Farewell Richard Neville (1941-2016)

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Oz magazine, ‘the last issue’ published in Australia, on which Richard Neville is acknowledged as ‘Immediate Past Co-editor’ as he was living and publishing Oz in London at the time. Cover design by Martin Sharp inscribed ‘SHARP HAS RETURNED … BUT NOT FOR LONG… HO HO HO’ upper right. MAAS collection (94/185/32) Gift of Ray Gardiner, 1994

Richard Neville, author, journalist, social commentator and co-founder of Oz magazine sadly passed away on Sunday 4 September. I recall Richard visiting the Museum around the time he was writing his autobiography, Hippie, Hippie, Shake: The Dreams, the Trips, the Trials, the Love-ins, the Screw ups—the Sixties (William Heinemann, 1995). His commitment and enthusiasm for the counterculture, art, music and politics of the 1960s and 70s was palpable … and infectious. Here at the Museum, we began digitizing Oz magazine covers around that time and continued to build on our existing holdings of 1960s and 70s fashion and design, including MAAS’s Oz magazine collection.

Oz was a satirical magazine, published for a decade in Sydney and London between 1963 and 1973.  It began life in Neville’s family home in Mosman in January 1963, with a group of friends including Martin Sharp, Garry Shead, Alex Popov, Richard Walsh, Peter Grosse, Peter Kingston and Mike Glasheen. (‘Oz magazine goes digital – and the party continues’, The Conversation, 5 August 2015) The first issue (MAAS collection 94/228/1) hit the streets of Sydney on April Fool’s Day 1963. London Oz was launched a few years later, in February 1967. It was a much more colourful and better produced version than its antipodean antecedent.

Interestingly, Oz magazine reflects the paradigm shift that occurred in social mores between the 1950s and the 60s. It demonstrates just how radically and rapidly society changed during the sixties, as the counterculture movement gained hold with the advent of sex, drugs, politicised rock and folk music, feminism, pacificism and the pill. With first hand experience of the issues confronting this generation, Neville and his creative colleagues led the charge not only to capture, document and reflect these social changes, but also instigating change.

Ostensibly a post-adolescent grown-up version of a student magazine, Oz addressed key issues of the day, containing some serious journalism … and it did this graphically, with humour and satire – satirizing everything from politics to public sculptures. This riled the establishment. The very first issue, and Oz No. 6, February 1964, caught the attention of the censors and editors. Richard Neville and Richard Walsh, and artist Martin Sharp, were charged under the Obscene and Indecent Publications Act and sentenced to jail terms with hard labour – a decision later quashed on appeal.

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Controversial ‘Oz’, No 6, February 1964 issue of the magazine art directed by Martin Sharp and edited by Richard Neville and Richard Walsh, the cover satirizing the Tom Bass sculpture installed into the facade of the new P&O building on Hunter Street, Sydney. MAAS collection (94/228/4)

Even though the magazine was intentionally provocative, such vehement public reaction to the very first issues came as something of a shock and surprise to Neville and his colleagues, partly because they were all still quite young when they launched the magazine in 1963, but also because the reaction was so ‘out of sync’ with the times. “The things we thought we could discuss like legalising abortion and so on at university — these weren’t things that we thought were terribly shocking, because they were things we were talking about all the time.” (Richard Neville in his own words, ABC Radio National)

In more recent years, two important issues of Oz were secured for MAAS collection from a collector of graphics – the second last issue ‘Oz No. 46, January/February 1973’ published in London (2004/93/4), and more significantly, a copy of the controversial ‘School Kids’ issue, ‘Oz’, No. 28, May 1970 (2004/93/3), largely written by British school students for a youth audience. It was the issue which landed Richard Neville, publisher Felix Dennis and editor Jim Anderson in a London prison in 1971. With the support of barristers John Mortimer and Geoffrey Robertson, and growing public pressure, these convictions too were eventually quashed, but the controversy surrounding this and the earlier case in Australia, would secure Neville and Oz’s legacy as important sixties social ‘game changers’.

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‘Oz’ magazine, ‘School Kids’ issue, No. 28, May 1970, London. MAAS collection. (2004/93/3)

With the passing of Richard Neville (2014-2016) and Martin Sharp (1942-2013), Australia has lost a pair of sharp sixties intellectual larrikins. I believe Richard and Martin will be missed and admired for their humour, courage, integrity, artistry and affront for generations to come. Vale Richard Neville (and Martin Sharp).

Post by: Anne-Marie Van de Ven, Curator

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