Victoria University of Wellington 1899 ~ 1999 A History
[twelve] — Weirdie beardie layabouts
THE STUDENT UNION building, sometimes known as the university union, was officially opened by the minister of education on 10 June 1961, nearly 30 years after the Students' Association had established a Permanent Building Committee and resolved to put the profits of Extravaganza and Cappicade into a building fund, and three years after the old gymnasium was demolished. ‘This antique building would not be the landmark it is if it were not in its usual parlous state,’ the president had remarked a few years earlier.1 An unofficial wrecking party held before the contractors arrived was a source of some embarrassment: reglazing the windows in the part of the old building that was to be used as the site office cost the Students' Association £20. Otherwise, Victoria has been proud of its students' ‘magnificent record’ of self-reliance, in acquiring for themselves firstly the gymnasium, then the student union.2
1932 had been a singularly inopportune year to launch a fundraising campaign, and the college Council refused the students permission to apply to hold an art union. Momentum began to build after the war when the Council decided that the building should be a war memorial and open in the college's jubilee year, and the government agreed to pay a subsidy of £2 for £1 up to £40,000. Raising the money was one matter. There were also fierce controversies over the choice of an architect and the site. The Council had given its assent to the gymnasium site before the war, but George Dixon now devised an alternative plan that would save both the old building and, more importantly, the tennis courts. It was this site that was proposed when the Students' Association launched a golden jubilee appeal in 1949. In the end, however, both the gym and Dixon's beloved tennis courts had to go.
The students had £15,000 in their building fund when the appeal was launched: the government raised the subsidy limit to £70,000, and £35,000 was in hand by page 312 the middle of 1950.3 They also had an architect in mind: the Austrian émigré Ernst Plischke, whom they recommended to the Council in 1946 as ‘the foremost architect in the country’ and for his ‘philosophic and intellectual approach to the problems of architecture and to the problems of community life’.4 The Council for a variety of reasons (not least of which, perhaps, was his nationality) hesitated. The New Zealand Institute of Architects offered its opinion in favour of the current college architects, the firm of Gray Young. J.C. Beaglehole lent his support to the students and ‘the cause of a worthier College architecture’ in a passionate plea to the Council not to appoint Gray Young (‘very mediocre architects indeed’) but to choose one of the younger, modern men: he did not necessarily mean Plischke, but noted Plischke and Firth's Meat Board building on Lambton Quay, then in construction and ‘which looks to me as if it will set a completely new standard for Wellington’ (this was Massey House, and it did).5 Nevertheless, and despite the apparent obstacles to Plischke's engagement having been overcome, the Council's building committee chose the advice generously offered by the recently retired government architect, and gave the contract in 1953 to the Structon Group (with the assent of the Students' Association).6
As the project evolved a separate gymnasium was decided upon: having the gym on the floor above the theatre did not seem a good idea. The principal returned from America in 1954 and, having investigated student facilities there, advised that more generous plans were required. Costs escalated. The Students' Association voted in 1957 to raise its fee from £2 5s to £3 5s and put £1 of it into the building fund, upon which the government increased its contribution to £115,000. A second public appeal was launched in 1960 for furnishings. For a few months in 1958 the Students' Association also changed its name to the Students' Union.
The union building, while not a masterpiece of modernism, at least broke away from the red-brick pattern of the college's academic buildings to date. It was designed to take a third storey, initial plans for which were ready by 1965 (by Ian Athfield for Structon) – giving the whole the appearance, as a Salient writer noticed, of an airport control tower.7 This was not added until 1969–70, by which time the building was becoming desperately overcrowded. Where the gymnasium had stood, the state-of-the-art Memorial Theatre, with ‘a versatile apron stage, built-in cyclorama, electronically-controlled curtain, ample dressing room and storage space, orchestra pit and New Zealand's first front-of-house lighting control’, was inaugurated by the Drama Club in 1961 with Much Ado About Nothing.8 Its southern foyer (‘expected to be frequently hired out for cocktail parties and the like’) was also added in 1970.9
In all, the students directly contributed just over a quarter of the cost of the union building. Having done so, they wanted to keep it as their own. Fears that the university was planning to appoint a warden prompted a successful campaign for control to be vested in a Student Union Management Committee with a majority of student representatives. The university and the association continued to share the operating costs of the building, while the university employed the staff, with a managing secretary rather than a warden.page 313
Jim Williams was elected a life member of the Students' Association for his essential support for the student union building, and for the subsequent development of student welfare services – as well, one supposes, as for his patronage of university rugby. He hoped that it would develop as a facility for the whole university: as a university union, not just a student union. But it never truly would. The Students' Association president in 1956 looked forward to it becoming ‘the cultural centre for the city and a meeting place for the majority of the city's youth’.10 No less optimistically, his 1959 counterpart wished for it to ‘form the basis of a corporate spirit which has for so many years been lacking’.11 Of course it could not. A constant in the record of student affairs in the second half-century as well as the first is the lament about other students' apathy, as is the elusiveness of ‘student life’. The larger the student body became, the more this was so. Still, the achievement of their building undoubtedly meant more to Victoria's students in 1961 than did the university's statutory coming-of-age.
The big picture of Victoria's students now is that there were more of them. They multiplied from some 2000 in 1950 to approaching 10,000 in 1990, though not steadily, the first boom beginning in the late 1950s and continuing to the mid–1960s as the baby boomers arrived. As importantly, there were more full-time students. The bogey of part-time study seemed finally to have been vanquished, thanks in a large measure to the new bursary scheme introduced in the wake of the Hughes Parry report. Full-time students outnumbered part-timers at Victoria for the first time in 1962, from being a quarter of the roll in 1950 and just over a third in 1960. By 1968 two-thirds were full time. The percentage was about the page 314 same at the end of the 1980s. Patterns and expectations of ‘going to university’ had begun to change again in the 1970s, with the growth of graduate and post-experience programmes. Just as extramural study, although a far cry from the once despised ‘exempted’ system, came back into fashion, so did part-time study – for now at least.
There were fewer Maori: 1.8% of Victoria's roll in 1962; 3% in 1986. Miria Simpson, personal assistant to the librarian, Harold Miller, and guide and mentor to the college's small band of Maori students from 1957 until 1970, kept her own statistics and counted over that period 147. As it has become larger, Victoria's student body has become more diverse in its age and ethnic mix, and in the range of disciplines they have studied. This is not so true, however, in socio-economic terms. A survey of enrolling students in 1984 concluded that, in common with New Zealand's other universities, Victoria drew its students from ‘a narrow range at the higher levels of socio-economic status’.14 In this sense it had not fulfilled its founder's vision of a ‘people's university’.
The 1950s might be the last golden age of Victoria sport, relatively speaking, that is. The college's lamentable showing at Tournament was a running (if sensitive) joke in Salient through the 1950s and '60s, when sport still featured prominently in its pages. Easter Tournament was especially embarrassing, although winning six points to the other universities' 21, 43 and 44 1/2 in 1957 may have been a record. Victoria did manage to bring home the Winter Tournament shield in 1954, ‘at long last’,16 its first Tournament victory since 1938; it did so again in 1958 (also winning the Joynt Scroll for debating for the first time in 15 years), and in 1965. There were some individual fields of sporting achievement, notably golf, fencing and .303 rifles; debating regained form after a lull through the 1940s and '50s, and was enjoying a resurgence of success in the late 1960s; and Victoria has held a distinguished record in the drinking horn (an official Tournament event). But the page 317 wooden spoon, as Salient wryly observed in 1957, ‘no longer even raises a laugh’.17 Excuses offered for this conspicuous failing have included the large number of part-time students at Victoria, and its lack of sports grounds (‘four tennis courts … and one undersize rugby field’).18 Perhaps, though, Victoria simply lacked the sporting spirit of others. Perhaps, some have thought, this is something of which Victoria should be proud.
The 1950s was, however, the high season of Victoria rugby. It was for the harriers and the Ski Club too, but for rugby above all. Six All Blacks played for the Victoria Rugby Football Club (popularly known as ‘Varsity’) in 1951–53, out of a total of 16 in its history, of whom its biggest pride was the great Ron Jarden. The club won the provincial Jubilee Cup four times in this decade. It enjoyed the dedicated support of the principal, to whose home the First XV repaired for their post-match sessions on Saturday night, and of the chancellor as well. Williams and Boyd-Wilson (in his retirement) continued a well-established tradition and alternated the roles of president and patron of the club from the mid–1950s until 1970 (George Culliford took the role in the 1970s and early '80s). Arguably, Victoria's rugby culture oiled the wheels of town–gown relations in these, the Williams years. The Boyd Wilson field and gymnasium were opened in 1958, with a match between Weir and The Rest, the culmination of a six-year fundraising effort, the subscription list having been launched by a ‘handsome donation’ from Boyd-Wilson.19 But soon the decline set in. Its ninth Jubilee Cup win in 1966 was the club's only major competitive success for 20 years. Ignominy came when it fell from the first division in 1984.
