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Interview: Nick Bollinger talks about Jumping Sundays

Nick Bollinger is a Wellington-based writer, broadcaster and critic. He was a music columnist for the Listener for more than twenty years, has written for Mojo and been the voice of Radio New Zealand’s music review programme The Sampler. He is the author of How to Listen to Pop Music, 100 Essential New Zealand Albums and Goneville: A Memoir , all published by Awa Press. Originally a thesis written for the creative non-fiction programme at the International Institute of Modern Letters, the manuscript of Goneville won the 2015 Adam Foundation Prize in Creative Writing and was longlisted for the New Zealand Book Awards. Nick talks to NZ Booklovers.

Tell us a little about Jumping Sundays.

The name Jumping Sundays refers to a series of weekly ‘happenings’ - to use the language of the day - that took place in Auckland’s Albert Park in the late 1960s. These incorporated anti-war speeches, live music, dancing and general hippie frolicking, and were really the first big public gatherings in this country of what was to become known as the counterculture. Though they were not legally permitted, in the end a tacit agreement was reached with the city council that if this type of rebelliousness was confined to Sunday afternoons then it would be reluctantly tolerated. Of course that’s not quite how things panned out. But to me the Jumping Sundays represented a larger culture clash, between a conservative pre-war New Zealand and a new youth-led movement, that was asserting itself in different ways around the country as young people challenged their parents’ attitudes to everything from war and religion to sex and drugs. So Jumping Sundays became the title and perhaps the overarching metaphor for my study of the whole period.

What inspired you to write this book?

I’m what you might call a late boomer. I was only ten or eleven years old when the Jumping Sundays were taking place, but I was aware that people just a few years older than me were trying to change the world in ways that looked interesting and exciting. By the time I had finished school and was stepping into adulthood, things had certainly changed, but not quite in the way the counterculturists had imagined. I wanted to know more about what actually happened and what had become of the movement, and I found that no one had written a book about that yet. There had been some writing on particular aspects of the counterculture, such as communes, vegetarianism, protest, but no one had tried to show the connections between all these things, so that’s what I set out to do.

What research was involved?

I began by reading everything I could find on the subject, both from New Zealand and elsewhere. There are many books about the counterculture in Britain and America, as well as less obvious places. For instance there’s a fascinating book about the Mexican counterculture by historian Eric Zolov called Refried Elvis. These books helped me identify the questions I would ask. Then I tracked down and interviewed many people who had played active roles in one or other aspect of the counterculture here. I also spent a lot of time going through archives: oral histories, unpublished memoirs, scrapbooks, newspapers, and so on. And I contacted a lot of photographers who had documented the era, sought permission to use their work and learned some of the stories behind the photos. It all amounted to several years work, on and off. I was lucky to receive a number of grants, including the CLNZ/NZSA Writers Award, and I had a year as the Research Fellow at the Stout Research Centre. Without that sort of support I can’t imagine how a book of this kind would ever get written.

What was your routine or process when writing this book?

While I was the Stout Research Fellow I was able to write full-time which was wonderful. The other grants also bought me some uninterrupted writing time. During these periods I would treat it like any job: get up in the morning and either write or research until late afternoon when I usually start to run out of steam. At the Stout Centre I even had an office, though Covid meant I didn’t spend as much time there as I would have liked. When I was doing other work, such as making radio programmes or writing articles, I would sometimes work on the book at night or on weekends.

Music is a key part of the Jumping Sundays, so if there was a soundtrack to accompany this book, what are the must-have songs you would include?

Whenever I asked any of my interviewees what music they were listening to during this era they would inevitably mention the Rolling Stones. It might be hard to believe it now, but in the 60s the Stones embodied the spirit of youth rebellion and songs like ‘Satisfaction’, ‘Street Fighting Man’ or ‘Gimme Shelter’ report on the mood of the times in an almost journalistic way. Mick Jagger is a very clever lyricist. As far as local music goes, Corben Simpson’s album Get Up With the Sun is imbued with a faintly psychedelic, nature-worshipping worldview, particularly his lovely song ‘Running to the Sea’.

What did you enjoy the most about writing this collection?

The great historian Barbara Tuchman says ‘research is endlessly seductive; writing is hard work’ and I’m inclined to agree. I loved the research part; meeting people and poring over boxes of papers, photos and journals in the National Library. But once I got writing and the prose started flowing I began to enjoy that part too, connecting up the threads of the various different stories and trying to make them into something that is both informative and fun to read.

What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

It’s funny, but I kept thinking I had finished and then finding there was always some other small detail that had to be changed; a quote we couldn’t use or a photo we had to replace. But when the manuscript finally left my screen for the last time, my partner Kathy and I went out together for a meal and a bottle of wine.

What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

It was inspiring to read Alison Jones’s This Pākehā Life just as I was finishing writing Jumping Sundays. The counterculture, for all its lofty idealism and challenging of social mores, was frequently skewed in favour of the Pākehā male. This book got me thinking about which ideas of the counterculture might still be useful and which should be left behind as this country looks to a decolonised future.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

Another fellowship! Next year I’m going to be based at the National Library as the Lilburn Research Fellow, working towards a book about music and identity in New Zealand. I’m interested in the place music occupies in our lives and what music might tell us about who we are. I’m going into this project with a lot of questions. Perhaps I’ll come out with some answers.

Auckland University Press


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