Prior to 1954, teenagers listened to the same music as their parents. Much of it was very good (with singers like Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra), but much of it was also pretty bland (with songs like “How much is that doggy in the window”).
And then there was rock-and-roll!!!
It arrived in New Zealand in 1954 (when Grandad Dale was twelve) and nothing was ever quite the same again. Suddenly teenagers had their own music and (it gets better and better) their parents didn’t like it!!!
In New Zealand, rock-and-roll started with Bill Haley’s “Rock around the clock”. Many history books downplay his importance, but they’re wrong. For New Zealand teenagers, at least, the excitement started with him.
Bill Haley was followed by other even more daring performers like Little Richard and Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis. And some (like Buddy Holly and Fats Domino and the Everly Brothers) weren’t really rock-and-roll at all, but they were top performers and added to the excitement.
It was a great time to be a teenager.
Rock-and-roll wasn’t as guitar-focused as the more modern “rock music”. In early Bill Haley music the instrumental breaks are mostly taken by saxophones. There were guitarists in the band, but it’s only towards the end of the 1950s that you’ll start to hear them taking lead breaks.
Some have described Bill Haley’s music as a cross between rhythm-and-blues and country-swing, and I think that’s probably about right. It was only when guitars started making their presence felt that the later “rock” music was born.
In the early fifties, there were no radio programmes aimed solely at teenagers. And even after the arrival of rock-and-roll there was only one programme a week (the 30-minute long “Lever Hit Parade”).
The first record I remember buying was Johnny Devlin’s “Wild One”. It was vinyl, of course (no CDs or MP3s in those days), and was in the fairly new 45rpm format (rpm = revolutions per minute).
In the late fifties, I clearly remember my sister Lynne and I walking along the road with a brand new transistor radio listening to the Everly Brothers singing “Wake up little Susie”.
Anyway, I loved rock-and-roll music and my parents hated it, so life was perfect!!!
Rock-and-roll dancing came in at the same time. It was effectively an adaption of the earlier “jitterbug”, but prettier and less jerky. (Here’s a video showing jitterbug: www.youtube.com/watch?v=I9zHYkKoL4A.)
In ballroom dancing, the man and woman held each other as they spun around, but in rock-and-roll the main contact was the hand (like in the picture). Dances that came later (like “the twist”) went even further and there was no physical contact at all.
And movies aimed specifically at teenagers started being made. The music-focused ones had pretty ordinary storylines (boy meets girl, boy and girl break up, boy and girl get back together), but they let us get a closer look at our new rock-and-roll heroes. Remember, there was no TV or internet in those days, so we’d only seen them in magazines before that.
There were also more serious teen-focused movies, like “Rebel without a cause”, starring the oh-so-very-cool James Dean.
A youth subculture arose at the same time as rock-and-roll. England had “rockers”, but New Zealand and Australia had “bodgies” (males) and “widgies” (females).
I became mates with some bodgies and widgies one year when four of them turned up at Waipu Cove. All of our parents thought they were disreputable, partly because of how they dressed. But it was probably more because everyone was sure the two couples weren’t married (despite sleeping in the same tent), which was considered pretty outrageous in those days.
But they were very nice to us kids and delighted in impressing us with stories of gang fights and getting into trouble with the police. One of them proudly showed us that he’d let the nail on his big toe grow long then filed it to make a sharp point. He said it made an excellent weapon in a fight, but I think he was just showing off.
We were mightily impressed with our new friends, but fortunately not enough to get into trouble ourselves!!!
Here are links to some of Grandad Dale’s favourites music from the time:
HISTORY OF ROCK-AND-ROLL: www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-j2rILarYA
EARLY FIFTIES (BEFORE ROCK-AND-ROLL):
Twenty tiny fingers (Pat McMinn): www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ulz43zGewp8
Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer (Gene Autry): www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ara3-hDH6I
White Christmas (Bing Crosby): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P8Ozdqzjigg
I’ve got you under my skin (Frank Sinatra): www.youtube.com/watch?v=78FtEh8GyIk
MID-TO-LATE FIFTIES (ROCK-AND-ROLL):
Rock around the clock (Bill Hayley): www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZgdufzXvjqw
See you later alligator (Bill Hayley): www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Hb66FH9AzI
Lucille (Little Richard): www.youtube.com/watch?v=u0Ujb6lJ_mM
Good golly Miss Molly (Little Richard): www.youtube.com/watch?v=u0Ujb6lJ_mM
Blue suede shoes (Elvis Presley): www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bm5HKlQ6nGM
Jailhouse rock (Elvis Presley): www.youtube.com/watch?v=gj0Rz-uP4Mk
Great balls of fire (Jerry Lee Lewis): www.youtube.com/watch?v=7IjgZGhHrYY
Wild One (Johnny Devlin): www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQF4av-vRKU.