This is not only rugby's story, nor only Victoria's. The decline of sport as an integral part of student and even college culture, which was especially marked from the 1970s, was a larger phenomenon. No one much noticed when a Salient editor dispensed with the sports column in 1972, and few academic staff were now actively involved in university sports clubs.20 In the decade 1930–40, 134 New Zealand University blues were awarded to Victoria students; between 1983 and 1993 there were just 19.21
Broadsheet was succeeded, and improved on, by Hilltop (1949), whose title (suggested by Ian Gordon) was after John Donne, not the college's situation, but quite appropriately outdoorsy: the Tramping Club was still a centre of intellectual activity in these years. Hilltop aimed to be more than a student magazine. Its first issue (of three) included James K. Baxter, who had recently moved up from the south (and was not a student yet, although he would be in a few years), Louis Johnson, Kendrick Smithyman and David Ballantyne. After Hilltop came Arachne, and ‘sophistication, cosmopolitanism and the airing of literary theories’; it was edited by Schwimmer with ‘a deliberate intellectualism usually described as “arty”,’ commented Salient.23 When Arachne also went the way of little magazines there were three literary issues of Salient (in 1952, 1953 and 1955), more workmanlike in presentation but still evidence of a lively literary scene. Joan Stevens reviewed the first. ‘It is good,’ she thought, ‘that V.U.C. life includes, besides daily swot and sweat, the Museums, Art Galleries, French Maid Coffee Houses, pub crawlings, parties, poetic interests, and Kinsey reading which are reflected in the Literary Issue.’24 Victoria's literary magazines complemented, and more or less explicitly challenged, the new but already established Landfall. They also displaced Spike, the literary quality of which had markedly improved in the late 1940s. After 1949, the jubilee number, there were only three more, occasional issues of the original college review (the last in 1961). In the meantime a new Literary Society had come on the scene and in 1956 launched another magazine, Experiment, which, if less audacious and iconoclastic than its predecessors (this role had been taken over by Louis Johnson's Numbers), ran for 13 years and 13 issues.page 319
The 1950s was not an exciting period politically. The executive and Salient were in a conservative mood. The Socialist Club sought to maintain Victoria students' radical tradition, not of the red-ranting communism that Truth spied, but study, criticism and action (the ‘university red’ is ‘a thinking student with courage and a conscience’).25 The burning issue in the late 1940s and early '50s was international student solidarity: whether to affiliate to the communist-leaning International Union of Students and the World Federation of Democratic Youth (popularly known as ‘Woofdee’). The Socialist Club invited the president of the locked-out Seamen's Union, Jock Barnes, to their 1951 May Day meeting; held cottage evenings ‘chez Bollingers’, the home of Conrad Bollinger, leading campus socialist in the 1950s and early 1960s (later a member of the English Department for seven years, until his sudden death in 1975); at their annual weekend school they listened to Paul Robeson records, and discussed trade unions and the student and the socialist movement. Not that it was all earnestly political: in 1952, to the displeasure of the registrar, Socialist Club members stole the teachers' college piano and carried it to the gymnasium for a dance. The character of the club changed about this time, with the passing of the generation of ex-servicemen ‘with its strange mixture of idealism and toughness’.26 In 1956 internal discord resulted in the breakaway establishment of the Social Democratic Society of ‘independent left-wing liberals’,27 which in 1958 renamed itself the Labour Club and in 1962 Socialists again (rather than New Left, after the Review that everyone then read). Meanwhile, the original Socialist Club had been disaffiliated in 1957 after failing to file an annual report. ‘It has become a truism to say that Vic. is no longer a “hot-bed of communism”,’ Salient remarked that year.28
The O'Briens reigned over the association executive in the early 1950s. The future chancellor, Kevin, who had been elected president in the Chartist coup of 1948, resigned early in 1950 when his executive decided to invite Hewlett Johnson, the ‘red dean’ of Canterbury, to visit the college – a replay of the Gottwald telegram incident by which O'Brien had come to power, for the dean (who was attending a peace congress in Melbourne) didn't come to Wellington and the invitation was not sent. But O'Brien was returned to office in the elections a few months later, and his brother Maurice, who was the secretary, became president in 1952. Salient observed the passing of the O'Briens in July 1953 – but a motion before the AGM described the next president, accountancy student (and a later treasurer of the university) Malcolm McCaw, as ‘the First Protector For The O'Brien Regime’ (though this was a little unfair).29
Salient 's 1951 editor (an ex-Chartist) expressly repudiated the paper's own red tradition, maintained unwaveringly since 1938, for a policy of unbiased criticism, and over the next few years it became increasingly narrowly focused on college news – ‘a mere college version of a parish gossip-sheet’, Smad-like, until Con Bollinger became editor in 1957.30 There was little politics and a lot of sport in Salient for most of the 1950s, especially under sports editor and founder of the Bachelors' and Spinsters' Club, Bernie Galvin (later a university councillor and secretary of Treasury), who beat Tim Beaglehole for the presidency in 1954. In page 320 the later 1950s there was a good deal of social and moral commentary; the religious clubs were strong at this time. The association's 1956–57 president, John Marchant, discerned a shift in interest from politics to religion as a sign of Victoria students' more serious temper. Increasingly there was also a good deal of music. And the editors bemoaned apathy and the passing of the Body Corporate. If Salient was dull, they responded to critics, this was because students were dull. In 1951 ‘one of the dullest AGMs’ in living memory voted to raise the association fee from £1 12s 6d to £2 5s; 1953's AGM was ‘somnambulant’; in 1954, 63 students, 3% of the roll, attended; in 1955 the secretary of the association (Marchant) resigned in order to shock his fellow executive members into taking their job seriously, but was co-opted back on and became president the next year in an election in which seven positions were uncontested. In 1958 the secretary resigned over the relative merits and cost of a Gestetner and a Fordigraph machine.31
The infrastructure of student life in the university was greatly expanded in the 1960s. There were bigger bursaries, a new library, and the union building, of course, with its brand new committee rooms, club rooms and common rooms, a quiet room (all that remained of early proposals for a chapel), the theatre and a new cafeteria. University food, which had been provided by a succession of caterers under contract to the Students' Association since the 1930s, had been a perpetual source of complaint. It was old saveloys and burnt tripe (‘we prefer not to mention the cabbage’) in 1950; a new menu later that year offered a light evening meal – page 322 for fewer students now ate two full meals a day at the college – of ‘a soup and a savoury dish of potatoes, macaroni cheese, salad, perhaps devilled kidneys, or something similar’ for 1s 6d.35 The contract to run the new dining room, aka the ‘caf’, went to Fritz Levenbach, a German refugee, trained in his trade in Amsterdam and latterly chef at the Royal Oak Hotel, who ‘introduced Hungarian Goulash, and Chicken ragout to the student diet’ over the next 10 years, and yoghurt and other strange things.36 Feeding students was not an easy business. In the last term of 1961, 420 cups, 247 saucers, 369 dinner plates, 242 small plates, 198 soup plates, 110 small forks, 89 dessert forks, 50 soup spoons, 76 large knives, 61 small knives, 80 salt and pepper sets, 78 ashtrays and 198 glasses were stolen from the dining room.37 Within a year stern remarks were being made in Salient about the deteriorating state of the building generally (178 pieces of furniture had to be repaired or replaced between May 1962 and November 1963), and of the cafeteria in particular: leaving piles of salt on the tables was especially popular, it seems. More to the point, Levenbach was required to just break even or make a loss on university catering (between 1964 and 1968 a net loss of £60,000, in fact), making up the difference on private functions, from which the fee and a percentage of profit went into the student union building extension fund: but hiring out facilities that students considered their own for conferences and weddings was not very realistic.
