate thesis paper’ whereby third-year English students could submit a folio of work for credit towards their degree.56 Don McKenzie, again, had been the initiator here, but it was Bill Manhire, poet and lecturer (from 1974) in modern poetry and Old Norse, who developed the original composition option into a structured, highly competitive, glamorous six-credit course in the 1980s. It was by then open to students with any 12 stage-one credits and a ‘required standard’ of writing. Twelve were admitted each year; in the mid–1990s over 150 applied. Creative writing courses, in universities as well as outside them, became a flourishing industry in the 1990s. Manhire has himself recognised a ‘style’ of writing produced, unintentionally but inevitably, from Victoria's: in a habit of genre-jumping and a certain linguistic playfulness (the personality of his own poetry). For better or worse, a Victoria ‘school’ had emerged by the 1990s, abetted by a productive relationship between this course and Victoria University Press. There has been debate as to whether there developed, more particularly, a ‘Manhire school’ of poetry. But undeniably Wellington became a productive centre of new New Zealand writing. Sport, the playfully titled literary magazine launched by Victoria University Press editor Fergus Barrowman in 1988 (its title, though, was surely chosen in answer to the earnestness of its predecessors, Landfall and Islands), became the route to published status for many Manhire graduates – and other writers, of course.

In the 1980s and 1990s Victoria University Press built a reputation as a discerning and enterprising publisher of New Zealand fiction. This is not necessarily, not usually, the role of an academic press. Victoria had been slower than others to launch into publishing on its own account after the dissolution, with the University of New Zealand in 1962, of the University of New Zealand Press. This ill-fated operation had been established in 1946 (30 years after James Hight of Canterbury College had first taken up the issue with a reluctant and impecunious Senate). J.C. Beaglehole as chair of its board ran the press from 1947 until its demise. It had never been sufficiently funded to enable it to publish without subsidy from an author, a college or the Literary Fund, or without making a loss. Of its 17 publications, only two (both textbooks) turned a profit without help. Victoria paid for The Old Clay Patch and the jubilee history, and subsidised Cotton's New Zealand Geomorphology and James K. Baxter's Fire and Anvil: notes on modern poetry.57

Beaglehole, who convened Victoria's publications committee, thought the disestablishment of the New Zealand University Press was a mistake, and also thought it would be a mistake immediately to establish a Victoria one. The publications committee dispersed a grant from the Council in subsidies to assist the publication of books by university staff, of articles in academic journals overseas, and the production of the university's own; and sought to bring the accounting procedures of these under centralised control (the Law Review was an ongoing problem). Only in ‘exceptional circumstances’ would the university publish a book itself; although it might, in time, find it convenient to channel all books through a single ‘publisher to the University’.58 Negotiations with Blackwood and Janet Paul in 1967 over The Feel of Truth – a festschrift to professors Wood and Beaglehole, page 301 edited by Munz – appears to have given rise to a proposal of this nature, which the publications committee felt financially constrained to pursue, but they were prompted to ask Don McKenzie to investigate and report on future publishing policy and the possible establishment of a Victoria University press.

McKenzie, who now chaired the publications committee from 1968 until 1985, advised on the creation of a university imprint, rather than a press. The time had passed, he observed, for giving cash inducements to publishers to take on academic books: commercial publishers ‘now compete for prestigious titles, and the growth of the academic market and institutional libraries has reduced the commercial risk’.59 But the most important thing to get right, before publishing, was distribution, especially overseas (and he began making inquiries both locally and in Britain).60 A fully fledged university press would come later. His final report to the Professorial Board in 1970 recommended the appointment of a full-time editor to oversee all university printing and publishing: substantial scholarly works published on behalf of the university, and the more routine work of the multilith department (to which he hoped to add a small letter-press printing section for small journals and monographs). What was not included in this scheme, however, was the Wai-te-ata Press, which McKenzie kept as his own. When he came back from Cambridge in 1961 he had brought with him an 1813 Stanhope Press on indefinite loan from the Cambridge University printer, which he installed in a garage below the English Department houses on Wai-te-ata Road (because it was too heavy to carry up the steps), and put to service primarily as an educational tool, to show students how early books were made. But it found too a broader, if still modest cultural role. Under the imprint Wai-te-ata Press, McKenzie published small first editions of New Zealand literature, mostly by local poets (Baxter, Campbell, Manhire); an occasional miscellany, Words (co-edited with Paul Hoffmann); scholarly essays by students and staff; and a significant music series. Launched by McKenzie and Douglas Lilburn in 1967, the Wai-te-ata music editions were the first substantial publication of original New Zealand scores.

