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Historian Gareth Watkins uncovers dates in New Zealand’s past that have impacted today’s queer community in Aotearoa.

28 March 1903

Playwright and medical practitioner Merton Hodge was born on this day in Taruheru, Poverty Bay. Hodge studied at King’s College in Auckland and then Otago Medical School.  He moved to England in 1931 where he gained international success with his play The Wind and the Rain. An Australian newspaper wrote, “By day he works as an anesthetist in a big hospital at Hyde Park Corner: at night he has been writing plays which are the success of the season.” The Wind and the Rain ran for three years (1,001 performances) in London’s West End, played for 6-months on Broadway in New York, and was translated into nine languages.  Hodge mingled in bohemian and theatrical circles while in the UK – partying with Ivor Novello, Tallulah Bankhead, and Noel Coward. He also spent a lot of time with Geoffrey Wardwell, another actor, who researchers theorise was probably his lover. In 1952, Hodge returned to New Zealand, married, and settled in Dunedin. Sadly, he took his own life 6-years later.

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9 March 1947

Internationally acclaimed author Keri Hulme was born on this day in Christchurch. As a teenager, Hulme began writing short stories and poetry – some of which were published in her high school’s magazine. In the 1970s, she received a number of literary grants and was awarded the Robert Burns Fellowship in ’77.  During this period, Hulme continued working on The Bone People – the book that would skyrocket her to international fame in the mid-80s. Over a period of twelve years, Hulme had submitted the work to a number of publishers who had wanted to make significant changes. The Bone People was ultimately picked up by the Spiral Collective – a feminist literary and arts collective founded in Christchurch. The book was an immediate success, with its first edition selling out in weeks.  It went on to win the 1984 NZ Book Award for Fiction and the Booker Prize in 1985. Not only did Hulme become the first New Zealander to win the Booker Prize, she was also the first writer to win the Booker for their debut novel.

2-3 March 1974

SHE Wellington held NZ’s first national lesbian conference. SHE (Sisters for Homophile Equality) was established in Christchurch in 1973 with a manifesto that reflected both women’s liberation and gay politics. Writing in Women Together: a History of Women’s Organisations in New Zealand, activist Linda Evans said, “For some, informal meetings and relaxed socialising were sufficient; others felt ‘a growing awareness of and anger at the constant prejudice we face’.” Within two months, SHE had around 200 members in Christchurch and Wellington. As reported in the Dominion and Evening Post newspapers, the first national conference was attended by approximately 40 people who resolved that homosexual couples should be able to adopt children and that lesbian couples should be accorded the same legal status as de facto marriages in relation to social recognition, inheritance rights and tax benefits.

29 March 2011

GayNZ reported on complaints of “blatantly offensive sexual behaviour” around Te Horo Beach on the Kapiti Coast. The area was popular with a number of different communities, including gay men, who according to some locals were popping up in the dunes “like meerkats.” Joyce Fleming from Free Beaches NZ told media that anyone having sex in open view on a beach was offensive: “They are ruining it for other beach users and in particular for bona fide naturists and skinny-dippers.” BJ, a local resident, said the dunes were like “an open outdoor brothel for gay men.” While Sergeant Bigwood of the Otaki police said, “One or two people need to be made an example of, so the sun lovers can get on with their discreet sun-loving, the gay community can get on with being a discreet gay community and other beach users can use the beach without anything being shoved in their face.”

Article | Gareth Watkins.

Photo | New Zealand novelist Keri Hulme enjoys a smoke and beer at her local in Okarito in 1985.

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