The Students' Association ran its own coffee bar, also at a loss, under the stairs. Enhanced dining facilities were provided when the building was extended in 1970: a ‘restaurant’ on the middle floor and a coffee bar on the third. In the mid– 1970s patrons could choose between the ground-floor caf (serving sandwiches and takeaways now: full meals were a declining taste); the takeaway bar and grill, specialising in ‘gourmet-type delicacies’ such as steak, chicken and omelet ‘for the self-indulgent’; and Alfonso's Alternative for vegetarian and health foods upstairs.38 The cafeteria, a survey found in 1975, was ‘not held in high regard’ (this, it should be pointed out, was after the Levenbach era).39
The new union hall (with mezzanine) on the top floor became the venue for meetings, forums and ‘hops’. There was still no swimming pool, although this object had not been abandoned. Long-term planning for expanded student facilities – eyes were on Wai-te-ata Road – envisaged ‘a totally new Student Union complex based on a swimming pool’, with a billiard room as well.40 The arts centre plan was subsequently added in to this. But the only part that eventuated from this planning cycle was the 1979 Athfield-designed extension to the gym, transformed thereby into the Recreation Centre. Identification cards were issued by the Students' Association in 1965, but this was taken over by the library the next year. ‘Contact’, a one-stop information bureau to guide students to the expanding range of university services for them, was opened in 1969.
The idea of a student-owned bookshop had been in the air as early at least as 1944 when suggestions were first being gathered for what to have in the new building. In 1954 the association had experimented with selling textbooks (more cheaply than Whitcombe & Tombs downtown) in combination with their stationery page 323 scheme and second-hand bookstall, but realised that it would have to be done comprehensively to be viable. Interest was revived in 1963 when plans were being made for the student union extensions, and presidential candidate Peter Blizard made a bookshop part of his election campaign. It was taken up more seriously in 1964 after an approach from Whitcombe's subsidiary UBS, which had had the first university bookshop in Dunedin, then in competition with Whitcombe's, and was now setting out to capture the tertiary book market in the main centres. Only in Wellington did this plan fail. The Professorial Board and Council were now looking into the matter too: they were persuaded of the desirability of a university bookshop, but the catch was finding 2000 square metres of available university space. Whitcombe's chief competition in the Wellington market, Sweet and Maxwell, opened a ‘University Bookshop’ at the northern end of The Terrace in 1966, stocking a wider range of textbooks than their downtown shop which catered only to law and commerce students. In 1967 they made a conditional purchase of a house in Kelburn Parade, but an application to the City Council for zoning approval to sell books there, although supported by the university and Students' Association, was declined. Another house on the fringe of the campus was found, in Mount Street, and here Sweet and Maxwell's University Book Centre opened. Whitcombe's continued to offer strong competition: ‘Other universities have bookshops; Victoria has Whitcombe's,’ their Salient advertisement read. Facing liquidity problems, the Sweet and Maxwell shop was bought by the Students' Association in 1975 and became the Victoria Book Centre Ltd, the country's first wholly student-owned bookshop. Despite making no profit for two years, and its distance from the Student Union – some 20 metres, but they were steep ones – it survived, and remains student-owned.page 324
Gymnastics class: physical welfare officer Bill Landreth catches. M.D. King photo
The Students' Association also looked after its members' more personal needs. A hairdressing salon, The Woolshed, opened in 1970. Contraceptive vending machines were installed in 1972 (a few members of the university Council had hesitated). A creche was run, briefly, in the Memorial Theatre foyer in 1973 as a free alternative to the university's existing but overcrowded one. The movement for a university creche had begun with the formation of a Creche Association in February 1967, which minded babies at various locations – the Kelburn Plunket Rooms, private homes and the Boyd Wilson rugby clubrooms – before a university house was provided in Fairlie Terrace in 1969 (the first university creche in New Zealand). It was oversubscribed within a few years, and provided what may be Salient's best ever headline: ‘Baby Bites Vice-chancellor’.41 The house next door was taken over in 1975; a staff creche, however, was not established until 1980.
The university itself had taken its first steps to care for the bodily as well as the intellectual health of its students in 1951, when a physical welfare officer (Bill Landreth) was appointed, following a request from the Students' Association. Conditions were quite rudimentary. On one occasion the Extrav stage crew, short of timber for a set, cut up a gymnastics beam they found in the gym. ‘As the facilities available could not even be called the bare essentials needed for a full physical education programme, and as there were no other welfare officers, the service developed in some unusual directions’, including advising students with health, emotional and other personal problems, until the provision of a new gymnasium, an assistant and a comprehensive student welfare service in the 1960s.42 It was 20 years, then, since the abortive experiment of 1944 that a health service page 325 – ‘our own pet lost cause,’ remarked Salient – was achieved.43
Victoria's Council, the Health Department and college principals were discussing health schemes in the late 1940s, and in 1951 the Council approved a plan for one, then considered it some more. The question of whether it should be voluntary or compulsory was debated again, and decided again in favour of a voluntary service. Students now were also pressing for a counselling service. A Salient editorial suggested that senior students be appointed counsellors to freshers during orientation week in the meantime. A committee of the Professorial Board, convened to consider a proposal from the Federation of University Women that a dean of women be appointed, reported instead that a systematic approach to the welfare of all students was needed: it recommended a warden for the student union building, a part-time doctor, a welfare officer and a counsellor. The Council deferred its decision until the union building was open and another quinquennium came around.
Thus the managing secretary of the student union building, an Englishman, Ian Boyd, who was appointed in August 1961, was also charged with assisting the development of welfare services. He had a graduate degree in physics and gave lectures on electrical circuit theory as well. A top-ranking middle-distance runner in the 1950s – he was in the race at Oxford when Roger Bannister ran the first ‘four-minute mile’, and ran in the 1954 Empire Games and at Melbourne Olympics – he had been inspired to apply for the job, he later said, by the friendliness of his New Zealand running friends (Murray Halberg and others). An Accommodation Service was started in 1962; and an Appointments Board was set up, comprising university staff and employers, to provide what was at first called the University Placements Service, later the Careers' Service. Health and counselling services were established in 1964. Psychology lecturer Tony Taylor's voluntary student counselling became a full-time position, and the Health Service began with four part-time staff, with a full-time position of medical director established in 1966.44 Boyd gained the additional title then of director of Student Welfare Services, and moved into this role full time in 1970, until in 1984 he moved sideways into managing the university's building and site programme.45
The Student Welfare Services expanded steadily through the 1960s and 1970s, with strong support from both Williams and Kevin O'Brien, until some retrenchment in the fiscally straitened later 1970s. In recreation, as well as counselling, Victoria was ahead of the rest: the comprehensive programme developed once the new gymnasium opened was revamped in the 1970s to keep up with changing student lifestyles (including the impact of internal assessment).46 Whether the students should pay for such services was debated – the different universities followed a variety of practices – but not until 1981 did Victoria introduce a student services levy, following a government directive to all the universities to reduce their spending on student welfare by two-thirds (at the same time as economic conditions meant that there were more students, and they were using the services more). Victoria was spending more per student than any other university. It had, moreover, incurred the particular displeasure of the University Grants Committee page 326 for the amount it spent on staff, having established the higher-level welfare positions on the academic salary scale – a situation it now took steps to remedy. Net budgeted expenditure on the Student Welfare Services fell proportionately by half – from 2.34% to 1.61% of the total university budget – between 1980 and 1985–86. The Health Service had been established as a free, voluntary, preventive one based on an annual interview, much as it had been planned back in 1944. The students used it a little differently: they came, over time, less for an annual interview and more for general medical advice. A consultant psychiatrist was added to the staff in 1969. The Counselling Service noticed definite trends as well. The ‘barometric reading’ increased measurably in the early 1970s after the introduction of the flexible credit degree and in-term assessment: many more students were now coming with problems relating to their academic work.47 There was another marked rise in student stress levels in the early 1980s. The service was still dealing primarily with study-related problems, but increasingly too with worries about future personal and job security. And naturally, the service's role expanded as the student population did. Boyd became the university's liaison officer with the Department of Labour's immigration division in 1970, helping to smooth the business of re-entry permits for private overseas students. An orientation programme for overseas students was developed in the early 1970s, and one for mature students in 1979.
Accommodation was a more intractable problem. The state of Weir, and the culture of Weir, was not the most of it, although the residents periodically complained about the quality and quantity of the food and the deteriorating physical state of the building, and there was the scandal of 1963. The indefatigable New Zealand Truth, informed by the matron, exposed Weir on its front page, under the headline ‘Women and whoopee at Weir House’, as a den of iniquity, a hotbed of squalor, vandalism, drunkenness and naked women in the showers, which resulted in extensive renovations and the departure of both the matron and the warden.48 More serious, however, was that Weir had beds, then, for only 98 male students. A new wing which opened in 1968, built with Colombo Plan funds to cater primarily for Colombo Plan students,49 added 89 more but did little to ameliorate Victoria's endemic student housing shortage.