MID-TO-LATE FIFTIES (OTHER MUSIC STYLES)
Wake up little Susie (Everly Brothers): www.youtube.com/watch?v=v1fImXAeS-s
Blueberry Hill (Fats Domino): www.youtube.com/watch?v=bKQZy2PJtq8
That’ll be the day (Buddy Holly): www.youtube.com/watch?v=kVGM86XIilw
Peggy Sue (Buddy Holly): www.youtube.com/watch?v=bfu_gfPBPWc
Guy Fawkes Day was a much bigger celebration when Grandad Dale was a kid. There were no public firework displays in those days, so many families put on their own in their backyard.
It was a really big deal at Carruth House (the hostel I attended in Whangarei during my secondary school years). We’d spend days building a ginormous bonfire on a small field next to the school grounds and a few of the boys would create a “Guy” to put on top. The Guy was a “man” made of old clothes stuffed with newspapers.
There were no restrictions on what fireworks you could buy (or who could buy them) and some of them made pretty fearsome explosions. The names of the various types of fireworks sounded really exciting to us:
- “Bangers” were like small bombs and exploded very loudly.
- “Sparklers” were little metal sticks which, when lit, sparkled prettily as you waved them in the air.
- “Jumping Jacks” were a string of small bangers that exploded one after another in quick succession, “jumping” on the ground as they did.
- “Catherine wheels” were nailed to a post where they spun prettily for ten or twenty seconds.
- “Rockets” flew majestically through the air (unless the bottle you put them into before take-off fell over at the crucial time, in which case they could fly straight into the onlookers!!!).
On Guy Fawkes Day itself, we would light the bonfire when it got dark and then the excitement would start, with boys setting off fireworks left-right-and-centre. It was actually quite dangerous and each year a few boys would be injured.
The worst case I can remember was when one boy stupidly thought that carrying his hoard of fireworks inside his shirt was a good idea. Unfortunately, an even stupider boy thought it was clever to drop a lit cracker down the shirt of the first boy. The fireworks in the first boy’s shirt caught fire and next thing they were exploding. Of course, his chest was seriously burnt and he had to be taken to hospital.
Despite incidents like these all around the country, the unrestricted sale of fireworks continued for many years. Finally, a woman known as “the fireworks lady” started a big campaign, and this eventually led to tighter controls being introduced (but not until the 1970s). Here’s a newspaper article about the fireworks lady: http://tinyurl.com/yboch9mx.
Nowadays many people don’t know why we celebrate Guy Fawkes Day, which started about 400 years ago when a group of twelve men tried to blow up the English parliament buildings in London. They wanted to kill the protestant king (James the First), and replace him with a catholic. However, the plot was foiled, the plotters (including Mr Fawkes) were captured and tortured and executed, and we’ve “celebrated” the day ever since.
Another triumph for religion, eh.
And, since we’re talking about bigotry, here’s the Kingston Trio singing “Where have all the flowers gone”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WcR4mimWFlU. It’s an anti-war song that gently laments the never ending loss of our “flowers” (our young soldiers) to an endless succession of wars.
You know, I suspect that the root cause of all wars is either religion or greed (or both). And now, in this modern time, we’re witnessing the greed of SOME Western governments and corporates battling the religious bigotry of SOME Islamic people, and both sides complain that the actions of the other side is incomprehensible. And, so it goes on.
When will we ever learn.
The way that classes at secondary school were organised was a bit different when Grandad Dale was young. Nowadays you start in Year 1 as a five year old and you eventually get to Year 13 as a seventeen year old (if you stay at school until the very end). When Grandad Dale was at school, it was much more complicated:
- At ages 5-6 you went from Primer 1 to Primer 4 (six months in each)
- At ages 7-10 you went from Standard 1 to Standard 4
- At ages 11-12 you went from Form 1 to Form 2 (but some schools called them Standard 5 and 6)
- At ages 13-15 you went from Form 3 to Form 5
- At age 16 you were in the Lower Sixth
- And at age 17 you were in the Upper Sixth
You did School Certificate in Form 5 (the equivalent of NCEA level 1)
You did University Entrance in the Lower Sixth (the equivalent of NCEA level 2)
And you did Bursary in the Upper Sixth (the equivalent of NCEA level 3).
