Topic: Fred Barnes

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Hamilton City Libraries Oral History Programme, Interview with : Fred Barnes, Accesion no : OH0371, Date : Nov 1997 Interviewed by : Sally Parker as part of the youth culture in Hamilton in 1940s , 1950s and 1960s


Fred was born in July 1941, in Christchurch and moved to Waikato in when 15 in 1954; hadn't finished secondary school. His father was a farmer in North Canterbury, and stepmother a former district nurse. He was adopted at 3 months. When he was 12 his adopted mother died, and the woman he moved to Hamilton with had become the next mother figure in his life. Was told by adoptive father the day after adoptive mother's funeral that he was adopted, and that if he didn't pull his weight round the farm, he would be sent to an orphanage. Other people had known that he was adopted before that. Fred had no siblings. Relationship with father was difficult. Was to be seen and not heard and do as told or suffer the consequences. Mother tried to protect Fred, but she was tiny and nervous of her husband. Discipline was with the belt or whip administered by his father. The first hiding he got was shortly after his father had returned from the War. Was sent down the paddock to collect the cows and played in the stream on the way. On arrival back was belted for being late. Father came back from the Philippines in 1945 when Fred was 4; he was then in his mid twenties.

Extended family

Went to paternal grandmother's in Kaikoura for a while, as mother had gynaecological problems. Was in her care for extended time. Had much the same attitude to discipline as father did; his aunt remembers her beating Fred with a board with nails in it. Grandfather was lovely and had a lot of time for him. Meals were good country fare with lots of meat and vegetables. Wasn't allowed to leave a single scrap on his plate. Father drank socially, but never got drunk. Father was an Anglican, and mother Presbyterian. Mother didn't actively attend church. Father wasn't huge church-goer, but was involved with the bell ringers, and devised a way to play simple hymns, which was novel at the time.

Leisure activities were few, but they did listen to the radio.

Moving to Hamilton

Stepmother convinced father that for his health he should give up the farm and move to town. She wanted to move north and was more interested in the money from the farm than father's health. Father worked at grain store, advising farmers. Fred went to Boy's High for 3 months, then at Christmas break told by father that he had to get job to earn money for books and uniform. Father arranged a job on a sheep farm outside Huntly. Nearly "came unstuck" at this point in his life, due to this series of events at this important stage. Lived on the farm- father would visit every few weeks. One evening told him that he had to stay on, so never resumed to school. Thought at the time it was the end of his life. Had wanted to be an architect. Also wanted to represent New Zealand in some sport, as excelled in all sports. At Hamilton High School he broke the school record in high jump at his second attempt. Athletic ability not encouraged by father. When chosen for Harunui as a 10-year old his father wouldn't let him go to represent them. Enjoyed school far more than home, and made lots of friends. Had a group of friends and , Fred spent a lot of time making armbands for them. Didn't find it easy to make friends at Hamilton Boys High, as he was a country boy, and didn't understand the customs here. Was able to look after himself in a fight, but didn't often get involved in them

Farming and afterwards

Suddenly with Fred felt there was no future when Fred could not resume school, as no wish to work on a farm. Seemed to have no choices, when  education ended. Seemed to be in a vacuum. Luckily boss a very nice person and hard worker. Fred stayed in the farm for a year. Stepmother went to some lengths to get him an apprenticeship in town- his second choice was to be a cabinet maker. Couldn't get cabinet maker apprenticeship, but got one as a French polisher. Was an apprentice for two and a half years.

When on the farm played football every Saturday. Represented Lower Waikato. No dances held on the farm. Had to live at home when moved back to Hamilton. Father didn't say much about Fred leaving the farm; was having problems with marriage, as wife becoming alcoholic, and getting at his money.

Social life while apprentice

Home life unpleasant e.g. was attacked by foster mother with a carving knife for throwing his foster sister over the fence for smoking, and another time she attacked father with a bottle. Only went home to sleep, so tried to get home as late as possible and not see anyone. Spent a lot of time on the streets of Hamilton with people who seemed to be in similar situations.