In a typical Victoria example of going half way, McKenzie's recommendation for an editor of university publications was enthusiastically received by the Committee of the Vice-chancellor and Deans; then it was decided that the job was too much for one person and only a printing manager was appointed. This left the publications committee to engage a part-time editorial consultant as it pleased, for what it no doubt regarded as the more important part. Hugh Price, who had formed the local publishing house Price Milburn in 1957 and for five years managed Sydney University Press, was appointed consultant editor in August 1971. Thus began a period in which Price Milburn published on behalf of the university – not always distinguishing clearly which were Victoria books. (Already, in fact, Price had casually appropriated the term New Zealand University Press.) The first to appear with the imprint Price Milburn for Victoria University Press, in 1974, was Maori Poetry, a collection of waiata in translation by Barry Mitcalfe; next The Turanga Journals of missionary William Williams, edited by Frances Porter, a quite substantial project initiated and largely financed by the Williams family; page 302 and later the same year Beatrice Webb's 1898 diary of The Webbs in New Zealand, edited by David Hamer.61 The Turanga Journals forced the issue of what qualified as a university book. It had bothered the lawyerly mind of deputy vice-chancellor Ian Campbell that Frances Porter was not a member of the university staff. But she was a graduate, the publications committee pointed out, and her work had been overseen by Beaglehole and Wood. In May 1973 the Council approved terms of reference for the committee which defined its field as ‘research done by past and present members of staff, by past and present students of the university and by graduates’.62

The extension of this brief without apparent ado from ‘research’ to creative literature was facilitated by the invention of two series under the general editorship of English Department staff: a New Zealand short story series edited by Bill Manhire, launched with Helen Shaw's The Gypsies (1978), and New Zealand playscripts edited by John Thomson, starting with Roger Hall's Glide Time (1978). (Both were assisted by the Literary Fund.) More or less formally, the university presses now divided up the creative field: Victoria taking short stories and drama, Auckland poetry (the Otago University Press had decided to stop publishing playscripts because they were ‘commercially problematic’) – an arrangement which lasted for more or less a decade. The publications committee relaxed its formal terms of reference again in 1978, to encompass books not only by but ‘relating to the teaching and research interests of members of the University community (staff and students, past and present)’.63

By 1978 a properly constituted university press was on the agenda at last, and the publications committee contemplated the challenge, expressed by McKenzie, ‘to evolve an editorial policy which balanced, in a disciplined way, the sometimes conflicting demands of narrow academic interests and the market’ with the financial means of a New Zealand university.64 In 1979 Pamela Tomlinson was appointed (without advertisement) to the part-time position of editor, bringing several years' experience with John Calder and Penguin in Britain. Without relinquishing the traditional role of an academic press – publishing scholarly works by university staff in small print runs for specialist markets – and with the financial cushion of the university's institutional support, Victoria University Press would grow more and more to resemble a general publisher (with a serious, literary bent) in its list and its operation. In the fiction field, notable successes in the 1980s were Janet Frame's short story collection You Are Now Entering the Human Heart and Booker Prize-winner Keri Hulme's Te Kaihau: the wind-eater. It published its first novel, After Z-hour by Elizabeth Knox (an original composition graduate), in 1987. In the 1990s, when the university presses gained increasing success in New Zealand literary awards, Victoria's was conspicuous, and almost exclusively in poetry and fiction.65

Back in the English Department, New Zealand literature as a traditionally academic affair was a comparatively late development.66 It was taught firstly at honours level (a special option only) by Joan Stevens from 1962. Not that it been totally ignored before then: some New Zealand writing had been set as optional page 303 reading or tutorial exercises since the mid–1940s (the obvious choices: Katherine Mansfield's selected stories first of all, Dan Davin's Oxford edition of New Zealand short stories, Mulgan's Man Alone, and Allen Curnow's first Book of New Zealand Verse). Outside the classroom, Gordon was at work on Mansfield, and engaging with New Zealand literature in another way on the advisory committee of the State Literary Fund. But both he and Stevens confined their teaching of it then to adult education classes. And curiously, perhaps, Bertram was not inclined to show any lead. An undergraduate course was not introduced until 1975, taught by John Thomson, who had also taken over Stevens' honours course, and Frank McKay, a Marist priest and later James K. Baxter biographer.

