MILESAGO - Media - Press
1. "Somwhere over the Rainbow": the birth of Oz
2. "A dirty little rag with filth in it": Australian Oz, 1963-66
3. "We're not in Kansas anymore": London Oz 1967-72
|1. "Somwhere, over the rainbow": the birth of Oz|
The first incarnation of Oz was published in Sydney from 1963-66. It was jointly edited by Richard Neville, Richard Walsh and Martin Sharp, who also did much of the artwork. Regular contributors included Garry Shead, Robert Hughes, Alex Popov and Peter Grose. Although regarded in their heyday as dangerous subversives and threats to society, all the major players in the Australian Oz story came from affluent backgrounds, attended exclusive private schools and went on to study at major NSW tertiary institutions. The genesis of OZ was their shared experience in the student press of the early 1960s.
To understand why Oz created such a stir, it's important to understand the nature of Australian society at the time that its editors finished school around 1960. Like Britain, Australia was in most respects little changed from the pre-war era. Politically, the country was slumbering under the rule of the right-wing Liberal Party, led since 1949 by Robert Menzies. Police and political corruption was endemic and entrenched, especially in Sydney. Capital punishment was still in force. The White Australia Policy, which excluded migrants from non-Anglo backgrounds, was still in force. Socially too, Australia was deeply conservative, and the radicalising forces of the so-called "Swinging Sixties" were still years away. The "generation gap" was a yawning chasm, as Neville himself points out in his memoirs. In 1963 Menzies was seventy; NSW Premier Heffron was seventy-three; the chairman of the Literary Censorhp Board was eighty-one and his equivalent on the Appeals Board was eighty-four.
The influence of the churches pervaded many areas of public life. Pubs closed at 6pm (causing the infamous "Six O'Clock Swill"); women were not permitted to buy a drink in the public bars of hotels; the Sunday Observance Act was still in force, forbidding many public events and keeping pubs, clubs, cinemas and theatres closed for most or all of the day. Homosexuality, prostitution and abortion, were illegal, punishable by draconian prison sentences, and rarely if ever discussed in public forums. The very concept of women's rights and the women's movement were years in the future; career opportunities were limited, few women went on to tertiary education, and if they did get a job they were paid significantly less than men for the same work.
Aboriginals were for the most part unseen and unknown; they were universally and savagely discriminated against, segregated from white society, banned from pubs, shops, public baths and the like. They could not vote. Those in urban areas were confined to degrading slums like Redfern, in inner city Sydney; rural Aborigines lived in squalor in tenement camps on the outskirts of country towns, or were herded into repressive Church missions, or worked for a pittance for the huge pastoral companies like Vesty, who had 'aquired' vast areas of the Aborigines' traditional lands and turned them into huge sheep and cattle stations. Aboriginal children were routinely removed from their families by Church and state authorities "for their own good", part of a decades-old covert policy to supress and dismantle Aboriginal culture through "integration".
There was widespread and vigorous censorship of books and films. TV was only four years old and investigative journalism was still in its infancy (the ABC's current affairs flagship FOUR CORNERS did not commence until 1961). Newspapers generally toed "the party line" and reinforced the broad atmosphere of conservatism and repression. Public debate on social and political issues was, by comparison to today, so limited as to be almost non-existent.
Richard Neville was educated at Sydney's exclusive Knox Grammar School and after a short hiatus working in advertising he enrolled in a Arts-Commerce degree course at the recently established University of New South Wales (UNSW) at the start of 1961. Smart, articulate, outspoken and fearless, he hit the ground running at UNSW, displaying from the first an instinctive media 'savvy', and an unerring facility for provoking his "betters". He was dismayed by the bleak and conservative atmosphere of his new alma mater. UNSW was Sydney's second university, located in Kensington, NSW, adjacent to Sydney's major racecourse at Randwick..
Formerly an Institute of Technology, and still specialising in applied science courses, UNSW was derisively referred to as "Kenso High" or "The University of Engineering" by those from the venerable but snobby Sydney University, Australia's oldest tertiary campus. When Neville enrolled, UNSW was still under construction, but even long after completion of the original buildings it was widely regarded as one of the ugliest campuses in the country. Ironically, UNSW was to became a major force in the creative arts -- attached to it was another new centre of learning, NIDA, the National Institute of Dramatic Arts. This was later augmented by the establishment of the Australian Film, Television & Radio School, and between them they have produced some of Australia's top creative talent over the last 40 years.
Early in the year, Neville penned a critical essay about the campus and took it to Ian Davison, editor of the student newspaper, Tharunka. On the strength of the reaction to Neville's critique, Davison appointed him as features editor and by the end of his first year Neville had aquired a considerable local reputation as an inventive media stirrer.