Many secondary schools were single sex (boys in one school, girls in another), and some of the subjects taught were slightly different for boys and girls too. At Whangarei Boys High School, our syllabus included woodwork and metalwork, for example, whereas the girls at Whangarei Girls High School were taught Home Economics (cooking etc) and typing.
In those days, most women stopped working once they had children, so employers didn’t think it was worthwhile training them up for senior roles. As a result, some high-skill jobs weren’t open to women at all (there were practically no women doctors, for example). Women were even paid less for doing exactly the same job as a man!!!
The brighter students studied different subjects from those less gifted. The “intelligence” of all children was measured at the start of what is now Year 9 (thirteen year olds), using an IQ test. Everyone was then “streamed”, which involved assigning them to a class that was “suitable” for someone of their intelligence. Everyone did the same core subjects, like English and Mathematics, but the brighter pupils also did French and Latin, whereas the lower IQ children did subjects like Farming and Home Economics.
The effect of this was that that a single IQ test more or less totally determined the type of job you would end up doing when you left school.
Now, you can see the thinking behind this, but, in the end, it was a pretty dumb idea. For example, just because you’re bright doesn’t mean you want to study languages (you may be hopeless at them), and just because you’re not high-IQ doesn’t mean you want to become a farm worker.
However, if worked out reasonably well for Grandad Dale. I enjoyed most of the subjects I did (English, Maths, Physics, Chemistry), although I was pretty hopeless at Latin and French.
I’d never heard of gymnastics when I arrived at Whangarei Boys High School, but took to it very quickly.
Gymnastics involves a lot of acrobatics in the air, such as somersaults during floor exercises, or when dismounting an apparatus like the horizontal bar. I could do these things, but I must admit that tumbling through the air scared me witless. However, it also gave me such a wonderful feeling of accomplishment that I kept on with it. I loved it, with reservations!!!
Despite, the fear, I did pretty well in the school championships each year, mostly coming runner-up to my friend Martin Perkinson. The one year I did beat him, another boy beat us both, so I still only came second!!!
I think our gym teachers must have been especially good, because we did pretty well competing against the big-city schools. In 1957, for example, our school was selected to represent Auckland Province in the national championships, even though we came from far-away Whangarei.
The competition was held in Hamilton, and I still remember being amazed at the quality of the gear they had in the gymnasium. The parallel bars were made of this beautiful laminated wood with a steel rod at the core (almost unbreakable) and the mats for the floor exercises were luxurious by our standards.
In 1959, the national gymnastics championships were held in Auckland. The picture shows our team, with Grandad Dale at age 17 (on the right).
That was when I saw a trampoline for the very first time. I thought it was a wonderful piece of equipment and couldn’t wait to have a go. Unfortunately (and much to my embarrassment), I more-or-less straight away mistimed a belly-flop landing and had to stop because of a bleeding nose. I was not a happy boy.
In those long ago days, there were two separate disciplines on the rings; the stationery rings (which is what they do in competitions nowadays) and the flying rings (which is no longer done). With the flying rings, you swing backwards and forwards (like on a child’s swing, but hanging below rather than sitting on a seat), and you do “tricks” as you’re flying through the air.
Here is a short video of someone using the flying rings: www.youtube.com/watch?v=BXeAj7rMrv0. Notice how they dislocate their shoulders during some of the manoeuvres.
The flying rings were banned from gymnastics competitions not long after I left school. The main problem was the dismounts, which became more and more daring (and dangerous).
The picture shows Grandad Dale doing a dismount from the flying rings, in 1957 (when I was fifteen).
A fun thing we got involved with was doing demonstrations to encourage interest in gymnastics. Some of our manoeuvres bordered on circus tricks, which was great fun.
Eventually our performances drew the attention of the local newspaper and they did a big photographic spread on us. The two pictures below are from that 1957 “Northern Advocate” feature.
I loved sport and spent most of my spare time at Whangarei Boys High School playing games of some sort.