Along with Baxter, Mansfield has been a significant subject of Victoria's New Zealand literary scholarship: from Gordon's pioneering study in the 1950s to the work of Vincent O'Sullivan (appointed a professor after McKenzie's departure) and postgraduate student Gil Boddy in the 1980s. Although English had introduced a separate MA by thesis in 1976, it was not until the mid–1980s that students would regularly choose their subjects from New Zealand writing. Even then, the university press, the writer's fellowship and the creative writing course were probably the greater stimulus to a growing interest in New Zealand literature than the department's formal teaching was.

There were also new options in the mid–1970s in contemporary literature, the American novel and American poetry, as this department took advantage of the new credit degree it had devised – if not readily enough, according to some of its students. There was a protracted debate between the department and disgruntled students, as well as within the department, through 1972–73, for English had by far the largest major requirements of the faculty.67 (Not only the English Department, however, grappled with the task of more carefully defining its essential subject – what would constitute a ‘major’ – with the move to the smorgasbord style of credit degree.) But the larger context of the evolution of English studies in the 1970s and on was the challenge of literary theory, and the expanding boundaries of the subject itself, with the growth of regional and post-colonial literatures, of media studies, cultural studies, gender studies and other such cross-disciplinary fashions. Hugh Mackenzie had observed in his inaugural lecture in 1899 that, ‘In studying English Literature we ordinarily leave contemporary authors severely alone as being too near us to permit of viewing them in proper perspective. We confine ourselves to accredited masterpieces – works that have become English Classics. We can bestow but passing notice on second or third rate work; and on that only in order to preserve the continuity of the literary record.’68 The old philological and canonical basis of English in the university, here concisely expressed, was thoroughly deconstructed in what has been termed the era of ‘exploding English’.69 This happened at Victoria too, although it in some respects showed itself as conservative in the face of change. When an honours paper in literary criticism was established in 1982 (in fact re-established, after an absence of several years), tensions flared. Introducing students to the challenge of post-structuralism for the first time at honours level was bound to be trouble. Over a decade later the page 304 department was criticised still for failing to incorporate clearly and comprehensively into its undergraduate teaching programme the ‘plurality’ of modern literary theory.

It had restructured its undergraduate programme again in the late 1970s, with the aim of more choice. More stage-two and -three options were provided, and all literature courses could now count towards a major; enrolment in New Zealand literature was opened to any students (not only English majors); and in 1980 an enlarged modern literature option was introduced at stage one, to provide an alternative basis for an English major programme alongside Renaissance. These changes bore fruit in a dramatic and welcome increase in enrolments. For, although it remained a large department and did not face the threat of extinction that some of the smaller ones in the faculty did, English too experienced falling rolls in the 1970s and a concomitant depletion of its staff. Some of those staff losses were in the Renaissance field, which the department had been actively fostering in the 1970s as one of its long-established strengths, but which was now recognised as a fragile area in need of nurturing to survive. The marked area of student interest observed in 1980 was the modern novel.

There was, sadly, also a deep professorial difference of opinion in the department over how (more than what) it should teach: between, specifically, Don McKenzie and Roger Robinson, Victoria's famous ‘running professor’ (a world-ranking veteran marathoner, and specialist in the nineteenth- and twentieth-century novel). McKenzie still believed, without objecting to the diversification of the English curriculum per se, in a structured teaching programme at least for majoring students. But in 1985 the stage-one Renaissance literature option was dropped, leaving a single first-year course in contemporary literature to serve as an introduction to
Professor James Bertram receives an honorary degree from Kevin O'Brien, 1981

Professor James Bertram receives an honorary degree from Kevin O'Brien, 1981

page 305 ‘literary studies’. This course was still proving problematic in the 1990s. And this was still a department divided – now particularly over the place and scope of ‘cultural studies’. It was ironic that English should be one of the university's less happy departments at a time when it also had a reputation as one of its most successful – through, for example, the continuing success of original composition, the publication of Harry Orsman's pioneering dictionary, and the not quite so long awaited Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature (1998), edited by Roger Robinson and Nelson Wattie – and, less obviously in the local context, while it maintained the high international reputation in medieval studies it had established in the 1940s.