Neville's first coup was masterminding a well-publicised Foundation Day prank. Masquerading as a Beatnik group, Neville and two friends infiltrated the Nine Network's pop show BANDSTAND by . Once on set, they boldly "kidnapped" the host, Brian Henderson, spirited him away to a holiday house and held him to "ransom". A Sydney paper agreed to pay the £100 ransom (donated to charity) in return for an exclusive interview with Neville.
The day after the Henderson "hostage drama", Tharunka's famous Foundation Day edition hit the streets and caused a minor sensation. Davison and Neville created an elaborate parody of Sydney's leading broadsheet, The Sydney Morning Herald, Australia's oldest newspaper. Dubbed the Sydney Moaning Tharunka, it closely mimicked the Herald's front page (it was printed on the Herald's own presses) and it led with a classic hoax story about the Sydney Harbour Bridge collapsing, illustrated by suitably doctored photographic 'evidence'. Handed out on street corners around the city, the similarity to the Herald fooled thousands of credulous comuters, and some 10,000 copies were distributed on the day.
In September, Tharunka published an edition strongly critical of the university, which attacked the campus administration, called for the resignation of the Vice Chancellor, and deplored the soulless campus. The student union attempted to ban the edition, but Davison and Neville slipped copies to contacts in the city newspapers, and when the controvsersy hit the mainstream press the student union was forced to back down.
In March 1962 Neville took over as Tharunka editor. In April he made a crucial new friendship -- art student Martin Sharp. Martin had been a boarder at Sydney's exclusive Cranbrook school before going on to study art at East Sydney Technical College, where he co-edited a shortlived student magazine The Arty Wild Oat, with his friends Garry Shead and John Firth Smith.
Another formative event for Neville was the ill-fated 1962 visit by American humourist Lenny Bruce. Engaged for a season of shows at Sydney's Argyle Tavern, Bruce never made it past the first night -- he was booed within minutes of opening his mouth and celebrity DJ Bob Rogers and his wife ostentatiously walked out in mid-performance. The next day the newspapers were plastered with headlines proclaiming "SICK SMUT - STARS WALK OUT". The outrage was so intense that the Argyle Tavern cancelled the season and the ABC dropped a scheduled TV interview. Neville came to the rescue and organised for Bruce to perform for the students at the UNSW Roundhouse. Bruce offered to perform for free, and Bruce agreed, since he desperately wanted to be heard. Posters and leaflets were hastily printed, but later that day the Vice-Chancellor cancelled the performance. Neville rang Bruce's manager, and later went over to Bruces hotel in the Cross to find him stretched on a bed, comatose, attended by two doctors. Neville later wrote that it was "not the heroin I blamed for this seedy imitation of death, but the forces of law and order".
The third member of the original Oz triumvirate was Richard Walsh. Also privately educated, he was studying medicine at Sydney University with a view to becoming a psychiatrist. At the time he met Neville and Sharp, he was co-editor of the Sydney Uni. student paper Honi Soit, with his old friend Peter Grose. Although undoubtedly the most conservative and conventional of the three, Walsh too had an evident knack for annoying people. In April 1963, only two weeks after Neville and Sharp met and UNSW, he and Peter Grose were sacked from Honi Soit by the Student Council for alleged "flippancy of tone" in their reporting on student politics; it was the first time in thirty-four years it had taken such action. Meanwhile, back at UNSW, the Vice-Chancellor demanded a written assurance that Tharunka would cease its criticism of the university.
Neville and Sharp had toyed with the idea of a joint student publication, but the it was the meeting and friendship between Neville, Walsh and Grose that brought the plans to fruition. In July 1962, Neville decided to attend a conference of student editors in Adelaide; Walsh and Grose (now reinstated to Honi) also wanted to go and agreed to share costs. With Neville's friend Alex Popov providing the car, they set off. It was on this trip that they hatched the idea for "a magazine of dissent".
Later in the year, Neville wrote a Tharunka feature article called "The City By Night" which included his (anonymous) first-hand account of his visit to a seedy local brothel. Although illegal, prostitution flourished in Sydney, protected by a web of police corruption. When the issue went to press, the Herald refused to print it on the grounds of "personal taste". Neville responded by terminating Tharunka's association with the Herald and switching to the Daily Mirror, which had recently been bought by Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch's Mirror editor happily used the event to take a swipe at the Herald's "censorship" and offered Neville a free hand in layout and content.
On the first Sunday in January, 1963 Neville convened a meeting at his house with a group of about fifteen friends, to make definite plans for their proposed "magazine of dissent". Most were associated with Tharunka but Martin Sharp, Garry Shead, Richard Walsh and Peter Grose were there too. After a long brainstorming session they finally hit on the name "Oz", although remakarably Neville says that, at the time, no-one realised its other connotation as an abbreviation for "Australia".