Weir remained the university's only hostel of its own. The original Victoria House, opened by the Women Students' Hostel Society in 1908, was renovated for the first time in 1955 and 10 more beds were added, bringing the total capacity of this establishment to 64. It no longer catered for teachers' college as well as university students, although the Student Christian Movement's smaller Helen Lowry hostel in Messines Road, Karori (opened in 1949), did. Other city hostels, like Feilden Taylor, Rudman Hall and Stuart Williamson House, took in smaller numbers of mostly male students, and these would progressively close down in the 1970s and 1980s. Eight per cent of Victoria's students lived in hostels in 1969.
Wellington ‘is easily the worst place in New Zealand as far as housing is concerned,’ Victoria informed the Hughes Parry committee in 1959, and the page 327 minister of housing himself agreed.50 The shortage of student accommodation was acute by the end of the 1960s, and ‘reaching crisis proportions’ by the early 1970s.51 The causes were not hard to see: expansion of the government sector and of the university itself into inner-city residential streets; the growth of student numbers; and the construction of the Wellington motorway through traditional student housing areas, like Shell Gully and Tinakori Road. Victoria had told the Hughes Parry committee that it hoped to have 534 more places in halls of residence in 1964, and was looking for funding to the government, the Colombo Plan, loans, and the subsidy that had never been paid on the Weir bequest (a vain hope). Williams had staff members on refresher leave in the 1950s bringing back information about university hostels overseas. The Federation of University Women was campaigning for more accommodation for women students.
But traditional halls of residence were not the future. Increasingly, students preferred flats. This was first signalled in 1965 in a comprehensive survey of 3595 students carried out by the Council's newly convened Standing Committee on Halls of Residence: among those who preferred to live away from home, flats were twice as popular as halls of residence or other hostels; 30% of students not in flats or rented houses would have liked to be.52 It took considerably longer for some of those working to solve the student accommodation problem to realise (or acknowledge) this.page 328
A concerted campaign by the churches was launched in the mid–1960s. The Presbyterians and Methodists had decided on a joint hostel development in Everton Terrace, down the hill from Weir House, and the Anglicans' Diocese of Wellington University Committee (chaired by university librarian Harold Miller) was looking for a site for theirs, to be called Trinity College. Negotiations were entered into with the City Council for the soon-to-be decommissioned Walworth Tip (now Western Park, where the Physics Department's radioactive waste was buried a few years later) and another site on Wilton Road. Plans for a hostel for 240 students, and a chapel, were well advanced before the committee decided that the terms under which the land was offered – a renewable 66-year lease – would not do. In September 1965 they settled on a site within the recently defined university zone, in Clermont Terrace. The Catholics came to the party last, when a Joint Standing Committee for Halls of Residence was being formed (in 1966), bringing together the Council's committee and the other interested parties. They set their eye on the Mount Street Cemetery as the site for Newman Hall.
A Halls of Residence Foundation was established by the four church groups, and a public appeal was launched in the second half of 1967. A little over $400,000 towards a target of $700,000 had been given by 2200 donors by the middle of 1968: large corporate donations came from the Wellington City Council ($50,000), the Girls' Friendly Society ($40,000) and New Zealand Breweries ($10,000). The Women Students' Hostel Society, meanwhile, went ahead with its expansion plan for Victoria House. Another property was purchased in 1968, at 288 The Terrace, and vacant land adjoining the original Victoria House A at number 282; Victoria House B (which housed only 16 students) was sold; and when the government approved a subsidy in August 1969, work could begin on a new wing, and renovations to the kitchen, which opened in 1971–72. The society had also looked at buying the Ambassador Flats on The Terrace, but the building proved too expensive to renovate. The Student Christian Movement closed its Messines Road hostel in 1967 and opened a temporary one in Newtown before a larger, purpose-built Helen Lowry Hall in Karori was ready (a little later than planned) also in 1972. It was the first to begin to move away from the traditional dormitory-style block.
The delay in the completion of the churches' projects – Everton in the mid– 1970s, Trinity and Newman not until the 1980s – was due partly to their grander scale and the wait for sufficient government funding, and partly to the question of what students wanted. Salient greeted the launch of the Halls of Residence appeal by pointing out that what students wanted was flats, and flats were cheaper to establish than hostels were to build and run. The university was becoming aware of this too. The Accommodation Service reported in 1969 that while most first-year students still preferred full board, the preference among second- and third-years, women especially, was for flats. At the end of 1969, on the recommendation of its Standing Committee, the university Council adopted a new policy on student accommodation, approving in principle of flats as well as traditional halls of residence. Not that the Halls of Residence Foundation was listening. They must page 329 be persuaded, Taylor wrote in evident frustration two years later, that ‘halls are out’.53 A fifth of Victoria's students were flatting in 1965; a quarter were in 1973; a third would be in 1980.
The Accommodation Service was busy. Five hundred and fifty-two students sought its assistance in 1967 – ‘the worst accommodation shortage ever,’ Salient reported, prematurely; 495 did in 1969, despite the new wing of Weir; 718 in 1970; 894 in 1971. A third of applications for the halls of residence were declined that year. It was becoming harder to find flats close to the university too: 39% of properties handled by the service in 1967 were within a mile of the campus; 29% in 1971. Rents were reportedly the highest in the country. And standards were deteriorating. Salient exposed ‘slum living’ conditions.54 The Tenants Protection Association was formed at Victoria in 1972 (later becoming the Wellington Tenants' Union), and in 1973 organised the long-running and ultimately successful Rama rent strike against one of the city's largest and least scrupulous landlords.
The Students' Association endeavoured to take matters into its own hands too, but with only minor success. During 1974 it sublet the Beverley Hills Private Hotel on The Terrace, at a net cost to the association of $3000. (Its plan to purchase a 21-bed hostel in Newtown in 1965 had been thwarted by the university Council, which was unwilling to see the students burden themselves with so much debt.) During 1972 and 1973 emergency and somewhat less than salubrious accommodation was also provided at the former Bowen Street Hospital, which was earmarked for demolition (along with the neighbouring Alexander Turnbull Library) for the motorway development. Tim Beaglehole (a Weir House warden in the 1960s: he had been appointed to sort out the mess in 1964) brought the vacant hospital and nurses' home to the university's attention in 1971. When the university rejected them both as substandard, the Students' Association approached the government itself. In its brief life as student digs ‘Bowen Hall’, run jointly by the association and the university, was a less formal establishment than the other university hostels, more or less self-managing and combining ‘the colourful range of characters found in a student hostel with the freedom of a flat’.55
The Presbyterian–Methodist committee, having refused at first to change its plans in favour of the now officially sanctioned flatting concept, came around in 1973 – Bob Clark was typically persuasive – and Everton Hall opened in 1975– 76, providing 131 places in 22 self-contained apartments. The Anglicans and Catholics took longer to convince. By 1968 the Trinity committee was considering three proposals for its Clermont Terrace site, from low- to high-rise. The architect favoured the high-rise option: as slim as possible so as to leave the neighbouring properties with views around it (they were well aware of the residents' antagonism to the university's claim on this area). The Trinity and Newman appeals were combined in 1973, and detailed plans were now in hand for twin, 13-storey circular towers (with men and women separated on alternate floors). In 1975 plans were announced for two low-rise buildings instead – Newman Hall and Trinity College – which would merge with the landscape, and provide apartment-style accommodation, common rooms, a chapel and resident chaplain, and ‘an atmosphere page 330 conducive to the development of the whole human personality – spiritually, intellectually and physically’.56 Financial obstacles (inflation and the plight of the University Grants Committee subsidy scheme) and another change of plan later, five existing houses on the site, left vacant by Sociology's move to the Von Zedlitz building, were rehabilitated over the summer of 1979–80 to make a student flatting complex, known as Trinity Newman.57 It would later be extended in the southern student housing zone around Fairlie Terrace, Landcross Street and Adams Terrace, and encompassed some 50 houses by the mid–1990s.
