Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Reflections on the death of Richard Neville

I knew that Richard Neville was unwell, but I had not expected him to die so soon after I wrote Reflections on Richard Neville's Play Power 1. That was a critical piece, something that I shall come back to in a moment.

The long story on his death in the Guardian, this ABC piece, this piece in the Australian by Richard Walsh who shared large elements of the journey, this piece in the Financial Review, all draw out certain common themes. The photo is of the Oz London team, Richard Neville on the far right.

Reading the various pieces as well as the comment threads,  I was struck by the degree of liking for Neville as a persona as well as a sense of nostalgia.

Speaking on the ABC's Q&A program, and my thanks to kvd for the quote, Germaine Greer commented:
He looked forward to the new. I'm afraid I'm not really like that, I'm kind of a bit suspicious of the new. I used to tease him and say that he was the ad man for the revolution, because he didn't actually have any ideology. His ideology was endlessly supple, but in some ways that's important, that you are open to new ideas in that way, and not doctrinaire like me.
I said that my piece was a critical one.  I think that part of the reason was a sense of shock on reading the book, but part too lay in the difficulty of capturing, even sometimes of remembering, that brief past moment. While I am younger than Richard Neville, I too remember elements of that period. They are embedded in my memory because they are are part of a certain period of my life.  

My historical research has required me to look back, to examine patterns of social change in the second half  of the twentieth century. It makes me quite uncomfortable. Looking back, I am struck by the naivety, the innocence, of some of my own beliefs. It's quite difficult to explain because it is intimately connected not just with a belief that change was necessary and desirable, that new things could be done, but with the froth and bubble of events and life style at an impressionable age.

I was never a rebel in the sense that others were, wishing to break convention just because it was convention. But the idea of a different life style was deeply appealing even if I was enjoying the sybaritic present too much to really want to make the switch.

The period represented by Richard Neville was really very short, probably less than ten years, certainly less than twenty. While I no longer regard the 1950s as socially conformist and boring as I once did, it was fairly conformist as society re-asserted itself after the chaos of war. In 1955, the fifties were in full swing. By 1965, the wave of new ideas, of initial rebellion and change was well underway. By 1975 it had passed, although elements of course continued.

You can see the wave clearly in Australia's universities, something worthy of a piece in its own right. I sometimes think that in challenging conventions, in tearing down structures, all that grew from the resulting rubble were weeds, and that's ultimately a most depressing thought.      


Anonymous said...

It's interesting: the Fin Review piece is titled "Richard Neville: a 60s child who challenged the status quo" - yet he was born in 1941, a decade before myself.

I've always rather resented the label "60s child" being misappropriated in this way, by people of his age. I wonder what the term "60s child" actually represents?


2 tanners said...


Perhaps they were the children OF the sixties, not children IN the sixties? Those of us who were children IN the sixties missed the whole 'free love' movement, a source of considerable regret to a child of the sixties, but a teenager of the seventies. :)


I rather agree with your last statement. You don't tear something down without a plan to put something better in its place. Such an action is raw nihilism, and weeds are the best you can hope for. It's better than salted earth or irradiated ruins, but not much.

Jim Belshaw said...

I'm inclined to thing 2t is right in the "of", kvd!