The group raised fifty pounds in start-up capital (a considerable sum in those days) and formed a company. By this stage Grose had begun work as cadet with the Daily Mirror and Walsh was still involved in his studies and in student politics at Sydney Uni, so much of the work fell to Neville. Through a friend's father they were given weekend access to some "office" space in a warehouse in Harrington Lane, The Rocks. The buklding a former colonial stable owned by the Maritime Services Board, operated as a joinery during the week.
The team began assembling the first issue. The Queen was visting Australia in March 1963, so Walsh wrote a satirical diary of the various mishaps during the Royal Tour -- the visit on which Menzies made his famously fawning remark to the Queen: "I did but see her passing by, and yet I love her 'til I die". Sharp drew a caricature of the Queen with a smile-mask tied over her face; they also picked up on the revisionist coverage of the tour, which puffed up the often lukewarm reception afforded the Royal visitors, and they highlighted it in a column called DEPARTMENT OF FACT. Neville's friend Gina wrote a piece on the history of chastity belts called "The Maiden's Key To Chastity"; Sharp drew a series of cartoon belts, and a couple of UNSW students posed for a photo which became the centre spread -- the man locked in a chastity belt, the woman holding the key.
Not long before the first edition was published, Neville's girlfriend fell pregnant, and after some discreet enquiries he was able to procure an abortion for her -- no small matter at any time, but in 60s Australia a crime punishable by u[p to 10 years in prison. He later approached the "abortionist" (a prominent Sydney gynaecologist) who, assured of anonymity, agreed to be interviewed for Oz.
In the early hours of March 31 Sharp and Neville did the rounds of the city streets, pasting up posters, printed for them by the Mirror, carrying the simple banner headline:
|"Utterly worthless": Australian Oz 1963-66|
Oz Number 1 hit the streets on April Fool's Day, 1963. Its irreverent attitude was very much in the tradition of its student paper antecedents. Neville admits that it drew heavily on Britian's celebrated satirical journal Private Eye, and on the "acid fluency" of Britain's left-wing New Statesman.
The first issue was a runaway hit -- they sold 6000 copies within three hours and Neville gleefully ordered a reprint. It was, he later recalled, "the happiest day of my life." But the jubilation was to be shortlived, and Establishment reaction to the new magazine was almost instantaneous. The abortion story in particular caused a furore -- the Maritime Services Board began action to evict Oz from their office in The Rocks; the Mirror cancelled its ad contract and threatened to sack Peter Grose from his cadetship unless he resigned from Oz.
For Issue 2, Robert Hughes (who went on to become the art critic for Time magazine) wrote a parody the a recent Ban The Bomb march, complete with his own caricature of a "peacenik", and then created a parody of the 'Playboy Interview' genre with a piece called "An Interview With God". Also in the Oz firing line were Sydney right-wing talkback host Eric Baume and controversial modernist architect Harry Seidler. Bob Ellis (who grew up to be a famous author and screenwriter) penned a Freudian analysis of Donald Duck, and there was also a review of the books of Henry Miller, whose work was then banned in Australia.
Issue 4 carried a cover collage satirising the recent Profumo scandal in Britain; a photo of a London bobby guarding the disgraced minister had a speech balloon added to it, saying "Psst ... do you want to meet my sister?" Not long after it came out, Walsh, Neville and Sharp were summonsed to appear in court on charges of publishing an obscene magazine, "to wit, Oz". Walsh's father, a deeply religious and conservative man, suffered a heart attack as a result, and the Walsh family solicitor had to arrange for the case to be adjourned to September. He advised the three that as first offenders they could avoid having a conviction recorded against them by pleading guilty.
Meanwhile, the Mirror had pulled the next edition off the presses; word spread fast among the printing industry that Oz was "on the nose", and Neville was turned down by a dozen other firms he approached. At Walsh's suggestion, he turned to the Anglican Press, whose managing director, Francis James, was a maverick journalist and a champion of free speech. It was a propitious meeting. James was remarkable figure and a first-class stirrer in his own right. He was a lifelong friend of Gough Whitlam. As a WWII pilot, he was shot down over France in 1942 and severley burned, but twice escaped his German captors. He became managing director of The Anglican in the early 50s and in 1960 he famously clashed with media mogul Sir Frank Packer, who was trying to take over the paper. James was one of the first public figures in Australia to speak out against the Vietnam War, using The Anglican as a platform for his opposition. From 1962 to 1969 he addressed over two hundred public meetings and wrote dozens of articles opposing the War on moral and logistical grounds. In 1967 he was involved in a major controversy over sending money to North Vietnamese aid organisations, and he made two controversial visits there, in 1966 and 1968, just after the Tet Offensive. In November 1969 he was arrested on charges of spying while on a visit to China, and was imprisoned for three years. He was only released after extensive negotiations by his old friend Whitlam, who was now Prime Minister.
