Sixties students 50 years on

‘The silent majority’ is a favourite phrase of political pundits in the wake of Brexit and the election of President Trump, but it could equally have been applied to 1960s student politics at Victoria.

From left: Trevor Crawford, Ian McKinnon, John McGrath, Hugh Rennie

In 1965, three friends—Trevor Crawford, John McGrath and Ian McKinnon—decided to run for the Victoria University Student Executive to try to broaden its appeal and relevance to the student population.

Student politics in those days played out against a backdrop of the Vietnam War, and most of the student election campaigns focused on where candidates stood on that issue. Ian, who later served as a chancellor of Victoria, said the three realised this emphasis on broader political movements did not always resonate with all Victoria’s students.

“It was quite the norm then for Victoria students, particularly in Commerce or Law, to study part time while working as clerks in the professions or in the public service. The campaign for us was directed at trying to include those students in the student political process—to give them a say—while, of course, getting ourselves elected!”

In the era before social media electioneering, a tactic for reaching out to such voters was for candidates to head to the ‘horseshoe bar’ of the now demolished Midland Hotel and other favourite haunts of part-time students, many of whom were also involved in the University sports clubs that were reliant on grants from the Students’ Association.

Trevor, John and Ian were duly elected to the Student Executive for 1965–66—tenures running from July to the following June in those days—and were re-elected for the 1966–67 term, with Hugh Rennie (then Salient editor) taking Ian’s place in the latter part of the second term.

When Trevor visited Wellington in late 2016, the four who had had two terms involved in student politics took the chance to get together.

“There is always much to say when reflecting on 50 years earlier, as well as on the intervening period,” says Ian. Experience on the Student Executive clearly left a taste for public service.

Sir John went on to serve as solicitorgeneral, as a Supreme Court judge and, like Ian, as a former chancellor of Victoria; Ian has also served as deputy mayor of Wellington and is currently a Greater Wellington regional councillor; Hugh Rennie is a leading QC and was recently involved in the Christchurch earthquake enquiries; and Trevor was in business and is a company director in Auckland.

Joining these three in the 1966–67 Student Executive photo are other prominent alumni, including a third Victoria chancellor, Hon. Douglas White QC who is currently president of the Law Commission; the late Michael King, one of New Zealand’s most influential historians; and Sue Markham and David Shand who made their mark in international organisations—Sue at the United Nations and David at the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), International Monetary Fund and World Bank.