Bodgie movement

Number of young fellows and ladies who weren't willing to be restricted by the rules of society of the time- more adventurous, more outgoing. Common thread was unsatisfactory family scene that they wanted to get away from and be themselves. Weren't prepared to be told what to wear, how to cut their hair or who to associate with. Wouldn't go along with parents' rules. No structure- not "movement" as such. Just turned up at local milk bar where they congregated. Fred arrived on the scene for the reasons above. Only went home when felt couldn't go any longer without sleep. Life was for living, so behaviour "over the top." Everything done to the max; crammed as much into your life as possible. Before part of the scene, Fred didn't like the image portrayed by them. Was sportsman first off, so didn't smoke or any of the other excesses, as wanted to be a New Zealand representative. Had no time at all for people who spent their time laying about the streets. When came back to town after farm job, home life was a shambles, didn't feel he had much kudos, so wandered the streets of Hamilton.

Became aware of the "louts" in the milk bar. Got to know some of them, and realised they had a lot in common. Could relate to them. Saw all adults as "squares"- conformed to what parents had taught them in dress, no sex outside marriage, etc. Society dictated that was how the world was, and everyone had to be the same. Had to be conservative and respectable. Short back and sides with side parting was a must to get anywhere. These guys in town had crew cuts and flat tops, with no parting, which was completely against the grain as far as society went. Like a badge- one glance at anyone in any part of New Zealand, you knew they were like you and could strike up a conversation with them. Fred got his hair shorn off, and then grew it back with no parting like Elvis Presley.

Had to have right hair style, or wouldn't be accepted in the crowd. Even though it was unstructured, there were rules, and if you didn't present the right image you weren't really welcome. They were there all the time, 24 hours a day. Fred was gradually drawn into the group; gradually dressed more and more unconventionally.

Being staunch

If you associated with that crowd, unless you had shown the proper attitude to "squares", you weren't accepted. No sitting on the fence, no middle of the road, especially when in a group. If there was a problem with the "short back and sides" crowd, you were bound to stand by your mates, no matter what. Couldn't ignore the situation and always stood together. Often problems with army and navy men and footballers. Even in other towns would go to the help of other Bodgies, although they didn't know them. Fights were always fair though; they didn't join in to make up unfair numbers against the "squares". They didn't call themselves Bodgies, they just saw themselves as different. Mostly a media label. Were regarded as delinquents. Fred saw himself as going to be the coolest, the stroppiest, the man that the women were the most attracted to. Saw himself as a hedonist- self first, everything else second. Was really active at "grey mass" mentality that decided who was employed, who wasn't and for what reason. Most of them were really nice guys, discriminated against by society because of who they were and how they dressed. Seen as the dregs of society, and were put down at every opportunity. For the most part they just wanted to be themselves and have fun- didn't go out to be rejected. Women were second class citizens to Bodgies. Expected to do what they were told, speak when spoken to. Were decorative and useful for sex. Sex was important in their lives. The girls were also unhappy at home and rebelling against something.

They became obvious targets for sex. Was some romance among the group, and loyalties between couples, but if there was a conflict between loyalties to your mate and your girlfriend, most likely the loyalties to your mate would take preference. Loyalty an unspoken part of the code, as was holding the opinion you were told to hold. To put your woman above everything else you had to have a high standing in the crowd. 
When people got married from within the group it was normally the end of their association with the Bodgie fraternity. Didn't have married couples. Were pregnancies outside marriage, but not as many as Fred would have expected. Children were generally adopted out. A lot of under-age sex, with fifteen-year-old girls pretending to be older.


Marriage was rather like death. Funerals and marriages in the same bracket; was the end of life as you knew it then and that was that. Fred himself got married. In a way it was the beginning of life for him. He was 20 at the time. Had told the several girls that he was going with that he would marry them if they fell pregnant. That was the gentlemanly thing to do. Always been a person of his word, so when one of the ladies- rather a special lady it was- became pregnant he went along with what he had said he would do. Didn't want to marry, and told parents, the girl and his boss as much. Social pressure was that you did the right thing; nothing unfair about that; could relate to rules. Spent the last five nights before his Marriage saying goodbye to five different women.

Was saying goodbye to his way of life and all it represented, and really thought that that was what he was going to do. Older groups of Bodgies had moved off the streets into the Commercial Hotel, and the "second tier" had split into a lot of different groups around town, each with own leaders, and often conflicts between the various groups. Were too young to go to hotel, so were still on the street and often picked fights with each other. No central gathering point. Fred knew all of them as was freelance and not attached to any particular group. Decided to invite them all to wedding party. Announced that any problems at wedding party would be with him personally- didn't want any bad behaviour. The ceremony at the Registrar's went off very well. No parents or "squares" were invited to the party afterwards- that part was for him and his friends. No problems at the party, and after that seemed to be a recognised person in town who could pull them all together and they could go to gatherings without the in-fighting occurring.