I had already played rugby and cricket at Maungaturoto, and had done lots of swimming at Waipu Cove, but many of the sports were new to me. I’d never heard of gymnastics, but took to it very quickly (I’ll do a separate blog item about that later). In this blog item I’ll talk about the other sports I played at secondary school.
I’d never heard of basketball before going to Whangarei Boys. (In those days it was called “indoor basketball” to distinguish it from netball which was still called “basketball” at that time.)
As I recall, our school team played in the senior men’s competition in Whangarei, and we did okay against bigger opposition.
In 1959 we played a tournament against the three top Auckland teams and came second, which we country boys were very proud of. We had two players fouled off during the game and didn’t have any more replacements, so we had to play the last period with only four players against five, and still only just lost!!!
At the end of the tournament they named an Auckland provincial team, and three of us were selected (including Grandad Dale).
In the picture, Grandad Dale is in the back row on the left. Our numbers look a bit mickey mouse, don’t they. Maybe we did the sewing ourselves!!!
I’d never heard of hockey before, either, so after a couple of years I decided to give it a try and quickly made the top team. Again, we played in one of the senior men’s competitions and did reasonably well.
One year we went to Auckland to play in the national schoolboys tournament. We did pretty well but didn’t quite make the finals.
At the end of the tournament they selected teams to represent the North and South Islands and I was selected for the North Island team playing in my usual position of left-wing. I can’t remember who won the match, but I do remember that, at one stage, one of the opposing players hit me right across the shin with his hockey stick. It drew blood and boy did it hurt. The fact that my opponent happened to be the spitting image of my brother Max made it seem doubly unfair!!!
In the picture, Grandad Dale is in the front row, second from the right.
By the way, in those days we didn’t have artificial turf, which has pretty much revolutionised hockey. Players can now pass with much greater accuracy because the ball doesn’t bobble up and down as it goes across the turf. As a results, the game is now much faster and the players much more aerobically fit.
Penalty corners have changed a great deal, too. Again, the perfectly smooth pitch makes the drag-flick possible, which is so difficult to defend against.
Softball was yet another game that I’d never heard of before going to Whangarei Boys and I quickly switched over to that from cricket (which I was never all that good at). I played first baseman (which suits a left hander like me) and, again, we played in one of the senior men’s competitions. I can’t remember how well we did, but it’s a terrific game for kids because everyone gets a pretty equal involvement in both batting and fielding.
The gloves were very different in those days. They were similar to the top picture on the right, but without any webbing. Because you couldn’t wrap your fingers around the ball you would use the gloved hand to stop the ball and then, an instant later, grab hold of the ball with the other hand (otherwise it would drop to the ground).
The new style of gloves (like the second one shown) started coming in while I was playing and the loose webbing made it possible to catch the ball with one hand, making the game very much easier.
Grandad Dale is in the back row, second from the left (next to his good mate “Charlie” Tutaka from Rarotonga).
Rugby was the main winter sport, of course, and even hockey (which was very strong in the North) was looked down upon a bit. As for soccer, most of us considered it a game for boys who were too pathetic to play anything else.
One year, the soccer team had an important match coming up and asked the hockey team to give them some practice. Hockey and soccer have lots of similarities, so it was felt we could quickly adapt to their game. In fact, we confidently expected to thrash this bunch of “four eyes”, as we called them (most of the soccer players wore spectacles, even while playing).
Well, it turned out that they thrashed us!!! Soccer is a game of great skill and we just didn’t have good enough technique. On top of that, it was a wet day and in those days the ball was made of leather, which meant it got very heavy in the rain. I can still remember my first attempt to kick the ball to a teammate. I connected okay but, THUD, I nearly broke my foot (and the ball dribbled only a few yards away).
So, I’ve only ever played one game of soccer, and we lost. Lesson learnt; be respectful of people who are different from you, they will probably surprise you.
Other sports I played included, swimming (hopeless at overarm but pretty good at breaststroke), diving (runner up on the one metre board), athletics (pretty good at hurdles and the high jump), and tennis (hopeless, never really got the hang of it).
My earliest memory of swimming is at a school outing to a nearby river (there were no swimming pools in Maungaturoto in the 1950s). The picture on the right was taken at a family picnic around that time and shows my sister Lynne, Mum, Dad, brother Max (lying on Dad’s lap), and Grandad Dale.