In the mid–1970s the older halls of residence had faced financial crisis and the threat of closure. In the three years to 1976 Weir, Victoria House and Helen Lowry suffered a combined loss of $91,000. They had been constrained from putting up their boarding rates by the level of the student accommodation allowance. Helen Lowry had long-term debts, exacerbated by rapidly rising interest rates; most of its residents were teachers' college students, and it was taken over now by the Department of Education. Victoria House remained popular, with an occupancy rate of 98% since the early 1970s, but also had substantial mortgage liabilities and its old wooden wing was in urgent need of repair. It was bailed out by the government in 1979 with a $195,000 grant for capital works and maintenance. Weir House was financially more secure: debt free, and able to earn significant extra income from conferences and casual business during university vacations. But it was not popular. Applications fell by over half, from 161 to 77 between 1974 and 1978. It was becoming common for students to leave to go flatting mid-year, and fewer senior students were reapplying, when once they had to be ejected to make room for freshmen. The cut in the university's intake of private overseas students in 1977 also had an effect. The house was in physical decline. After the biennial conference of the New Zealand Association of Heads of University Residential Colleges and Halls was held at Victoria in 1977 its chairman wrote to the chancellor conveying the delegates' unanimous dismay at ‘its un-cared for and ill-kept condition … a blot on the standards of all the Halls in New Zealand’.58
The corporate culture of Weir was also passing. Initiation ceremonies went some time in the early 1960s, the annual ball and picnic in the early 1970s; there was no longer a Weir column in Salient. If Weir until the 1960s was the bastion of Victoria's beer drinkers and rugby players, its defining character from the 1970s was its cosmopolitanism. Some older traditions persisted, however, such as the annual raid on Victoria House – traditionally perpetrated with a substantial element of wit and co-operation from the inside. In 1976 the Weirmen threw flour bombs and eggs, lit a fire in an upstairs room, flooded two floors with the fire hoses, and let off a smoke bomb which sent four residents to hospital suffering from shock and smoke inhalation. In 1978 local dignitaries and sentimentalists taking the last ride on Wellington's original cable cars, a traditional target of Weir pranksters, were pelted with eggs and water bombs. Boys will be boys. Weir was unpopular especially because it was now the university's only single-sex hostel. Vandalism and drunkenness were an expression of the first-year male university student's frustration and lack of social responsibility, observed the secretary of the residents' page 331 association: ‘On Friday night after the pubs close, there's toilet paper all over the walls. The last time we had a wine and cheese evening, the floor was covered in an inch of beer.’59
Thus, the integration of Weir House was brought about partly to improve the establishment's ‘moral tone’, and partly to boost its occupancy rate and rescue it from closure. It had the desired effect on both counts. There was no mixed-flatting fuss at Victoria, as there was at Otago in 1967, when the university authorities' official disapproval of the practice prompted a tense confrontation with its students (and a celebrated small ode by James K. Baxter). Letting women into Weir, officially, had been talked about since at least the beginning of the 1970s. But the shortage of accommodation for male students was a problem (landlords appeared to prefer women, and first-year men preferred full board). Men were admitted to Victoria House when its new wing opened in 1972, as a trial in the first instance: it was judged a success, despite the expulsion of eight students during the year, four of them men, for holding noisy late-night parties. A draft proposal for admitting women to Weir was prepared. A variation was required to the terms of William Weir's will, which had specified a hostel for male students, before 40 women could take up residence in 1979 and the fortunes of Weir House turned around.
The pattern of student politics at Victoria in the 1960s and after is a familiar one: a rise in political activism in the second half of the 1960s, reaching a peak in the early '70s, followed by a shift in attention towards more domestic concerns. There are other threads in this narrative too, of course. Fashion, for example. At some point, during the 1950s, the wearing of college blazers went out. These, in ‘an unobtrusive pond-scum green’, were for ‘mental invalids’ only, advised Salient in a report on college fashion statements in 1952. There were, it observed, the junior executives, ‘with horribly striped stiff collars … stringy little ties … and late-Victorian suits’; Campus Man, ‘easily recognised by his baggy corduroy trousers (red, green or purple), and his violent pullover. Sometimes reindeer course across his massive chest’; and, in smaller numbers, the Spivs, in their ‘bottle-green gabardine suits with matching shoulder pads, crepe-soled shoes, and fluorescent ties’.60 Freshers were advised to wear blazers ‘at least one size too large’ in ‘the correct brownish shade and droopy shape’, and ‘a gabardine coat of unobtrusive shade … is indispensible’.61 Indeed, there was a spate of thefts of gabardine overcoats from the men's common room in 1954. A reporter who attended a student fashion parade organised by the DIC department store in 1956 despaired. ‘Much-bagged “bags” and disreputable jackets have been the deliberately-acquired “student look” for University men over the years’, while for women it was ‘an unattractive sweater and skirt outfit, varied only by an occasional change of neckerchief’: advice was given on how to dress smartly and economically.62
Duffel coats replaced gabardine in the 1960s. The counter-culture reached Salient in 1968, after several years of the paper trying, quite successfully, to look like a downtown daily.63 Psychedelic doodles adorned its pages, and cartoons: the page 332 Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers and Fat Freddy's Cat became regulars until the late 1970s. Hair grew now, and sideburns. A journalist reporting on enrolment day in 1970 commented: ‘there was long, long hair, shorter long hair, longer short hair, long sideburns, luxuriant sideburns, moustaches and beards. And “The Post” departed the campus convinced that the “short-back-and-sides” era has truly passed.’64 By the end of the 1970s, however, it would have been hard to identify a particular sartorial style as the ‘definite insignia of varsity rank’, as duffel coats had been in the 1960s.65
There were no barricades in the streets of Kelburn in 1968, but ripples if not the tide of international student unrest reached Wellington. There was a definite quickening of the political temper in the middle of the decade. Salient's first School Supplement in October 1962 advised prospective students that while a rise of leftist activity could be detected, ‘the right-wing (mainly law and commerce students) is the most powerful force on campus. Most law students standing for Exec. make the grade.’66 The paper itself was in one of its more conservative phases. The editor (for a few months), Geoffrey Palmer, devoted his first editorial of 1963 to advising women students about the hazards of university life: ‘The most important thing a woman can do is to maintain her femininity … her taste in clothes and makeup, while avoiding becoming loud’ – ‘a harsh and brash super-sophisticate, with dyed hair and drip dry morals’. The next issue warned freshers to watch out for the ‘pseud’, who takes English I and Greek HAL, ‘dashes off sloppy poetry for the little magazines, appears conscientiously at the art films at the Paramount in duffel coat and beard, and frequents the right coffee-bars, using his out-of-date pseudo-American hip slang … His loudest proclamations are naturally against all that the solid chaps at Vic stand for.’67 A ‘girl of the week’ was featured.
Political issues began to appear (and the girl disappeared) later in the year: Vietnam, racism, abortion and nuclear testing. A student delegation visited the French embassy and the prime minister, Keith Holyoake, who dismissed them as ‘talking a lot of Socialist and neo-Communist ideas’.68 Three years later he was subjected to a noisy demonstration by some 20 students when he received an honorary degree at the official opening of the Rankine Brown building, an incident which drew hostile editorials downtown, as well as some disapproval from Salient and student leaders – about the way it was conducted, however, not about student protest per se. A special general meeting in March 1964 had carried a motion rescinding a standing executive resolution that the association not make statements on moral, political or religious issues that did not directly affect students. The president, Peter Blizard, reporting to the vice-chancellor on the students' contribution to the CORSO page 333 Freedom From Hunger campaign in 1963, observed ‘a new movement in student affairs both as far as Victoria University is concerned and on a national basis: it has been decided that perhaps in the past we have paid sufficient attention to matters which directly concern students, to the possible exclusion of those matters which are of concern to us all.’69
Forum began in 1964: a weekly soapbox session on the lawn outside the cafeteria. In 1965, 1000 students, Salient reported, boycotted lectures with the official (though controversial) support of the executive, and marched to Parliament to protest over fees; Salient saw a ‘remarkable growth of Student action on Victoria campus’.70 Of course not only students, nor all students of course, were ‘radicalised’ in the 1960s. New Zealand's first Vietnam teach-in was held at Victoria in July 1965, organised by the Students' Association, introducing a new medium of political action which remained in vogue for several years. Some hundreds of students signed a petition asking the government to allow Mandy Rice-Davies into New Zealand; 80, just 2% of the roll, attended a special general meeting on the sending of New Zealand troops to Vietnam. But the age of demonstrations had dawned. The Students' Association, said its president in 1969, ‘should function as an agent of social renewal. This requires the expression and promotion of progressive social and political attitudes.’71 The president-elect in 1972 told a reporter that he had ‘been actively associated with an average of a demonstration a month so far this year’.72
Vietnam was the catalysing cause, but South Africa, apartheid and sport was probably the longest-running subject of student activism. There were American military bases and nuclear tests to oppose, tenants' rights and homosexual law reform to support, and security agents on campus to expose. The last was really Auckland's scandal, when the discovery of an undercover agent enrolled as a student there in 1966 resulted in a commission of inquiry and a ruling that the service could not conduct its business in universities. The fact that there was a student at Victoria in 1966 who had worked for the security service a year before was not a cause of the same celebrity, but the presence, rumoured or real, of spies on campus continued periodically to excite student suspicion and the publication of fuzzy photographs of suspected individuals in Salient. (It had been strongly believed, among students, that there was a security service presence on the staff of the History Department in the 1950s.) A decade later, in 1977, the university Council at the instigation of its pro-chancellor W.J. Scott, recalling the von Zedlitz affair, publicly opposed the controversial SIS Amendment Bill.