 After his marriage Fred's life changed a lot. He was faithful to his wife for two months, which was a shock for him. Thought marriage was the pits, but set out to be a good husband. Social life consisted of a few close friends coming round for drinks. Still had a motorbike which he took out for special occasions. Rode pushbike most of the time or relied on other people for transport. Inherited some money from adopted mother at 21, and bought first car.

Illegal activities

Although acting and dressing like a Bodgie, still wanted to wear the Silver Fern. Did a lot of training on his bicycle. As an apprentice of 17 was earning about 35 shillings a week. Spending five shillings a week on tyres for his bike, 30 shillings for board, and trying to do up a motorbike as well as huge clothes bills and dry cleaning. He was spending about £10 a week and had an income of £2 10 shillings. Didn't add up; used to go out in the early hours of the morning and target a dairy. Would remove the louvre windows, go in and empty the till and steal some cans of food. That is how he supplemented his income. Never robbed an individual or burgled a house. When he "borrowed" cars later on was always left where he had found it, in the same condition, and with more petrol than it had had when he took it. Needed them for transport when he robbed clubs- stole liquor. Went further afield out of town. Eventually got caught and put in Waikeria Borstal. Caught because he included other people in his activities. Was sentenced to a short sharp sentence, envisaged by probation officer as about three months. No such thing, though, whether you did Borstal training or corrective training. To qualify for parole by a parole board your division officer put your report to them and inmate had to appear in front of them. You were then given a date to leave, which could be a week to three months. Fred never saw a parole board for seven months, and got out in ten. Major turning point in his life. Was very bitter as it meant that he could never represent New Zealand- never did sport again. Used the Bodgies to rebel. Lost his job; had done half his apprenticeship. Could do most of the work but didn't have the paper. Was employed by a painter when he came out of Borstal.

Life after Borstal

Became a painter. Finished restoring the motorbike, gave up sport. Was living in the Empire Hotel. A friend had a car, and the two of them would drive up and down the main street until they found some females "dressed appropriately". Would con the women to get in the car. Picked up a flagon of wine or beer and go to Lake of river. Would get the "birds" drunk and then take advantage of them. Sometimes smuggled them into the Empire Hotel, although this wasn't allowed.

Fred was going to the festival in Napier, and had the transport and some of the clothes. His mates didn't have the leather jackets they thought necessary, so Fred decided to do a smash-and-grab for them. Did the job- robbed a shop in Frankton. The best time for smashing a window was when the train was going across the crossing as nobody would hear. They had taken a young man from out of town under their wing, so there were four of them in the car.

They took  jackets and two motorbike helmets, and walked out. Felt ashamed because that shop had been good to him helping him out with spare parts for his bike. The guy they had taken under their wing was picked up because he had run away from probation. He confessed that he has staying at the Empire Hotel, so the police got their names and tracked them down. Fred's two friends were wearing the leather jackets with the labels cut out of them. Next thing Fred was arrested at work next day, the rest having confessed. He became the youngest prisoner in Mount Eden, having been handed down a six month sentence.

Introduction to Borstal

Not customary for people to go the Mount Eden until they were 21. Fred was youngest prisoner there- had a bearing on him personally. When in Borstal had reputation that was larger than life, as escorted in there by a police car instead of in the Borstal van. The boys were out working and took a lot of notice of the "new boy". Also an article in the Waikato Times about him being arrested. After he was arrested and before he was sentenced, 26 other boys were arrested, all of whom knew him. The press made it out to be a main crime bust. Word spread along the grapevine, so when he got to Borstal he already had a reputation. He was wearing a gold ring- unusual that he was allowed to keep personal jewellery. First thing was to have a hair cut- done by the senior boys there. He thought he would get a hiding, as had heard that was what happened. Barber's shop was a disused cell down by the toilets. Walked down the wing as tall as possible; as he walked down there was dead silence. The character leaning in the door with his arm across it didn't take any notice of Fred.

"I said: ‘Excuse me', I was always customarily polite', and he took no notice, as if I didn't exist. I said: ‘Excuse me' again, and he didn't take any notice. ...He chose to ignore me still, so I got his arm by the wrist and just pushed it upwards and walked by...He chose not to do anything about that...he was one of the kingpin's underlings...I was confronted with a whole room full of the kingpins...every top dog in the Borstal was sitting round the walls of the room. So I leant against the wall and waited for the person to get the haircut finished."

