mates & lovers
I’ve just finished reading Mates & Lovers Chris Brickell’s history of gay New Zealand which L gave me for my birthday, and which i’ve found hugely interesting. Not surprising i guess when the subject matter connects so directly with my own history, but then Brickell writes well also, and presents much fascinating detail. I liked being reminded of those bits of local gay history that i’ve lived through, and some of which inevitably have begun to fade in the memory. However the most interesting pieces of this book are of course all the bits that came before the time of my own gay consciousness. Brickell’s work has given me a much clearer picture of a New Zealand where men loving men has been a continuous experience for many of my countrymen. The awareness of this love by the society they lived in, the labels given or not given to them and the attitudes towards them and that they themselves have had of their relationships with each other, have varied enormously. But the existence of male-male love has always been here even if as Brickell puts it the men involved have not been “essentially the same kinds of sexual being” [p. 382].
I found much to interest me in this book, not least the pictures which are a wonderful collection. There is for example the curious tale of the young D’Arcy Cresswell, a very handsome soldier who as a supposed straight man is persuaded in 1920 to inveigle Charles Mackay, the mayor of Wanganui, into betraying his sexual interest in men to satisfy the vengefulness of the local RSA for a slight he has inflicted on them. Mackay ends up shooting Cresswell, but not fatally, and then has his career and life ruined as a result of the following court case. Cresswell, although he marries and has a child, leaves them soon after since he, ironically, has been attracted to men since his adolescence, has subsequently numerous relationships with men while becoming “one of New Zealand’s most ardent defenders of same-sex love” [p. 117]. Or, for another instance, a Canterbury connection: the life-long passion of Samuel Butler for Charles Paine Pauli whom he first met in the offices of The Press in 1863 and the influence of their story in sustaining the understanding their own nature and sexual identity of a great many New Zealand gay men in the century and a half since.
Mates & Lovers is a very readable book and a valuable record and interpretation of the lives of gay men in New Zealand.