Vietnam street theatre on the steps of Parliament during students' arts festival, 1970. Ans Westra photo
Later in the year, during the national students' arts festival in August, seven Auckland students and protestor extraordinaire Tim Shadbolt were arrested and charged with trespassing for sleeping over in the union building. This incident provoked much discussion over the apparently vexed question of who had the page 335 authority to call the police onto campus (conventionally the vice-chancellor did; on this occasion the festival organiser and the managing secretary of the union had). A more serious incident involving the police was the disruption of the Pacific Basin Economic Council meeting held in the student union building in May 1972 – ‘probably the worst [violent protest] in the history of the University,’ the Students' Association President reckoned: delegates were forced to clamber over seated students to get to the union hall, and the police were flour-bombed.75 This fracas resulted in a protracted formal investigation and the re-drafting of the university's disciplinary regulations, and a keen debate within the association about the nature of protest: ‘the biggest general meeting of the university students’ association in its 75-year history' censured the executive for criticising the demonstrators.76 This, really, was as bad as it got.
Students and trade unionists demonstrate at the opening of Parliament, June 1968 (the governor-general had to use the side door). Evening Post
More domestic matters provoked students into action too: the quality of the air in the Rankine Brown building, for example; caf prices; cable car fares. A long-running campaign to persuade the City Council to put a pedestrian crossing at the dangerous Kelburn Parade/Salamanca Road intersection – carried on by the regular appearance of an unofficial whitewashed crossing at capping times, as well as more formal means – was brought to conclusion by a spontaneous ‘stand-in’ by 400 students (led by Michael Hirschfeld) after Forum in July 1966. Two crossings were installed, one on Salamanca Road and one on Kelburn Parade, within the month.79 (That the association president of the time, John McGrath, was the son of a member of the City Council caused some embarrassment downtown.) On a quite different theme – but one perhaps dearer to the hearts of more students than Indochina – there was the Campaign for Civilised Drinking. A group of Political Science students and staff campaigned for the end of six-o'clock closing in the 1967 referendum with the inspired slogan ‘Vote Now, Drink Later’.
There was a more sober side to student affairs in the late 1960s, exemplified by the student-initiated Joint Committee on Student Participation set up in 1968, a deliberately responsible approach to the demand for student power. Making and implementing recommendations as they went along was part of the strategy – of ‘play[ing] it quietly, endeavouring to create an atmosphere of confidence’.80 Achieving student representation on the Professorial Board was considered a particular coup, argued before the board by the association's law-student president, Douglas White, and education officer Caroline (Candy) McGrath. A bunch of law students and self-proclaimed moderates had decided to get involved in running things in the mid–1960s. (Law students had traditionally taken a prominent part in Students' Association affairs, which may reflect nothing more than the nature of their profession, but this was in the nature of a planned assault.)81 John McGrath defeated David Shand for the presidency in July 1966 on a platform of keeping international politics out of student affairs; White, the public relations officer, won in 1967. Both were future chancellors of the university. Their successors for the next three years were law students too.
The 1968 Students' Association executive (Douglas White, Victoria's first full-time, paid student president, front centre). VUWSA
The presidency carried an honorarium (of $400) from 1969. This came as part of a more radical reform of the association's political structure, into ‘a most exciting concept of advanced democracy’, although not quite what its original proponent had had in mind. White had put forward a proposal in 1968 for a representative senate of about 100 students, with the power to form all association policy subject to general meetings; a much smaller executive; and a full-time paid president. His senate proposal emerged from a committee and a special general meeting a year later as the Student Representative Council (SRC), a fortnightly council at which all students had voting rights (if they bothered to turn up and exercise them), with the power to formulate policy on all matters except financial. Actually, the first SGM called to vote on the proposal failed to reach a quorum: it was passed a few page 339 weeks later by 42 votes to 32. After several months' trial a general meeting rejected a proposal from the president and president-elect to reconstitute SRC on the original model as an elected body, and Victoria's ‘experiment in Athenian-style direct democracy’ was to stay.83 The executive was reduced from 15 members to eight, the other seven portfolios becoming SRC offices. The first SRC voted against the establishment of a licensed restaurant or chartered club in the union building, for a good democratic reason: that a substantial proportion of students were under the legal drinking age.
Alcohol and the student union has its own story. For many decades liquor could be consumed at student functions only with the permission of the vice-chancellor and with a member of the academic staff present. The Law Faculty Club, for example, imbibed gin, whisky, beer and wine; the Catholic Students' Guild sherry and wine; the History Society New Zealand wine. An arrangement reached with the police in 1966 allowed drinks to be ‘purchased’ with tickets paid for outside the venue, a rather quaint interpretation of the licensing laws that continued until 1988 when the Students' Association finally acquired a liquor licence.84
Victoria's student leaders in the ‘radical’ sixties had also paid determined attention to public relations, in an effort to dispel the public image of the student as a ‘weirdie-beardie layabout’.86 It was with this purpose that the Students' Association initiated the university open day in 1967, and a serious effort was made to rehabilitate capping, to vanquish that other dominant image of the student in the public eye, the drunken prankster. ‘The Open Day visitor will find the university much less deviant from the rest of society than he probably imagines it to be,’ reported the Post's campus correspondent (who was also a member of the Students' Association executive). ‘The unwashed, the alienated and the bearded are certainly there but they are still fairly small minorities.’87 A film project, on the other hand – a 20-minute introduction to life at Victoria, commissioned by the Students' Association in 1964 – ‘blundered on’ for four years and was never completed.88
A related development was the renaming of the student union building the ‘university union’ in 1970, to emphasise (or rather to encourage) its role as ‘a joint community centre’, where students and staff could ‘mix socially in a relaxed atmosphere’, and as a ‘meeting point of city and University’ – as Jim Williams had dreamed.89 (For a brief period in the 1960s it had seemed that it might be like this: staff lunched in the cafeteria, and an interdisciplinary lunchtime lecture series was arranged, until soon overcrowding and the rise of student radicalism kept the staff away.) It was changed back to the student union building in 1991, preceding the opening of the award-winning, Athfield-designed tower extension the following year. The name university union had never caught on. Nor had it achieved its broader purpose of busy togetherness, for a variety of reasons including the changing geographical centre of the university: the drift from north to south. (Nor, for that matter, did some student leaders now want it to, preferring to guard it as the Students' Association's base.) But there was concern on all sides in the early 1970s, among students, administration and staff, about the alienating, ‘meaningless impersonality’ of the modern university, which had doubled in student numbers in 10 years.90 In this spirit staff were invited to SRC, and SASRAC, or the Staff and Student Relations Advisory Committee, was born: twice weekly in the smoking room all members of the university were invited ‘for a small charge [to] consume a modest amount of alcohol and engage in convivial discussion’.91 Les Cleveland sang and gave a talk about folk songs at the inaugural SASRAC on 18 July 1973. Alienation, of course, was a characteristic of the times: it was the era of ‘dropping out’. (Anxious university planners watching the unpredictable movements of the student roll in the early 1970s should perhaps not have been so surprised after all.)page 341
Salient in the 1970s continued to give voice to the disaffected and the idealistic young intellectual, more or less stridently from year to year – covering a spectrum of issues from Africa, Indochina and East Timor, to Bastion Point, the Clutha Dam, and the Royal Commission on Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion. Like environmentalism, feminism was a rising movement in the 1970s, and the growing number of women students changed the character of student activity in a number of ways. A Women's Liberation Front was formed in 1970, followed by the University Feminists, then the Women's Action Group. The Students' Association had its first elected woman president in 1970, Margaret Bryson. The second, Lisa Sacksen in 1975, became the first woman for 60 years to be elected a life member of the association in 1980, and only the fourth of a total of 36 to that date. (Harry Sansum, a student of the 1920s and '30s and self-appointed records keeper, who had made the life membership of the Students' Association his life's work, was a little perturbed.)92 Feminism also effected the demise, in 1970, of the Miss Victoria contest, which had been held more or less annually since the early 1960s (the winner going on to contest the Miss University title at Winter Tournament), although not without some ambivalence from the outset.93 A move by Margaret Bryson to desegregate the union building toilets, on the other hand, failed in the face of plumbing regulations – but after having provoked some uproar (it was Victoria's equivalent of Otago's mixed-flatting affair).
