The Rainbow Family and its antecedents in New Zealand.
The 1960s were characterised by a wide-spread rejection of existing values and beliefs by western youth.
The catalyst for this was opposition in the USA to the Vietnam War and in particular to conscription.
Within the US and its close allies of New Zealand and Australia the political forment led to a popularisation of a range of ideas and philosophies, and a general radicalisation of the population. These events were mirrored elsewhere, in Great Britain and in Europe. In France the youth rebellion resulted in the near collapse of the French Government in 1968. In Czechoslovakia there was a popular revolution only to be crushed by the Russian Government.
Ideas widely supported in New Zealand included the demands for a women’s right to abortion, gay rights, and the rights of indigenous people. Saving the environment was also very popular, centring around fighting pollution and opposition to the felling of New Zealand’s remaining native forests. Maori were moving more on the centre stage of New Zealand politics and becoming more assertive with regard to Maori culture and land. One issue that dominated New Zealand politics for years was the matter of New Zealand’s rugby links with the Apartheid regime in South Africa and to a lesser extent links to the white settler regime in Rhodesia.
Opposition to sporting ties with South Africa first developed in the universities and spread to the community in general. The question came to a head in the 1981 Springbok Tour of New Zealand. The huge opposition the South Africans faced ensured this would be the last tour of a racially selected rugby team and played a significant role in the collapse of Apartheid.
The year 1972 saw a Labour Government elected on a popular wave. One of its first actions was to abolish compulsory military training then known as National Service. This was a big issue amongst youth who had campaigned around this question in the run-up to the vote. CMT, as it was known, was organised on a ballot system of 19 year old males and those selected spent several weeks at Waiouru or Burnham being trained as soldiers. Opposition to sporting links with South Africa was building. A particularly controversial decision of the Government was to stop the 1973 Springbok Rugby Tour of New Zealand.
Overseas in this era a youth culture developed rejecting the prevailing social norms around matters such as hair, dress, drugs, and music. Beginning first in California the Bohemian hippie ideas soon struck a chord with disenchanted youth in general . These originated in Germany from the Der Wandervogel youth movement of the early 20th century and had been brought to the United States by immigrants. Wandervogel, for its part, promoted a back to nature lifestyle.
In New Zealand alternative ideas did not make much headway until 1973. By that stage the “Rainbow Family” had been formed. This was a offshoot of the youth counter- culture in the United States and encompassed the Wandervogel tradition of short term communal gatherings in the natural world. In other respects the Rainbow Family’s political philosophies are similar. The first gathering was in 1972 and is now held annually at different sites in the US. Gatherings are now held outside the US at a variety of locations.
Communal living: Within the youth culture there were those who longed for utopian solutions. The ‘back to the land’ movement found a sympathetic ear in the Kirk Government who used surplus Crown land to set up a state commune system. These took the name “ohu” and date from 1973.
There were already a number of communes set up, beginning first with Jerusalem commune founded in 1969 the site of the Catholic Mission of Sister Aubert, a Catholic Mission for over 40 years. The community was set up by James K. Baxter, a Catholic priest and poet and charismatic figure who played a key role in popularising the alternative lifestyle movement amongst young people of the day. James K. Baxter was adopted by the local iwi, the Ngati Hau and took the name Hemi. He died in 1974 and is buried there. The community closed down after his death. In the four years of its existence it is estimated that several thousand people passed through its doors living there for short or longer periods. At Easter 1971 300 people visited. A number of those involved in the community went on to form an offshoot in the Far North in 1971. This was known as Reef Point. In 1974 this community relocated to Taranaki under the Labour Government's state commune scheme (Ohu). It is now closed.
The Rainbow Valley community is located in the Anatoki Valley near Takaka. It was founded in 1973. The Community has hosted two Rainbow Family Gatherings. The population of the community in 2004 was 19.
Chippenham in Christchurch is an urban commune, which later added another house, Mansfield, and a farm at Oxford, and dates from 1971.
“Back to the land” communes are concentrated in three places : Nelson/Golden Bay, around Punkaikai (West Coast), and in the Coromandel. One Ohu remains in the Whanganui valley. The last intentional community founded was Tui in 1984.
Wilderland near Whitianga (N.Z.) was set up in 1965 on a large block of land on the shores of the harbour and is run by a trust. The commune grows and sells organic produce, honey and handicrafts. It is registered with WWOOF and is popular with German young people. The commune had first been located near Matamata being established in 1933 as Beeville by Dan and Edith Hansen.