The Music Department left the faculty of arts to join languages and literature in 1978, a natural addition to this faculty's emerging identity in the creative arts. Music had been a creative department from its inception, with its particular focus on performance and composition, and a professor, in Page, whose devotion to the avant-garde did not diminish with age – nor did the fierceness and honesty of his views: Page ‘would speak his mind with small regard for his listener's self-image, and for this reason had many enemies’ (although perhaps not as many as he liked to think).70 But there was no hesitation in promoting him to the chair when it was created in 1957. He founded a branch of the International Society for Contemporary Music; promoted the new in broadcasts, recitals and articles. A visit in 1958 to Darmstadt and Donaueschingen, stamping grounds of Stockhausen, Cage and Boulez, confirmed and invigorated him in his tastes. With two composers on his staff – Lilburn, and David Farquhar, Victoria's first MusB graduate and in Page's view ‘the best lecturer in counterpoint and anything to do with musical analysis and structure, in the country’71 – the Victoria department developed in the 1950s as an active centre of composition. In an article in Spike in 1957 Page noted seven Victoria composers (graduates and staff), and explained the importance of composition in the department's teaching: ‘It is as though Professor Gordon were to ask, in English III, for poems on a particular rhyming scheme, with opening lines given’ – which is exactly what Bill Manhire began doing in original composition 20 years later. (On having composers on the staff, Page quoted Hindemith: ‘[his] instruction is bound to have a certain creative warmth, because he is passing on directly what he himself has experienced’.)72

A good part of Douglas Lilburn's composing output – in addition to three symphonies, of course – was incidental music for the National Film Unit, the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation and the New Zealand Players, and musical settings of local literature, where he formed a special association with the ‘Caxton’ writers. His music took a major change in direction when he made his first tentative experiments in electronic music in 1961 for a production of Allen Curnow's verse play The Axe. In 1963 he went to North America to investigate electronic music studios (particularly Toronto's) and returned to try to establish one here – with difficulty. To a former student he remarked, ‘Isn't it a little like persuading the page 306
Fred Page and Igor Stravinsky in the Memorial Theatre, 1961. Tom Shanahan photo

Fred Page and Igor Stravinsky in the Memorial Theatre, 1961. Tom Shanahan photo

Govt. to launch into nuclear science [which his colleagues in physics had recently been trying to do], and isn't it possible that this sort of thing can only be done in wealthy countries … we are not Columbia with £75,000 a year to spend on electronic music research. In fact each upright piano has been a battle, and I register stoically when Ashley [Heenan, another graduate] writes out to tell that Indiana has 250 Steinway Grands dotted about the campus.’73 Victoria's ‘fully professional and moderately expensive’ Electronic Music Studio was established in the Hunter basement in 1966 with £4720 from the University Grants Committee, Victoria's research committee, the Arts Council, and the Broadcasting Corporation which gave £1500 worth of surplus equipment.74 It was the first of its kind in the southern hemisphere, and an internationally recognised ‘school’ of electronic composing developed here – although it took time to achieve local recognition (Page was not impressed). In 1970, when he was awarded a personal chair, Lilburn left teaching in the department and became director (half time) of the Electronic Music Studio, which he ran until his retirement from the university in 1980. (It was then taken over by Ross Harris.)

Performance, always encouraged by Page, became a formal part of the BMus curriculum in 1965, when four executant courses were established. Outside tutors were engaged, two from the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. This was an association from which Victoria would continue to profit: two full-time executant teachers were later appointed to the staff, but the continued use of part-time tutors as well, mostly members of the Symphony Orchestra, was both expedient and valuable. Practical training was developed in the 1960s to meet an ‘urgent’ demand for professional performers and teachers from the Broadcasting Corporation, the Department of Education and the newly established Arts Council. The long talked-of national conservatorium had not come to pass (its Bowen page 307 Street site where excavations were started before the war had been given to Broadcasting House) and Victoria saw itself stepping into this role, although without necessarily national pretensions. Its performance training was to be at a higher level, though, than the diploma already offered at Auckland, and the course later established (in the mid–1970s) by Wellington Polytechnic. As the other universities followed Victoria in developing practical music training, and adopted essentially the same BMus structure as it did in 1973 – with three degree options in history and literature, performance, and composition – it was agreed that regional development was preferred to the old-fashioned notion of a national school. Victoria, however, maintained its edge.