Nobody spoke, and then it was Fred's turn. Sat in the chair waiting to spring out at any second because was very nervous. Had his hand with the ring on it showing; eventually one of the persons sitting around the wall says: "Let's have a look at your ring" Told him he couldn't get it off, which was true was offered "ten figs". Didn't know what a fig was, and didn't like figs. Was the term for an ounce of tobacco; were entitled to a couple every week. They were literally the money inside there; gambled with them, bought things with them-

"A person with a hundred figs would be the equivalent of a millionaire." Someone else offered more, and so on. Unwittingly, by not complying with their wishes, was "stepping them out" i.e. looking for a fight. Got up to fifty figs or something, which was unheard of, but wouldn't give them the ring. Ended up going back for three haircuts, as wasn't cut short enough; usually saved new boy's hair off. Had made stand and made a reputation, all unwittingly. Fred was very physically fit and able to look after himself.

Another incident was when Fred was asked to help an officer carry a box. Walked through the gym where all the kingpins hung out. Told to wait in the gym with these characters. One of them told him to have a go with the weights. Fred had been training with a New Zealand title holder, and knew the technique and was strong. So he picked up the weight and held it over his head. All the others stopped what they were doing to watch. They added some more weights and he lifted that easily. The officer returned at that point, but he was never bothered again.

 Mount Eden

Some tough criminals in at the time e.g. murderer called Jorgensen and a chap called Wilder who kept escaping. They were some of the top dogs there. They decided to be friendly for some reason, so wasn't bothered by the others. Served four and a half months, much of down near Taupo in low security. Prison made him more bitter and twisted than ever, but learned a lot about how crime worked and what not to do; was an education system in a way. On release made sure he was never caught for a crime again, although was more involved in criminal activities than ever. Still stuck to offices and businesses, and always worked alone. Never robbed from individuals. Occasionally involved even after marriage, when coffers got low. His painter employer took him back; they became lifelong friends. When he went out of business, Fred worked night shifts at a plastic products factory.


Typically in years after Mount Eden early '60s) wore "moleskin" white jeans, T-shirts, leather jackets, always pointed boots. Grew hair with idea to having ponytail after seeing Tom Jones. Was given choice of being foreman if he cut his hair, or leaving if he didn't; he left. Went scrub cutting. Marriage lasted about 12 months. Always had at least two women besides my wife. He used to take them home, tell his wife to move into the next room and bring coffee in the morning. Part of the image thing was having lots of women at your beck and call.

Police and Bodgies

Police picked them up and took them in for questioning fairly regularly. Weren't beyond roughing them up a bit to get the information they needed. Their attitude to police was that there were some reasonable officers, who were fair and just doing their duty. They were "looked after" by Bodgies. Those who were too keen to arrest people were inclined to get hit when trouble started.

Society and culture

Most people regarded them with fear; they preferred to see it as respect. Bodgies had the attitude that if they were left alone to do their own thing there would be no problems. Never carried any weapons of any kind. They thought that if the group wasn't in the newspaper at least once a week, they were slipping. Media perpetuated what they were by giving them publicity. Seen as a nuisance at the time. Started smoking when came out of Borstal, and most of his friends smoked. Alcohol was a way of life.

"the party started on Friday night and finished on Sunday...may change venues" Drank mostly beer, but Fred drank wine. Women preferred wine and it had more effect on them. Enjoyed anything on the pop charts or had been on the charts. Didn't much listen to the radio except for music. Mostly had own tapes or radiograms. Radio in car. Didn't read books or comics, but did see Playboy.

Late night movies became popular in the early ‘60s. Used to make a point of going to the movies; 30 or 40 would turn up at once; would file into the theatre taking up row after row. Presley movies or James Dean popular, but went to anything. Didn't really go to watch the movie as much as to put themselves on display.

Elvis Presley was an idol for Fred, although he lost respect for him later. Locally he liked Johnny Devlin and Fisher and the Satellites were the regular around town group of the time.

Fred Barnes - Oral history
Listen to a 44 minute clip  


Original recording avialable from the Garden Place Library Level 3 Stack  

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Fred Barnes

First Names:Fred
Last Name:Barnes
Place of Birth:Christchurch, New Zealand