There was a clear, although by no means complete, shift in the focus of student political energies in this decade away from international political issues to domestic, educational concerns. A national action campaign was launched over the Labour government's foot-dragging with the Standard Tertiary Bursary, and its level when it was introduced in 1976 – although several hundred Victoria students also marched that year against apartheid (the All Blacks were touring South Africa again), and a few hundred when US vice-president Nelson Rockefeller visited in 1975. Internal assessment, increasing workloads, restructured degrees and the quality of teaching were also of deep concern to Victoria's students from the early 1970s. A May page 343 week forum in 1973 on the topic ‘Why I am pissed off with this place’ indicates the mood. Previously, Salient had rarely reported on academic matters, lectures or lecturers (notable exceptions being an extended debate over the Asian Studies troubles and the campaign to end the BA foreign language requirement). By 1976 it carried regular course critiques – although the editor was disappointed by the lack of staff contributions.
Others besides students also lamented the effect of assessment reform, however pedagogically progressive, on the quality of ‘student life’. The Counselling Service and the student union management committee asked the university Council in 1973 to declare Wednesday 12–2pm a class-free period to encourage use of the building. In the 1960s, during the first and second terms the union building would be crowded mid-morning and mid-afternoon with 300 or 400 students in the cafeteria ‘drinking coffee and discussing the world's problems’, while the library stayed virtually empty until the third term.95 Assignments, mid-year exams, the southwards creep of the campus, growing economic and academic pressure, and the changing demography of the student body reversed that. Now students ate their lunch in the library.
Large numbers of students ‘mobilised’ against the 1981 Springbok rugby tour, and a much smaller number mobilised in support of it, during that bitter and violent winter which divided New Zealand, not just its universities. The 1981 tour also moved the focus of activist attention from apartheid in South Africa to racism in New Zealand, although this issue had by no means been absent from the pages of the student press in earlier decades. But 1981 marks the end of large-scale student activism directed outside the university system itself. In the 1980s it was again bursaries and education funding that incited students – fewer and fewer of them – to demonstrate. The 1981 Springbok tour had also been the subject of a research project in the History Department, which employed a dozen of its students over the summer of 1981–82, when the government, briefly, directly subsidised student holiday jobs. But the replacement of the Standard Tertiary Bursary with the Tertiary Study Grant, and the beginning of parental means-testing, signalled the end of a period of what had been comparatively generous student support. Expectations both of what students needed, and who should provide it, were changing.
Students have taken to the streets not only with political intent. The procession has a much longer tradition than the demonstration. Capping tells a number of stories. One is signalled by the change in the route of procesh, which by the 1950s no longer ended in Post Office Square but went from town to the university. Capping over Victoria's first century went from being a Wellington event to being a more self-referential, university event, and by the 1980s to being hardly an event at all.
Procesh proceeded through the 1950s, in its traditionally offensive manner, against various odds. It was banned in 1951 following police clashes with locked-out watersiders. In 1953 a number of students were arrested and charged with using indecent language when police interrupted their ‘prayer meeting’ at the Taj Mahal – the mooresque men's toilet block at the top of Courtenay Place, a perennial capping target (others included the statues of Queen Victoria in Cambridge Terrace and ‘King Dick’ Seddon in Parliament grounds). The style of capping day activities, the superintendent of police observed, ‘was slipping “year by year”’.96 Procesh 1954 brought about the resignation of the chairman of the City Council's transport committee after the Council voted to reverse its earlier decision to ban the event page 345 this year, so long as the Students' Association accepted responsibility for any damage done.97 The next year's was cancelled because of the weather. 1958 saw an effort to arrest the deterioration of the last several seasons: a ‘clean’ Cappicade was produced, sold a respectable 20,000 copies and made several hundred pounds' profit for the building fund; and for the first time the proceeds of the procesh collection were given to charity. (£182 was collected for Birthright; by the late 1960s up to $2000 was collected for a different charity each time.) But offence, of course, was the point. Salient judged procesh 1958 ‘not very brilliant’, and the press reported that ‘Wellington's response … was about as overcast as the weather’.98
Extrav still played its season at the Opera House. The show remained topical, but not bitingly political in the Meek tradition of the 1930s and '40s which was the epitome of the genre. In the 1950s, following changes in public taste, believed Spike, satire was replaced by burlesque, allegory by ‘the easier, occasional pieces of wit in a roughly localised scene’. Apparently, Salient said of 1956 (which it thought ‘the best in years’), ‘the barbed political reference of Bollinger and gang [author of 1951's Sidarella] has gone out of fashion’.99 The 1958 Extrav, Paye Off, referred to the new ‘pay as you earn’ income tax system (NZUSA was protesting over students' inclusion in it). VAT '59 featured ‘a back-country hick who comes to the big city of Kittsburg to rescue the country from its dangerous economic situation by making and selling Taipa Gin’.100 The second half of the 1950s also saw the ascendancy of style over script, especially under the hand of Bill Sheat, producer and/or writer of six Extravs between 1954 and 1960. Although it had always been an elaborate (and costly) affair, by the end of this decade Extravaganza had evolved into ‘a slick and polished show, stereotyped and “low-brow”’ (it had always of course been low-brow).101page 346
Crisis struck Extrav in 1963. On a motion of the president, concerned about poor financial control and the growing numbers involved who were not in fact students, the executive voted for it to be replaced by a Drama Club production. A protest meeting was called and Extrav was saved – but it met ‘widespread public indifference’ and considerable antipathy from students, and lost over £1000.102 This marked the end of an era. In 1964 there was a new venue, the Memorial Theatre, and a new style, the revue (both of which developments Bill Sheat had suggested four years earlier). Its focus moved too, this year at least, from domestic to international affairs: Profumo, the Beatles, the British election, TV and the arms race. (It appeared, however, ‘that Opera House drinking habits die hard, for liquor caused many problems’.)103
Procesh 1964 contained a healthy 35 floats, success ‘marred only by excessive throwing of flour bombs and fruit’, one arrest and a series of complaints from the public ‘particularly concerning the dry-cleaning of clothing’.104 This was a good year for stunts too. There was a mock drive-by murder at Pigeon Park, when convinced bystanders called an ambulance and the police, and four students were taken away for questioning, and Peter Sinclair was kidnapped from Broadcasting House. Stunts were becoming an increasingly elaborate part of the capping programme, a stunt co-ordinator having been appointed for the first time in 1960, and the Students' Association taking responsibility for all stunts registered with the capping controllers.
Procesh was an earlier victim of changing student habits. In 1969 president Margaret Bryson called for a change of tone: for less drinking and a greater emphasis on community service (hospital visiting, for example) and the charity collection. But when the bill for damages after the 1970 procesh, mostly from the trashing of hotel bars, came to nearly $1000, an SRC voted by 103 to 74 to abolish it for good. (The secretary of the Wellington Hotel Association sent the following itemised list of damages to the Students' Association: 60 broken beer jugs and 90 broken glasses at the Gresham Hotel; a spirit bowser, 144 glasses and 24 jugs broken at the Grand; the theft of $17 from the cash box at the Carlton; a dozen broken glasses and one broken jug at the Britannia; $30 worth of breakages at the Duke of Edinburgh; and 10 broken glasses, 14 broken jugs and the theft of 26 pints beer and two tables from the St George.)107 There was protest, naturally, but a feeble revival in 1971 was the last. (Not until 1978, however, did the Council abolish the free period that had been allowed for procesh.)
With procesh went Cappicade, that ‘magazine of pornography and entertainment designed to give a good impression of the varsity to the community’ or, less indulgently, ‘the dreary annual semi-pornographic prattlings of an ill-educated “intelligentsia”’ that had continued to bring complaints about sexual indecency from Froggy de la Mare.108 Cappicade had been in trouble for some years already. There was none in 1965 after the printer baulked at the content and legal advice declared that a quarter of its pages were unprintable. Over the next few years it also struggled against competition from Masskerade, which Massey students were selling in Wellington and Auckland in contravention of an agreement that each university keep to its own turf, and sales continued to decline.