It certainly showed that it meant to when Jenny McLeod was appointed professor, at the age of 28, to succeed Page in 1971. She was Page's choice, considered by both him and Farquhar the department's most brilliant student to date. After graduating in 1964 she had studied in Europe with Messiaen, Stockhausen, Berio and Boulez; won a prize in Paris; and had a chamber work (For Seven, an ‘avant-garde European piece in the approved manner,’ as she later described it)75 premièred at the Berlin October Festival, an unprecedented achievement for a New Zealander. She returned to establish a local profile as a composer – especially with her music-theatre piece for children, Earth and Sky, commissioned by the Arts Council and first performed in Masterton in 1968, followed by the multi-media Under the Sun for the centenary of Palmerston North in 1971. She joined the department in 1967. When she was appointed to the chair she planned to stay for 15 or 20 years, to strengthen the department's commitment to performance, and introduce courses in electronic, pop and other kinds of modern music. Her ‘conversion’ to rock music was not something Page had foreseen. After turning down a commission to write a rock-opera, she spent her sabbatical leave in 1975 on a beach tour with her band ‘playing mostly devotional soft-rock music’; she had already discovered meditation.76 When she resigned in a blaze of local publicity in 1976 to work full time for the Divine Light Mission, she commented on her estrangement from classical music: ‘This whole art syndrome was really phony. I guess I always knew there was something funny about concerts.’77

The department unanimously petitioned for David Farquhar to be invited now to take the chair, a course which Taylor supported on the grounds of his reputation, as well as the difficulty in filling New Zealand music chairs. Farquhar had founded (in 1974) the Composers Association of New Zealand, and had a wide-ranging record of piano, chamber, opera and orchestral music (his first symphony was completed in 1959), and incidental music – including a Recessional for the university's graduation ceremony (Lilburn composed the Processional Fanfare). Moreover, the department had been through a ‘troubled’ time and was ‘desperately in need of that old-fashioned quality of leadership which Jenny completely failed to give’.78 The chancellor approved, but the academic members of the Council unanimously didn't, on the grounds that it would create a dangerous precedent. The chair was advertised and Farquhar was appointed after all.79 The Dominion's music critic was relieved that Farquhar would ‘bring the department page 308 back to a more academically normal course’ after the ‘exciting, highly stimulating interregnum’ under McLeod.80 There was more here, however, than McLeod's disinclination, or unpreparedness, to take the traditional professorial part. This was a department, the dean observed when it was found to be over $9000 in debt in 1987, which had a longstanding record of poor administrative and especially financial control. It was at the same time one whose style and diversity of activity made it especially complex to manage.81

Non-western music and ethnomusicology is another area in which Victoria's Music Department can claim an edge, which was begun under Page and continued by Jenny McLeod. The possibilities here were greatly enhanced by the donation on long-term loan from the Indonesian embassy in 1975 of a 15-piece gamelan orchestra (after the cost had precluded McLeod buying one). In deliberate contrast to the Auckland department's interest in Pacific, Victoria chose to develop Asian music, although not exclusively. (The first ethnomusicologist on the staff, Allan Thomas, has specialised in Pacific music and dance.) When it was planning the development of ethnomusicology as a major option in the 1980s the department defined its approach as anthropological, its themes modernisation and acculturation, in contrast again to Auckland's more traditional, musical approach. Responsibility for the development of the non-western side was shared by Jack Body, another of the department's resident composers, notably of electronic music, who had travelled in Asia after his tour of the avant-garde centres of Europe in 1969 and later spent two years in Jakarta. Body also founded that peculiarly 1970s phenomenon, the Sonic Circus: multi-venue music marathons, the first of which, a six-hour, eight-venue performance of New Zealand music, was commissioned by the Broadcasting Corporation and held at Victoria in 1974.

