Historian Gareth Watkins reviews September dates connected with significant members of the rainbow communities in Aotearoa, New Zealand.
27 September 1953
Jonathan Dennis, founding director of the New Zealand Film Archive, was born on this day in Taumarunui. His early years were spent in the Aoraki/Mount Cook region before he was sent to boarding school in Christchurch. Dennis remembers the experience as “a nightmarish time [of] bullying and beating and madness.” His escape was filmed: “that was the place of my fantasies, my imagination, my dreams – seemed to be going at 24 frames a second and BIG.” In the late 1970s, Dennis and a small group of passionate cinephiles advocated for an archive to be established to preserve New Zealand’s rich film heritage. In 1981 he became the Archive’s first director. Biographer Emma-Jean Kelly wrote that under Dennis’ leadership the Archive “incorporated indigenous rights into its infrastructure and acknowledged the rights of the materials themselves as nga taonga, as living entities with relationships to people.”
15 September 1988
Carmen Rupe’s autobiography was released on this day. It has the by-line ‘My life, from schoolboy to successful businesswoman, as told to Paul Martin,’ and gives a vivid first-hand account of a trail-blazing entrepreneur and activist in the 1960s/70s. Martin noted that the book, “must be the most sexually explicit biography of any New Zealander.” From Rupe’s time in Mt Crawford male prison where the prisoners were like “sex-starved lions”, to her many business ventures, “As people left my coffee lounge at 6am or earlier I would splash them with Carmen’s exotic juice which meant that they would be back another night for more. The scent would guide them to me. Some would hear my voice calling like an eerie whisper from the depths of darkness.”
11 September 2007
Danny Beech, who set up New Zealand’s first Deaf gay and lesbian group, died on this day. Beech was born in Pahiatua in 1942. From the age of five, he attended St Dominic’s School for the Deaf in Fielding. Setting up the Deaf rainbow group in the 1990s was only one of his many achievements. The Sign Language Deaf National Archive website states, “Danny was instrumental in supporting the development of the modern Deaf community in NZ.” He was involved in setting up the New Zealand Association of the Deaf and establishing NZSL interpreter training. He also worked tirelessly for the Catholic Deaf Ministry. Beech attended the World Federation of the Deaf Congress 1981 in Rome, where he had an audience with Pope John Paul II. In 1997, the Pope honoured him with the prestigious Benemerenti Medal for his service.
5 September 2012
Media reported that the domain name FamilyFirst.co.nz was redirecting to a website in support of marriage equality. Family First were totally opposed to same-sex marriage and were actively campaigning against it. Family First’s Bob McCroskie told the media that they had never owned the .co.nz version of the domain name and “it’s not an issue.” However, Hamish Spencer who had recently purchased the domain, told GayNZ.com “It did used to redirect to the .org.nz address… Right after I purchased the domain, I talked with a few friends about what I should do with it, we all thought redirecting it to porn would be pretty funny, but then the idea of using it for some good eventuated, and it was pointed at Marriage Equality.”
22 September 2020
Joan Bellingham gave chilling public testimony to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care on this day. Bellingham recounted how during the 1970s, she had been subjected to over 200 ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) treatments and excessive doses of medication, in part, to treat her homosexuality. She recalled that while training as a nurse in Canterbury “word got around that I was gay. I was constantly picked on… I was told that I needed treatment and was taken to Princess Margaret Hospital that same day.” Bellingham reflected, “Many of the things that are socially acceptable now were not in the 70s… I’ve been gay for as long as I can remember. I never saw it as something that I needed to hide away.”
Photo | Carmen Rupe by Jack Body.