Capping stunts went on though. Bogus public notices gained popularity in the 1970s: notices delivered to households advising that their cats must be registered, for example; or that part of Kelburn was to be levelled to become Wellington's second airport; and, most famously, the swine flu warning of 1976, when residents were asked to take a urine sample to the nearest post office (the district medical officer took the joke in the spirit in which it was intended, until people began turning up with their jars and bottles). Streaking enjoyed a brief popularity in this decade. Another capping tradition that survived, indeed thrived, was drinking. page 348 The pub crawl developed in the wake of procesh, and by the mid–1970s capping week activities also included a drinking horn and ‘chunder mile’, which had remained Tournament staples. And fewer and fewer students were involved.
The decline of capping as the centre of the students' social calendar and sense of self was not peculiar to Victoria, just as the essential characteristics of the event itself were not. The evolution of capping from a public, exoteric occasion into a smaller, introverted one has been observable in universities everywhere. It has been argued that the cause was the ‘death of humour’ in late twentieth-century western culture.109 An easier explanation is the growth of the university and more diverse nature of its students. Graduation certainly lost something of its communal meaning when it became too big for one ceremony, and its personal one when the graduand was one of several hundred to file across the stage. Victoria's graduation was first divided into two ceremonies in 1968. The year before it had been held early in March instead of in May, but this experiment was not judged a success because many students had not received their results in time to register. Capping, as a social occasion, had gone ahead at the usual time anyway, with some debate about changing its name to ‘Victoria Week’, perhaps, or ‘Rag Week’. Graduation also signified something different to a generation of cynical, political, post-'60s students than it had to their forebears. The increasingly beery, boorish nature of capping activity also came in for a feminist critique. There was a brief revival of that style in the 1980s, when a ‘capping band’ of drunk, or at least drinking, male students in fancy dress roamed across the campus interrupting lectures: a pale imitation of procesh. Other students resented the disruption to their classes, and after a fight nearly broke out in one the practice was banned. Victoria's students in the 1980s were no more ‘playing the same games’ – recalling Spike's greeting to the happy band of wayfarers of 1902 – than they were laughing at the same professorial jokes or reading the same indigestible books.page 349
The cast of One in Five: Dave Smith, Cathy Downes, John Clarke, Helene Wong, Roger Hall
Studentdom, as Spike described it – the corporate culture of the university – is for ever in decline. Another trajectory of Victoria's students' history is the rise of culture. ‘We have a reputation for being Communists, good footballers, undesirable characters, potent beer-drinkers, and on Capping day, a public nuisance,’ one wrote in Salient in 1955. ‘Why can't Victoria be another Heidelberg or Jena or Oxford?’110 This was somewhat optimistic. But the practice of the arts grew both inside and outside the lecture theatre, even without an arts centre of either kind.
The two developments were not always mutually supportive. Student drama appears to have gone into decline after Drama Studies began. Malaise came over the Drama Club in the 1970s, after a flourishing 1960s. The club was bankrupt in 1974, and was still trying to revive itself four years later. In the 1980s the Drama Club season was essentially the outdoor summer Shakespeare, which began in 1982 with A Midsummer Night's Dream in the Quad. (It was not an original idea: Auckland students, for example, had been staging outdoor Shakespeare since 1964.) It is notable that a 1997 pick of Victoria's ‘all time ten best shows’, albeit constrained by the subjectivity and memories of its compilers, included only three productions after 1970. The list began with Jean Cocteau's The Infernal Machine of 1947, with a cast which included John McCreary, Richard Campion and George Webby, and original music by Douglas Lilburn, signifying ‘the post-war generation's bold new approach to drama’; it included Troilus and Cressida directed by Roger Savage in 1964, with music by Jenny McLeod; and Macbeth directed by Phil Mann in 1970 with Sam Neill in the lead.111 Curiously, perhaps, it did not include Lysistrata, which caused an outcry (as performances of Lysistrata are wont to do) in 1963. ‘Rude, crude and Kinseyish,’ the Drama Club advertised the production; ‘obscene and grossly offensive,’ thought the Reverend Ian Fraser of Lower Hutt, who formally complained to the chancellor and the attorney-general.112 This was becoming a particularly trying year for Victoria, what with the Richardson affair and the radiation scandal: not an easy time to be the acting vice-chancellor. I.D. Campbell appointed a committee to investigate (professors Gordon, Norrish and Hughes, page 350 and Peter O'Brien, the students' Council representative). Four months later, having received no report, he was dismayed to learn that they had not met: ‘Professor Gordon,’ he reported to the vice-chancellor, ‘was pursuing a policy of masterly inactivity, apparently hoping that the matter would be forgotten by the complainant.’113 The committee reported, when they got around to it, that neither was the play immoral nor the production offensive, and no further action was called for. The production is remembered, though, for its artistic statement as well as its controversy. (The music was by Robin Maconie, a Page/Lilburn graduate, who went on to become the international authority on Stockhausen.)
Like other student activities, drama suffered from the 1970s from ‘assessment syndrome’. But culture on campus developed in more organised ways. Victoria played an important role in the establishment of the national student arts festivals. At NZUSA's Easter council in 1950 this college had proposed a ‘competitive festival contest of Drama, Debating, Public Speaking, Choral and Orchestral music’ to balance the organisation's heavy emphasis on sport, without result. In 1957 Victoria's proposal to hold an arts festival the following year received the approval of the national body, and the keen support of vice-chancellor Jim Williams, who envisaged a university festival, not just a student one. But plans for the event, now to take place in May 1959, were abandoned at the end of 1958 because the first Wellington Festival was to be held not long afterwards. And meantime, Otago had gone ahead and organised the first annual student arts festival in conjunction with Winter Tournament in August 1958. Victoria first hosted it in 1965, and at its suggestion the arts festival was logistically separated from Winter Tournament from the following year. It came to Wellington next in 1970, when the musical highlight, a performance of Stockhausen's two-hour Hymnen, was perhaps over-shadowed by the arrest of Shadbolt and friends in the union building at 5am.
In the 1970s a national Students' Arts Council was formed, initially to manage the arts festival, and in 1975 it launched a national campus circuit of rock concerts with a Split Enz tour in March, followed by New Zealand's own glam-rock band Space Waltz in June. The council played an important part, nationally, in the evolution of Orientation from a formal welcome to freshers to a two-week, student-run cultural festival. The term ‘orientation’ appears to have come into use sometime in the mid–1950s. It consisted then of an address from the principal followed by a freshers' welcome in the gym, lectures on study methods and how to use the library, and the freshers' ball. At the beginning of the 1960s there was supper after the principal's address, a freshers' social, a new Students' Association evening, faculty evenings (poorly attended), the usual lectures and a university tour, an Orientation Ball in the Town Hall, and a church service. Five or six hundred students and the academic staff had attended the first VUW church service at St Paul's Cathedral in 1958 (where the dean of Wellington observed that both the church and the university were in the business of ‘the manufacturing of souls of good quality’).114 A Commencement Ball was added in 1965, for all students, not only freshers. By the '70s the term ‘freshers’ had gone the way of college blazers and scarves. In 1976 the two-week Orientation programme included films, forums and a folk page 351 concert, club meetings and a SASRAC, and Students' Arts Council tours of Split Enz and blues legends Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee.
Student radio was born during Orientation 1977, a year later at Victoria than at Canterbury and Auckland, broadcasting under a temporary licence as 2XA. It was named Radio Active for the protest against the visit that summer of the American nuclear warship Truxtun to Wellington harbour. In 1982 it became New Zealand's first FM radio station. It had started out playing Pink Floyd and Supertramp in the days of disco, embraced punk when it arrived at the end of the '70s, played controversial rap in the early 1990s. It was then that the Students' Association stopped funding the station; in 1992 it went independent when the association moved to close it down because it was losing money and no longer regarded as a ‘core’ student service. In 1998 Radio Active moved, not of its own volition, off the campus and downtown: the association needed the space it occupied in the union building. The move demonstrated, though, something that had happened already. Radio Active, while still an ‘alternative’ radio station, was no longer only a student radio station. This signals something larger: that the demise of a definable student culture was paralleled by the growth of a wider youth culture. No one would now presume to describe the student union building as the cultural centre for the city and a meeting place for the majority of the city's youth.