The 1960s

Page 1 – Introduction

1960s bathing suit contest
1960s bathing suit contest

Paul Kantner, co-founder of the pioneer American psychedelic rock group Jefferson Airplane, once famously quipped that if you could ‘remember anything about the sixties, then you weren't really there’. The ‘swinging sixties’ supposedly left the stodgy and conservative fifties in their wake. People ‘made love not war’ and took ‘trips’ without leaving home.

For most New Zealanders, however, the 1960s were less exciting. Like the generations before them they simply got on with the business at hand – going to school and work and raising families. A strong economy based on high wool prices and secure markets meant that, as in the 1950s, New Zealand enjoyed one of the highest standards of living in the world. The country was shaken from this complacency when the export price for wool fell dramatically in December 1967. Unemployment and inflation rose sharply in a warning of darker times ahead.

The arrival of television and jet travel shrank our world in the 1960s. We were exposed to other places, ideas and influences. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who and other bands brought the latest British music to eager young Kiwi ears. Lyndon B. Johnson became the first US President to visit New Zealand. Kiwis also began to express themselves on a range of international issues, including the Vietnam War. It was observed by one publication in 1965 that opposition to the war was causing New Zealanders to behave 'in ways quite uncharacteristic of the species as recognised by their ancestors’.

In this feature we provide an overview of the decade and a year-by-year breakdown of some of its key events.