Fools abroad : the town-gown relationship between Massey University students and Palmerston North at capping time, 1963-1973 : a research essay presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Bachelor of Arts with Honours in History at Massey University
In May of 2003, a letter appeared in the.Manawatu Evening Standard as part of an
ongoing debate in Palmerston North about changes to the city's central green space, The
Square. The correspondent questioned the City Council's intention to 'revamp' The
Square in order to attract more visitors to the city:
The idea is that if we brush up the "image" of the city, then people will flock here and life will become
more "vibrant". Well, the city fathers seem to have forgotten that Massey University causes heaps of
people to come here who certainly otherwise wouldn't, and if they haven't made the place more vibrant
over the last 30 years, then it isn't ever going to happen.
The only time it used to happen was when the students cavorted through the centre with their annual
capping parade, and the dour councillors cancelled that ages ago (in fact, the cancelling came about
after a city councillor was hit in the kisser by a lump of horse manure flung from one of the floats.)
... Recently, on the same day, police moved swiftly to disperse a group of young people who had
gathered in The Square - but looked on benignly when another group of young people ran amok,
causing fires in Ada Street several times during the evening.1 The difference was, that one group was
from one social class and race, and the other from another.
Social problems and "crime" are so often the result of the perceptions of those in authority who decide
what can be tolerated and what can't...
There are three elements in this letter that are of particular interest to this study of
'cavorting students' and 'dour councillors': the impact of Massey University students upon
the city in general; the specific impact of student-generated capping activities upon the
city's residents3; and the varying flexibility of official tolerance in relation to student
activities, as opposed to those of the rest of the city's population - the license granted
them to behave in particular ways, at particular times.
This study examines the town-gown relationship between Massey University students
and Palmerston North residents at capping time, from 1963-73, with particular reference
to capping stunts and student processions (Procesh). Other strong facets of student generated
capping activity included a Revue, Graduation Ball and the publication of
Masskerade, the annual capping magazine. While each of these provides interesting
insights into how students celebrated capping, this research exercise concentrates on
public manifestations of capping as an indicator of the 'town-gown' dynamic.