Alternative schools: A particular interest of those living at Chippenham was educational reform. This led to the establishment of a series of alternative state high schools by Phil Amos, the Minister of Education, in 1974. The Christchurch example took the name of Four Avenues, but there were schools also in Wellington and Auckland. The curriculum was the same, but the method of teaching, the absence of uniforms, and the degree of control the student body had in running the schools, were very advanced for the time. The Auckland alternative school was set up in Ponsonby in a former church hall. The schools came from a demand that the state education system accommodate views popularised by the counter-culture movement. Many pupils, went on the provide a new wave of members for the various intentional communities being set up then. A number of alternative state secondary schools were founded. The Christchurch school survived for 25 years and closed down around 1990.Pupils did not wear a uniform : this was and is quite unusual.
In the 1970s Chippenham played a central role in left politics in Christchurch, providing crucial support for demonstrations, publishing, and meeting space.
Alternative music festivals. Another feature of the era were the alternative music festivals. The most notable were the Nambassa Festivals between 1978 and 1981. These were held around Waihi. The festival held in January 1979 is reputed to have attracted 70,000-100,000. Nambassa organised by a Trust made up of volunteers was held over Auckland Anniversary weekend. Its main drawcard were the various music acts popular at the time. A facet of the Festivals were a number of workshops and stalls promoting a number of political and environmental causes. Nambassa came to an end in 1981 loosing $100,000.
Nambassa was a North Island affair. The South Island equivalent was the Festivals of Plenitude held around the same time in January. These were also in the festival/conference form and were organised by the Fox River commune (Katajuta). The first were at Punakaiki and the latter at Charleston, all on the West Coast. The Festivals of Plenitude were organised biennially and continued on in a commercial format after 1982. The Festivals in their original form attracted several thousand people.
The Te Wairua Festival were held on Ralph Brock's farm at Owhango, in the King Country. The last Te Wairua Festival was held in January 1984. Festivals here ceased when Ralph Brock died. Te Wairua appears to be advertised by word of mouth and later in "Mushroom" magazine , was limited to 300 people and lasted for one week. The programme included a variety of talks and seminars. Those involved in organising the event run an alternative healing centre in Taupo today. Te Wairua was "clothing optional" as were the much bigger Nambassa Festivals and the Festivals of Plenitude held around the same time.
The music festivals/gatherings held in New Zealand today, in the tradition of the hippie festivals in locations in the countryside, are strictly commercial ventures.
Mushroom magazine. The first issue of “Mushroom” magazine was in 1974 and was initiated by the Chjippenham commune. It later moved to Dunedin. It was intended as the voice of the counter-culture movement in New Zealand and included classified advertisements from people seeking information and places in established communities. At first “Mushroom” was monthly, then became sporadic. The magazine had practice of using images without acknowledgement or captions. The publication ceased in 1985 after attempting to become more mainstream. There were 35 issues published.
The Whole Earth Catalogues. The first whole earth catalogues were published in the USA. These were a compendium of a great range of information. There were three New Zealand editions published by Alister Taylor modelled on the American format. The catalogues were oversize publications printed on newsprint. New Zealand material was contributed and collected from various sources. The “First NZ Whole Earth Catalogue" was published in 1972. There was an extensive chapter on alternative living using supplied material and photographs drawn from a number of NZ communes. "The First N.Z. Whole Earth Catalogue" was the considered the last word on every matter concerning the "back to the land" movement in N.Z. The second edition dates from 1974. The last dates from 1977.
Travel. A prominent feature of the time was travel, both domestic and international. The iconic WV or Comber van was popular as this allowed travel to be a communal process. A derivative of this is the “Hippie house truck or bus”, handcrafted mobile homes built on a truck or bus chassis which facilitated a nomadic lifestyle. Groups of “Hippie buses” tour New Zealand today calling at the many regional and local fairs in the summer months selling various handicrafts. Hitching a ride was a common way of travelling. You travelled light, without any thought of money and accommodation and found a bed in the network of sympathetic households. Overseas travel was the ambition of many. India was a major attraction and Goa in particular. New Zealanders tended to be drawn to Great Britain. In those years international travel was a lot easier than today.
Hair and dress: Despite the emphasis on freedom there was a surprising uniformity of dress. Jeans and long hair for both sexes. Brightly coloured clothing, unusual styles, and going barefoot were also common.