It was strange, perhaps, that a department of such obvious distinction should be left to languish in the 1970s in the crumbling chemistry wing of the Hunter building, amid peeling plaster and leaking roofs, feeling that it was struggling for its survival. (But at the same time, it should also be acknowledged that for many years the department had done little to advocate its accommodation needs; Page was not bothered about such things.) Its fortunes looked up with the revitalisation of the university building programme in the 1980s and the sympathetic support of the vice-chancellor, Ian Axford, and of a new one (Les Holborow) who had a strong personal interest in music. The new music complex, formally opened with a three-day festival in June 1989, boasted a concert room judged to be the best chamber venue in Wellington, thanks to the generosity of local art patrons Denis and Verna Adam. In all nearly $300,000 from outside the university assisted the rehabilitation of the Music Department. The Turnovsky Endowment Trust gave the money for a long-term residency for the recently formed New Zealand String Quartet, which had been temporarily housed in the department over the summer of 1986–87, an arrangement brokered by Holborow and Turnovsky which satisfied two desires: Fred Turnovsky's to support a string quartet without risk (to his reputation, not his finances), and the department's, the players' and the Music Federation's to continue a happy association.82 (‘Perhaps,’ Fred Page had written page 309
Jenny McLeod, professor of music, 1976. ATL F18217 1/4

Jenny McLeod, professor of music, 1976. ATL F18217 1/4

40 years earlier, ‘we shall have to learn to be patrons, to be able to call on a string quartet so that our students can hear regularly the quartets of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and the finest chamber music.’)83 In 1988 the department also inaugurated a two-month visiting composers' fellowship for composers normally resident outside New Zealand: the first was from China. This was Body's initiative, and funded at his own request by half of his senior lectureship. It also took over the Wai-te-ata music editions from Wai-te-ata Press – which was languishing in the care of the Department of Library and Information Studies following McKenzie's departure for Oxford – with Body as editor, and financial assistance from the Composers' Federation and the Lilburn Trust. (It is worth noting, however, by way of qualifying this department's historical support for local music and composition, that a separate course in New Zealand music was introduced only in 1989.) To coincide with its new lifestyle the department took a new name: the Victoria University School of Music. And the university, as a sign of good faith, wrote off its debt.84

The new Adam Concert Room also provided a fitting venue for the department's Thursday lunchtime recitals, which had been held in the music room of the old Hunter building since the 1940s until that part of the building was abandoned in 1977: the student union Memorial Theatre was not the same. In that modest but ‘marvellous’ venue Page had given first Wellington performances of the European avant-garde composers; and there were ‘legendary’ premières of Lilburn, of Farquhar and Body. (Organising these recitals for 25 years, Page later said, made him feel like Prince Esterhazy.)85 The future of the lunchtime recitals had already been threatened by financial difficulties a year before the evacuation of Hunter. An appeal to ‘friends’ brought a good response, and led to the establishment of the Music Department Development Fund to foster its performance activity.86 Like Drama Studies, but with a much longer tradition, the Music Department has had a close relationship with its professional and the wider music community, and contributed much to Victoria's public reputation, as well as playing a key part in interdisciplinary and extracurricular ways in the creative life page 310 of the campus. In town–gown terms, Music has been one the university's undoubted stars. Its new premises were an overdue recognition and enhancement of this role.


The prospect, by 1985, of a new music building also inspired a more ambitious plan for a university Arts Centre. The faculty had had a performance centre in its sights since the 1970s – in fact some had had it in mind in the 1940s. The idea of a shared music and drama facility was not a practical one, although not everyone understood this. However, new premises for Drama Studies – the need for which was beyond urgent – next door to the music complex could create the nucleus of a complete centre for the creative arts. Television studies could be developed here (a course in television production as well as academically styled media studies was in mind). In any case the university was ‘gravely lacking’ in lecture facilities for high-quality visual projection. Art history and architectural history courses could be taught here. The writing fellow and the original composition programme might also find a congenial home. A small art gallery was also envisaged, as an ‘open and public focus for the whole Arts Centre’ as well as a teaching facility, for which public subscriptions might be sought.87 An arts centre would give ‘physical expression to the Victoria tradition of combining the academic, the public and the creative aspects of the arts’. It was also seen as remedying a certain lack of Victoria's campus – for this was ‘one of the few universities in the world which possesses no Senate House, no Hall, no Centre, no Stadium, nor even a Chapel’.88 Vice-chancellor Ian Axford seemed keen on the idea, and a public announcement was made, but without, it seems, a definite idea of quite what the centre would encompass. Some others were less enthusiastic, and the project was actively discouraged when it came before the Council's site committee. When the dean of languages and literature, Roger Robinson, its chief promoter, raised it again two years later, the University Grants Committee was in financial crisis, and the proposal was deferred again.

The scheme was one of two failed arts centre proposals, in fact. The other, in the early 1970s, had been something a little different, however: a student union facility for recreational ‘creative arts’, such as pottery, weaving and screen printing, photography, modern music and dance.