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James K. Baxter Complete Prose Volume 4

Dunedin and Christchurch: the Early Years — 1926-48

Dunedin and Christchurch: the Early Years

1926James Keir Baxter is born in a Dunedin maternity home on 29 June. His first and middle names commemorate James Keir Hardie, the militant Scottish socialist and Labour leader whose words and activities inspired Archie.
1931The Kuri Bush farm is sold and the Baxters move to a cottage at 13 Bedford Parade, Brighton. JKB attends Brighton Primary School when he turns five.
1933He begins writing poetry at the age of seven.
1935John Macmillan Brown dies on 18 January. The Baxters move to Whanganui where Jim attends the Friends’ School. His brother Terry is already a pupil there.
1936Viola Macmillan Brown and Angelo Notariello marry. He is her former singing-master.
1937The Baxters sail to Europe and England. After visiting the site of Sling Camp on the Salisbury Plains where he had been imprisoned Archie dictates to Millicent his wartime memoirs. (We Will Not Cease was published by Gollancz in 1939.) The boys attend a Quaker school at Sibford Ferris in the Cotswolds.
1938On 15 September the Baxters set sail for New Zealand. JKB returns page 160to Brighton Primary School.
1939JKB returns to Friends’ School, Whanganui; this time as a boarder. Second World War begins.
1940Archie buys the big two-storeyed next-door house at 15 Bedford Parade. JKB returns home from Whanganui. On 5 February he is enrolled at King’s High School, in South Dunedin.
1941In December Terry is incarcerated for refusing to fight in the war.
1942On 9 August JKB begins corresponding with Noel Ginn, Terry’s friend in detention camp. Their letters are mainly about poetry. Ginn is JKB’s true audience for his poetry and his ideas. JKB passes University Entrance Examination.
1943He gains Higher Leaving Certificate.
1944He enrols at Otago University College in English, French, Latin and Philosophy. He is awarded the Macmillan Brown Prize for original poetry. He begins to drink heavily. In August he and his mother visit Terry in detention camp. JKB then meets Noel Ginn for the first time. In Christchurch they meet Lawrence Baigent at the Caxton Press. Astonished by the quality of JKB’s poetry Baigent agrees to publish a selection. In the end-of-year examinations JKB passes only two of his four subjects. To help him break his drinking habit his parents arrange work for him on a dairy farm at Purakanui.
1945In opposition to his parents’ wishes JKB refuses to return to university. In March he begins work at an iron foundry. The publication of Beyond the Palisade, his first poetry collection, makes him a celebrity. Allen Curnow includes some of these poems in A Book of New Zealand Verse 1923-45. In Christchurch at Easter JKB meets some of Baigent’s literary and artistic friends. In September he leaves the iron foundry to begin work on Wanaka Station in Central Otago. On 15 November he returns to his family home. Terry returns home about this time and the brothers have to adjust their relationships with each other and their parents. JKB is drinking heavily, sometimes for days on end. Unlike Terry, girls do not regard him as sexually attractive. This fact depresses him.
1946JKB wins and loses Jane Aylward, a medical student. This has a catastrophic effect on him. In the same year he develops a friendship with Jacquie Sturm, the only Māori student on campus.
1947During 1946-47 he works at various labouring jobs, lives off the land, and hangs around the university. Towards the end of the year he moves to Christchurch – to get help from a Jungian psychologist, put distance between himself and his mother, and get back in touch with the literary set there. Jacquie Sturm also decides to move so that she can be taught by Professor Sutherland. JKB does odd jobs when he is desperately in need of money and hangs around the university, page 161becoming literary editor for Canta, the students’ newspaper. He associates with Lawrence Baigent, Denis Glover, Bill Pearson and Colin McCahon – much of this time is spent drinking. When he becomes a proof-reader at the Christchurch Press in November he spends time with Allen Curnow, who also works there. Financially, JKB is very poor. Jacquie is marginally better off.
1948Blow, Wind of Fruitfulness, his second poetry collection, is published to general acclaim. His alcoholism flourishes to such an extent that at times he feels suicidal. Wanting to recast his life he turns to religion and on 4 November 1948 he is received into the Anglican Church. Jacquie is a witness at the ceremony. About this time he asks her to marry him. Despite questioning or opposition from both sets of parents the couple marry on 9 December in St John’s Cathedral, Napier. At this stage JKB has no money or job.