Music: The music genre of the counter-culture was the psychedelic style of rock music popularised by bands like the “Grateful Dead” and “Jefferson Airplane”. Scott McKenzie’s rendition of John Phillip’s song “San Francisco” inspired thousands of young people to travel to San Francisco and later became associated with American veterans who served in Vietnam. Musicians and singers such as Richie Havens, Joan Baez, Janis Joplin, Carlos Santana, Jimi Hendrix and bands like Creedence Clearwater Revival, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, The Who, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles are affiliated with this period. In New Zealand the bands most associated are Splitz Enz and Hello Sailor.
Blerta. This is the acronym for "Bruno Lawrence's Electric Revelation and Traveling Apparition.". Blerta was a travelling New Zealand musical and theatrical co-operative active from 1971-1975.
It was the idea of Bruno Lawrence to get together a group of musicians, actors and friends who would travel around New Zealand on a tour to get away from the pressure of the music and movie scene. The group travelled in a distinctive red bus and lived in a commune for many years. They were labelled hippies and looked down on by others in the arts scene despite the quality of their work.
The original line up was Bruno Lawrence, Corben Simpson, Kemp Turirangi, Geoff Murphy, Alan Moon, Tony Littlejohn, Beaver, Eric Foley and Chris Seresin. The great adventure and experience of Blerta finished in 1975 when the troupe went out with one last tour.
Drugs: Smoking cannabis became more common afterwards in New Zealand. Hallucinogens such as LSD were first introduced into New Zealand early on but never really gained widespread acceptance. Student parties in those years were typified by excessive drinking by males and tobacco smoking.
Hippie: The word “hippie” is derived from the word “hip”. It was first used in 1965 to describe the developing youth culture in San Francisco. The original spelling was “hippy”. Hippies did not refer to themselves as such as the term was used in a derogatory way. The youth counter-culture of the period is sometimes known as the “Hippie movement”. There was a distinct politicisation of youth, but the degree of political involvement varied enormously.
Nudity. Nudity was very popular at the time, came to symbolise the youth counter-culture and can be traced back to the Wandervogel tradition and in turn to early European festivals.
There were several aspects to the popularity of nudity. There were those who considered it fun. With a bigger group nudity provided the opportunity for a personal statement, to reject the social orthodoxy of society, in the manner of the World Naked Bike Ride of today. Within the ‘back to the land’ movement, nudity was considered just simply normal but at the same time there was a philosophical element, in that it provided a way of expressing solidarity with the natural world. These positions are also those of the Rainbow Family.
It would be fair to say that nudity was pretty much common place within the rural communal scene. Some communes were known for their nudity and sought to promote themselves on this basis.
Social nudity was also a big feature of the alternative festivals. Nambassa was an alternative music festival/conference held in south Auckland from 1977-1981 at several venues over Auckland Anniversary weekend (the end of January). The event struck a cord with young people who attended in their tens of thousands. It is thought between 70,000 - 100,000 attended the 1979 festival. It is estimated that 5,000 went naked : this is a world record apparently. It was truly a golden age in NZ. Nudity was a significant feature of all the Nambassas. The beach below at Homunga Bay in 1979 was especially popular and hundreds of young people got naked there. There was nudity at the venue itself, not to the same extent as the beach though. It was not unusual to see naked people walking through the crowd enjoying the various artists and musicians. There was a group of people naked for the duration of the three day event in front of the stage. The last Nambassa was in 1981. The festival ceased owing to financial problems.
At the Festivals of Plenitude the river was a popular location for naked swimming. As well in 1978 there was a bizarre mock battle. A montage of the battle between Alf's Imperial Army and a naked force drawn from those attending the 1978 Festival was later published in “Mushroom” magazine. Alf's Imperial Army were a group of young people around the self-styled Wizard of Christchurch who espoused conservative causes. One of their activities was to challenge different groups to mock battles. The photograph was first published in "Mushroom", May 1978 and illustrated an account of the festival. The battle was held on the last day, 24 January 1978. The article in "Mushroom" was put together by the organisers both as a report and to publicise any future Festivals. The event and the several other Festivals that followed were organised by those in living in alternative communal arrangements, or "communes" around Punakaiki : the nearest settlement of this type was at Fox River. The purpose of the festival was to popularise the ideas of peace, environmental sustainability and community with the young people of Christchurch and the South Island generally who had turned up in their droves. Nambassa was more of a North island affair and was held at the same time. The "Hippie" force fought naked and covered themselves in dried white mud, numbering around 15, making a political point concerning the relationship of humankind with nature. The Festival attracted several thousand.