James happily agreed to take on Oz as a client. On Monday 2 September 1963 the three men fronted the Central Court of Petty Sessions in Liverpool St, and despite the solicitor's advice, their convictions were recorded, and they were fined twenty pounds each. With exams looming, the next issue was postponed until the end of the year.
Oz #5, the Xmas edition, featured a new column, "The Stiff Arm of the Law", which became a regular file on police misconduct. Law student Dean Letcher devised a savage parody of a police report, in which the real actions of the police, in typescript, were "revised" with numerous crossings-out and handwritten amendments. The first paragraph, as typed, read:
Most of the sentence was crossed out; "...before Alf got pissed..." was replaced by "December 2nd" and "my homo-hunting togs ready for the Domain" became simply "plain clothes". Needless to say, the police were not amused and copies were seized in a raid on a Kings Cross newsagency.
This In April 1964 Sharp, Neville and Walsh were again charged with publishing an obscene magazine. They stood trial in September and on the 23rd the three were found guilty and sentenced to six months' hard labour, but they were released on bail pending an appeal.
In November 1964 the Links were involved in a remarkable Sydney cultural event. The famous Royal George Hotel in Sussex St was home-base for a loose coterie of artists, poets, philosophers, writers, musicians and sundry bohemian types known as "The Push" (a name adopted from the vicious street gang who ruled The Rocks area of Sydney in the early 1900s.). Via connections in The Push, the Links got to know people associated with the now-legendary satirical magazine OZ. At the time OZ was embroiled in a controversial legal case, which stemmed from a number of humorous articles published in OZ, and from the famous cover of OZ#6. The cover photo (literally, a piss-take!) depicted editor Richard Neville and two friends pretending to urinate into a recessed wall fountain created by sculptor Tom Bass, which was set into the base of the P&O Building near Chifley Square, in the heart of Sydney's central business district.
Neville, Walsh and Martin Sharp, had been charged, tried and found guilty of publishing an obscene magazine. Their sentence -- six months in prison -- caused outrage in Sydney. While out on bail pending an appeal, their supporters decided to raise money for the defence fund with a benefit concert, which was organised and held at the Sydney University Theatre on 15 November 1964. The Links' rebellious image suited the OZ crowd to a tee, so they were invited to play.
A few days before the concert, both Richard Neville and the Links appeared on the ABC's PEOPLE. Neville was interviewed by host Bob Sanders, and the Links played two live numbers -- their forthcoming single Untrue, and Route 66. This was to be the only TV appearance by the original lineup, but it earned the ABC a stream of telephone complaints, and resulted in the Links being specifically banned from TV pop show Sing Sing Sing by host Johnny O'Keefe. One newspaper review of the program called the Links "a particularly obnoxious gaggle of guitar thumpers" !
The benefit itself was a truimph, featuring the Links, plus special guests. The cast of satirical TV revue THE MAVIS BRAMSTON SHOW brought the house down with a campy send-up of children's staple Puff The Magic Dragon, cheekily retitled as "Poof The Tragic Queen". Another highlight was Leonard Teale. The golden-voiced actor, a successful stage, radio and TV performer (he played Superman in a '40s Australian radio serial) was currently starring in the pioneering Aussie police drama HOMICIDE. Teale was also well-known for his fine readings of Australian poetry classics like The Man From Snowy River. On the night, Teale delighted the audience with an hilarious 'surfie' version of Clancy of the Overflow ( ..."and I saw the vision splendid, of her bikini top extended...").
DING A DING DAY (1967)
Experimental short / Sydney Filmmakers Co-operative / B&W Film / 16mm / 00:10:00
Director, Producer: Garry Shead
film qualifies as the first truly underground Australian movie. An assembly
of home movie footage shot between 1961-66 and begun when Shead was an
art student at East Sydney Technical College. Martin Sharp and Richard
Neville appear in sequence covering the birth of OZ Magazine in which
Shead was a cartoonist. Includes historical footage of Richard Neville
and Martin Sharp freaking around in Sydney and is also a chronicle of
student days with a mixture of pathos and lyricism. (From ABN)"
extras included numerous Sydney University students, OZ editor Richard Neville, and Louis Davis, an Aboriginal printer who operated the letterpress at John Clark's Tula Press, which was also housed in Ubu's headquarters at 54 George St. Redfern. The film featured one of the paintings by Martin Sharp which was shown in his first exhibition in December 1965.
GBN Australia Richard
The Poetics of
Propaganda: David Widgery
University of Western
Australia Online Library
OZ links - London
OZ Magazine (1967-1973)
talks to James Elder
"Out Of My
Mind" review by Phil Shannon
Garry Shead article,
London OZ (January
1967-November 1973) - A Rough Guide to OZ and Some Stuff Therein
The State of Censorship
- The People & The Media
Media transcript - Richard Walsh
Paul Elliott at
the Newcastle Young Writers Festival, October 1999