So that’s where you go to, my lovely, Ginette McDonald

60s Chicks Hit the 90s
Jane Tolerton
Penguin, $24.95,
ISBN 0 140 27243 7

Mea culpa. I am a Sixties Chick. A Catholic one to boot. I’ve been probed by Jane Tolerton in her gently determined style for her amazingly successful Convent Girls – also published by Penguin. Then came 60s Chicks. Originally to be called ’60s Chicks Hit Their 50s’, but abandoned when Ms Tolerton discovered that some interesting women d’un certain ȃge were not yet 50, but had been vividly shaped by the 60s nonetheless. Falling modestly into that category, I agreed to another wine-soaked evening in Jane Tolerton’s excellent company while she pointed her discreet little tape recorder in my general direction in order to capture some quintessence of my soul.

I talked endlessly and boringly of balmy summer days, of jandals, jaffas and jack the lads, of the 6 o’clock swill, of Kennedy’s assassination and Richard Speck. Of rebellion, first kisses and marijuana. Of Lynn of Tawa and other magnificent female role models of that halcyon time. When I was pealing at full loquacity, Jane mildly wondered how I was doing these days. Fresh from the termination of a long marriage, I let forth about how unfair nature and contemporary society were to women considered to be somewhat overripe, even if they still persisted in clinging stoically to the vine, etc, etc….

Later Jane provided me with a transcript of our riveting evening together, and I promptly excised all reference to my (then) highly disaffected state, and all general observations about middle-aged women because in print they appeared self-pitying and hormonal. Jane remonstrated with me. I got the impression she believed that my fulminating against the world was really the only interesting bit. I – over-protective of my tarnished little image – demurred and so, as we say in the biz, “didn’t make the cut”.

The women who did make the cut, Rose Beauchamp, Miriam Cameron, Robyn du Chateau, Maureen Kingi Waaka, Dinah Lee, Linn Lorkin, Rosemary McLeod, Pamela Meekings Stewart, Victoria Overtoun Taylor, Irihapeti Ramsden and Naomi Trigg, have, by and large, shown tremendous spirit and candour in their reflections on their interesting lives to date. Being passingly acquainted with some of them, I was intrigued to discover how contemplative and multifaceted most of these gals seem to be.

Satirist Rosemary McLeod declares herself not to have a chip on her shoulder about the privations of her working-class life with her early prototype solo mother. Her barely-concealed rage at social injustice would suggest that she has an enormous lump of kahikatea on both shoulders, a not unsurprising rig for a New Zealand satirist.

Linn Lorkin, on the other hand, bears no chips of any kind – just amiable memories of an exotic and hectic girlhood spent studying at the Sorbonne, being incarcerated in a Naples jail, singing in Ronnie Scott’s and producing a child at 42 by a Jewish New Yorker named Hershel. Oy vey. Linn was my overall favourite for sheer chutzpah, even if she did write one of the least satisfactory Kiwiana songs, the oft-played and dirgelike “At The Beach”.

Rose Beauchamp, of whom was written the poem “Golden Girl of the Sixties” by her then husband Ian Wedde, would now appear to be cornering the market in eccentricity. She had her wedding dress symbolically dyed black and interred in a suitcase, but believes in changing the hearts of the people of the world through puppetry. Rose has gone to Western Australia and danced an emotional landscape with old Aboriginal women. She is currently making a short film concerning a Tibetan Buddhist nun’s purification ritual. Rose went to Dio. One can only conclude they put something in the water.

Miriam Cameron was a Commie who became a concreter while producing Tim Shadbolt’s children. Rather her than me. Though I was intrigued by “I was about to join the Communist Party and never wear makeup again. Then China and Albania split and I thought, ‘I can’t handle this’.” Let’s face it, not many of us could.

Maureen Kingi Waaka appears to be the least scathed by life. 1962’s Miss New Zealand, she’s blended her Maori/ Pakeha background satisfactorily to be a contributor on public issues. Maureen considers herself very fortunate to have led such a charmed life.

Her concerns for Maori health are reinforced by the more complex and most interesting of the 60s Chicks, Irihapeti Ramsden: “I’m not very romantic about being a Maori. I’m interested in people being warm, fed and alive – and educated and able to make things better for Maori in a daily way. I think the mystical romantic stereotype is dangerous.” Irihapeti is onto something here. Her unromantic but highly descriptive accounts of life, with a gifted but 1 exacting Victorian Pakeha father who dressed his children in twinsets and pearls for marae visits (“I must have looked such a twerp”), while mourning his Maori wife taken tragically early by TB, are fascinating. Irihapeti’s attempt in adolescence to escape the “huge and growing pressure of this powerful parent” was to OD on his asthma tablets and briefly fetch up in Porirua Mental Hospital sewing shrouds. They say adversity can be character-building – Irihapeti Ramsden is one staunch rock Wahine. Her dilemma of being a stranger in her own land and her resolute survival are inspirational.

Fabulous Dinah Lee – she of the haircut and the blue beat – became seriously famous offshore. She sang with Millie Small (“My Boy Lollipop”) in Melbourne’s Music Bowl to 60,000 kids screaming “Up Dinah Queen of the Mods”. An epitaph to die for.

Victoria Overtoun Taylor segues gracefully from being a Ford Model at 21 to embrace Hare Krishnahood. So that’s where you go to, my lovely.

Robyn du Chateau, having been educated at a Catholic convent, was able to discourse the most candidly about early sexual experience. Having learnt what not to do with her hands, she’s now applying them very profitably as a masseuse.

Pamela Meekings Stewart, a formidable and highly respected TV producer – in the vanguard of equal rights for women in the film industry – was once a roulette croupier in a bunny costume. I did not know that. Two marriages and one beautiful daughter later, she’s gazing at bunnies gambolling on her farm, pretty pleased with her lot.

Though most of the protagonists’ lives have been shaped by the social changes of the 60s and a thread of shared experience of sex and drugs and the obligatory kiwi OE, they are an incredibly diverse bunch of chicks. Despite an off-putting and almost illegible cover illustration – a very young person’s idea of the 60s, presumably without reading the manuscript – Jane Tolerton’s book is a unique social history of some of the people who are shaping our time while being shaped by their past. Their strength and their drawback is that they’re all women, because after all, as Miriam Cameron, quoting from a Marxist midwife, bluntly puts it – your hormones will get you in the end.

Ginette McDonald is a Wellington actor, who is perhaps best known for creating Lynn of Tawa.

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