In July 1934 the first edition of Tomorrow magazine appeared. It would last until its suppression by the Labour government in 1940. A fortnightly, based largely on subscription, Tomorrow’s main focus was politics and current affairs, but it also published poetry and fiction, and critical essays on literature and art. As left-wing politics became more sharply drawn as the 1930s wore on, the eclecticism of the magazine’s early years waned.
Wake up, New Zealand
As Frederick Sinclaire explained in the pilot issue, Tomorrow was intended to break the country’s ‘uncanny and ill-boding silence … New Zealand is the country in which no one says anything, in which no one is expected to say anything’.1 Sinclaire’s silence resembles the ‘fretful sleep’ of Pākehā society in Bill Pearson’s much-talked-about 1952 Landfall essay about the country’s philistinism and cultural anxieties. One of the routine tasks of the New Zealand intellectual was to criticise New Zealand anti-intellectualism.
The editor, Kennaway Henderson, was a radical cartoonist. Some involved were academics such as Frederick Sinclaire and Winston Rhodes from Canterbury College’s English department; others were a new generation of ‘New Zealand’ voices, such as Denis Glover, A. R. D. Fairburn, Frank Sargeson, Allen Curnow and Robin Hyde (Iris Wilkinson). There were public servants like Bill Sutch and politicians like Ormond Wilson and Martyn Finlay. Most were vaguely left-wing, and developed a role as critics of their society.
Tomorrow magazine formed part of an intellectual community in Christchurch in the 1930s and 1940s, along with the Caxton Press, the Left Book Club (an international movement that had branches in other New Zealand cities as well) and The Group of modernist artists including Rita Angus, Toss Woollaston and Colin McCahon. In Wellington in the 1940s similar left-wing intellectual groups congregated in the French Maid Coffee Bar, Modern Books and Unity Theatre, while in Auckland Progressive Books and R. A. K. Mason’s People’s Theatre were homes to clusters of intellectuals.
From 1947 the quarterly magazine Landfall dominated New Zealand literary discussion for several decades. Landfall was edited by the poet Charles Brasch and kept afloat by his personal wealth. In its pages, alongside short stories and poems, appeared major social critiques by authors such as Bob Chapman, Bill Pearson and Leslie Hall (the pen-name of Phoebe Meikle).
Other independent, non-commercial magazines played important roles in New Zealand intellectual life. From 1949 to 1957 Here and Now was a slightly tamer successor to Tomorrow, while from the late 1950s to the early 1980s the quarterly Comment hosted political discussion. The New Zealand Listener began in 1940 as an official guide to radio and then television programmes. Its lack of independence at times thwarted its social criticism, but it attempted to provide a home for debate and cultural reviews, and its correspondence columns were frequently a place of intellectual discussion.
Feminist and socialist periodicals
Socialist and feminist periodicals operated at a greater distance from the mainstream, though sometimes their voices were eventually drawn into commercial publications or public broadcasting. Bruce Jesson’s The Republican, launched in 1974, became a significant forum for dissident ideas. Jesson became a prominent interpreter of neo-liberal economics and 1980s culture when he complemented his work for The Republican with columns and features for Metro, a glossy magazine that combined lifestyle features and Auckland boosterism with powerful investigative journalism and polemics. Sandra Coney and Phillida Bunkle’s essay on ‘the unfortunate experiment’ with cervical-cancer patients at National Women’s Hospital appeared in Metro.
Coney was also a member of a feminist collective which edited a lively feminist magazine, Broadsheet. This undertook a searching critique of New Zealand society and values. It was in the pages of Broadsheet that Donna Awatere’s Maori sovereignty (published as a book in 1984) first appeared.