The next Festival of Plenitude in 1980 saw naked street theatre. Street theatre was popular at the time and used minimal props and a simple story line. The following is taken from a photograph of the performance and group published in Mushroom (magazine) in 1983 showing a skit based on the phrase : Dust to dust, ashes to ashes. The actors are daubed in ashes : the fire represents life : the children, adults and elderly with a walking stick, the stages of human life. The nudity representing the natural world from which we are part of. There is in the photograph at least one member of the Chippenham Commune (Christchurch). The number of actors shown is not unusual for street theatre. Nudity was, however unusual with street theatre. With the mock battle at the previous Festival of Plenitude there were elements of street theatre in the props used by the naked Hippy force. Nudity was very common in the various alternative communities set up in the area. In respect of publicity material, the organisers of both the Festivals of Plenitude and Te Wairua promoted this aspect of the gatherings.
The alternative state schools had a tolerant attitude towards student nudity. The Christchurch school, "Four Avenues" permitted nude swimming. This was more associated with the senior classes in their free periods. The school had access to a local municipal pool during school time. Nude swimming was never school policy as such, but was what the student body wanted as a whole.
Ironically, perhaps, “Four Avenues” introduced nude swimming after the traditional nude swimming of some boys’ only schools and at the YMCA in Christchurch had been abandoned.
The modern music festivals exclude nudity. It is still a part of rural commune life.
At “Wilderland” nudity is very much part of day to day life. In 1974 when Ian Baker and Tim Jones toured the country for their book on intentional communities “A hard won freedom”, nudity at Wilderland was the rule rather than the exception. It is still a feature today but away from the main road. Baker’s photographs show Dutch Peter, a resident of the time : one of these is used, albeit cropped, on the “Wilderland” website today.
Another community known for its nudity was “Renaissance” . It supplied a number of file photographs to "Mushroom" magazine (a counter-culture magazine, now defunct) , for publicity purposes to illustrate communal living. Nudity was a something not really optional here and was something the commune sought to encourage with its publicity.” Renaissance” was located near Nelson and is now closed.
Rainbow gatherings in New Zealand.
The Rainbow Family. By time the youth counter-culture developed in New Zealand, the Rainbow Family had been formed. Consequently there are a number of Rainbow aspects apparent in the various alternative music festivals. There was no organisational relationship as such. The 1978 Festival of Plenitude was organised around the Full Moon. Another Rainbow influence apparent lies in the unconventional mock battle and the hippie fighters being not only naked but covered in mud. The intentional community at Anatoki Valley formed in 1973 took the name “Rainbow”.
The year 1981 was a turning point in New Zealand politics. In the years following there was a steady de-politicalisation which quickened on the election of the right-wing Fourth Labour Government in 1984. Thousands of state jobs were wiped. The golden era suddenly was apparently over.
There remained, however a strong below the radar sentiment in the body politic. A number of causes promoted by the counter-culture, become very main stream. An example of this is environmental sustainability. Wind farms and solar heating are widely accepted. Community gardens are now in vogue. The Greens political block attracts about 10 per cent of the electorate. Maori are very much on the centre stage playing a major role in New Zealand life today.
Meanwhile in the United States the Rainbow Family was going from strength to strength and in 1998 a New Zealand family was set up.
There have been a number of gatherings in New Zealand in the Golden Bay, in the far North and in the Tongariro National Park.
The first and third events were held in Baton Valley, the first being in Autumn 1998. The second, in the far North, was in spring of the same year. The third was in 2000.
A Gathering was held from 18 January to 16 February 2003 in the Anatoki Valley on land owned by the Rainbow Community, an intentional community.
The New Zealand gatherings attract a number of international visitors chiefly from Australia. Within the New Zealand family there is a strong convergence of belief with those of Maori.
An alternative gathering was held in 2004 on a farm in the Golden Bay. This was an unsanctioned event and had been publicised at a commercial music festival nearby. This is understood to have attracted small number of people.
The most recent Gathering was held in the Anatoki Valley in 2007. A World Gathering is to be held in New Zealand mid December 2009 to mid January 2010. A large number is expected to attend. The venue is not yet selected. A decision is to be made on the Spring Equinox. New Zealand Gatherings are clothes optional in the Rainbow tradition. Gatherings are generally held on private land.
Gerald Davidson. August 20009.