Bringing on back the good times

Despite amazing advances in technology over recent decades which have brought the world to our pockets, there are still some things we cannot achieve.

As much as we might like to, we cannot go back in time. A time-travelling app would be the ultimate cellphone accessory, although, as keen science fiction fans will know only too well, it would need to come with a warning not to upset the space-time continuum by interfering in matters that might mean your parents are never born.

Just trying to get your head around these time paradoxes requires a higher university degree. It’s the stuff of H.G. Wells, Dr Who and Star Trek, and blockbusters like Back to the Future.

And yet while we cannot physically materialise at the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi or the opening ceremony of the 1974 Christchurch Commonwealth Games, there are plenty of ways we can travel back, mentally, to the “good old days”.

We are surrounded by remnants of the past. As well as items such as photographs, newspaper clippings, diaries and letters and old clothes, we only need to visit YouTube to be able to immerse ourselves in the past again through favourite clips of music or television programmes or important moments in history.

It used to be joked that merely flying from Sydney to New Zealand took one back in time 30 years. Although a rather unkind rule of thumb, few could argue that, thanks to our geographical isolation, we have tended to be behind the rest of the Western world when it comes to some matters of culture and custom.

The wonderful Evening Star photographs of The Beatles’ Dunedin concert 57 years ago, published for the first time in Saturday’s Otago Daily Times, offered just such a portal through which to glimpse those long-gone days.

It was June 26, 1964 when Beatlemania, which had been careering crazily around the world for almost a year, blasted into the city in the depths of winter.

The Town Hall that evening reverberated to the sound of thousands of screaming, hysterical fans drowning out the Fab Four. Those at the concert, and those who experienced the mayhem surrounding the visit and the movements of The Beatles, believed Dunedin had never seen anything like it before.

The very nature of the black-and-white photos, freezing and capturing milliseconds for posterity, can only reveal a smidgen of the noise, the chaos and energy of the night.

The Evening Star the next day said “bedlam broke loose” in the Town Hall. “The four Liverpool lads did the impossible — turned staid Dunedin upside down.’’

“Staid”? In other words, grave, dull, demure, sombre or unadventurous.

Certainly people now might look back at Dunedin nearly 60 years ago and pass that verdict. But it is interesting that a reporter dared to use that word then.

John Cleese’s comments about the rattling tea cups from an unamused elderly audience at a matinee performance in Dunedin of the Cambridge Circus about the same time support that view of stolidity.

Without a doubt, New Zealand was well behind the times half a century ago, and Dunedin behind the rest of the country. But is it such a bad thing to have a late blossoming?

New Zealand has certainly caught up with the rest of the world in many respects during the last few decades.

It is hard to believe that until the mid-1970s there was no colour television, strict import rules on products like margarine and olive oil, and even into the 1980s limits on how much local currency could be taken overseas.

But there have been benefits of watching how things played out elsewhere first. Take Covid-19 for example.

We have seen where others have failed in their response and picked up tips about the right way of handling the virus.

Being at the cutting-edge is not always what it is cracked up to be.


We were not Piccadilly Circus. We were, however, steam trains and benzine street racing, 'Bad' Manor Place trolley derby, Loretta Switt (Houlihan) of M*A*S*H, being driven around in an Army Jeep, The Southern Comedy Players, and chop suey with no chops, the imaginative seeing a touch of San Francisco coming off Highgate down Stuart Street, Daybreak Bookshop and an astonishing Heresy Trial as late as 1968. They do things differently everywhere.

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