For some strange reason, I was never taught to swim properly. But I loved being in the water and eventually taught myself how to dog paddle and breaststroke. As a teenager, I became a lifesaver at Waipu Cove (the beach we went to each summer) and at Whangarei Boys High School qualified as a junior instructor in the Royal Lifesaving Society.
Mouth-to-mouth resuscitation wasn’t widely used in New Zealand until the 1960s. In the 1950s we used the Holger-Nielsen method. The picture on the right shows Grandad Dale demonstrating the method at age 16 (in 1958). The idea was to get the drowned person’s chest to expand and contract by pulling their arms up and down. The method needed quite a bit of training and wasn’t nearly as effective as mouth-to-mouth.
The demonstration was at the Whau Valley School in Whangarei and I think it was part of an effort to raise funds for lifesaving organisations.
By the way, did you notice Grandad Dale’s very cool “flat top” haircut. It was all the rage at the time. Flat on the top, swished back at the sides, and a DA crease at the back (see Ducks ass).
Some aspects of surf lifesaving were very different in those days. The basics were the same; we put out flags marking safe areas to swim in, we watched out for people in trouble in the water, and we rescued them when they got in trouble. But our “tools” were very rudimentary; no motorised inflatables, no jet boats, not even wetsuits.
The main weapon we had was the old fashioned belt-and-reel (see the picture). One member of the rescue team (the strongest swimmer) put the belt on and swam out to the drowning person. A rope connected the belt to the reel. Another member of the team controlled the reel, letting the rope unwind without getting tangled. When the belt man reached the victim, the other members of the team helped pull on the rope to get them back into shore.
It was really hard work, for all members of the team, mainly because the weight of the wet rope added to the “drag”.
I actually swam during a rescue only once and it was quite funny really.
Me and a younger mate were watching the swimmers at Waipu Cove, but the rest of our team weren’t close by (they were at a nearby meeting). Anyway, we noticed these drongos swimming in a really dangerous area “outside the flags”. There was a really bad rip and, sure enough, next moment they all started getting dragged out to sea. This was really dangerous and we could have half a dozen deaths very shortly!!!
Well, my mate and I had a bit of a problem, because you can’t operate a belt-and-reel with only two people. So we set the alarm going to attract the attention of the rest of the team and headed down to the beach.
Now, even a super strong swimmer wouldn’t have been able to swim against that rip, and I’m hopeless at overarm. But I was strong and fit and could keep above water “forever”, so I decided to go in and hold someone afloat until the team arrived.
When I got in, the rip whooshed me straight out to the struggling swimmers and I picked the weakest looking one and kept her afloat. Meanwhile, the rest of the team arrived, set up the reel, and the belt man joined me in the water. He rescued the swimmer I was holding and then came back for me (the other idiots were all very frightened, but were keeping afloat by themselves).
Back on the beach, I joined the others on the rope and eventually everyone was rescued. The rip was so strong that day that we had six or seven people pulling the rope instead of the usual three of four. It was amazing that no one drowned.
But the funniest thing was that, the only time I went into the water during a rescue, I had to be rescued myself!!!
Surfing was very different in the 1950s, mainly because our boards weren’t buoyant enough to carry your weight when you stood on them. They were made of a very light wood and were long and narrow (see the pictures on the right). They floated, but only just enough to support your body a tiny bit.
So, in those days, when a good wave came in, you paddled like mad (with the upper half of your body lying on the surfboard) and, if you managed to catch the wave, you surfed in to the beach lying face down on the board.
Apparently it’s called “belly board surfing” nowadays. Here’s a lighthearted video from the World Bellyboard Championships in England: www.youtube.com/watch?v=hChI5TzKSrU
Probably the worst thing that could happen was catching a “dumper”. A dumper is a wave that has such vertical force that you can be thrown deep enough to hit the bottom, which is really dangerous, of course (you could be knocked out and drown).
But a dumper is even more dangerous with an old fashioned wooden surfboard, because the board can dive down, too. If the tip of the board hit the sand, you could just about be cut in half.
We also did “body surfing” (which is still done today). With body surfing, you don’t have a board at all. You swim like mad and, if you can get far enough forward in the wave and “nose down”, it can carry you all the way into shore. Here’s a video with instructions on how to body surf: www.youtube.com/watch?v=LcipN_n4cJY, and here’s another one showing real experts doing it: www.youtube.com/watch?v=EblpNV_13Jc.
By the way, no wetsuits in those days, and we didn’t use flippers (although they were starting to become available at that time).