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The fall and rise of New Zealand's first "homosexual"

In 1929 Charles Mackay, a former mayor of Wanganui bled to death on a Berlin street corner - a victim of violent clashes between police and Communist protesters. How did he get there? An earlier incident triggered Mackay's tragic trajectory: in 1920 he shot the returned soldier-cum-writer Walter D'Arcy Cresswell, who was blackmailing the (secretly homosexual) mayor. Paul Diamond's research into the events surrounding both shootings has uncovered new information about this hidden aspect of New Zealand history.

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This abstract summarizes Paul Diamond's research into the life and death of Charles Mackay, a former mayor of Wanganui, New Zealand. In 1920, Mackay shot Walter D'Arcy Cresswell, who was blackmailing them over their secret homosexuality. Despite being a respected lawyer and parent, Mackay's sexual orientation became a central issue during their trial and imprisonment.

The research explores the social and political climate of New Zealand in the 1910s and 1920s, contextualizing Mackay's personal struggles within a broader historical setting. It reveals new insights into societal perceptions of homosexuality at the time, highlighting the shooting as a pivotal moment in New Zealand's history, marking the public emergence of the homosexual identity.

Following imprisonment, Mackay moved to Berlin and died in 1929 during clashes between police and Communist demonstrators. Their death garnered international attention, spotlighting the mishandling of the riots by the police.

The study also examines the aftermath of Mackay's case. Their name was nearly erased from historical records, reflecting the collective shame and stigma surrounding their sexual orientation. However, later gay rights advocacy underlined the significance of Mackay's story, aiding in reevaluating their historical importance.

This complex narrative of crime, blackmail, and societal prejudice illuminates changing attitudes towards mental health, law, and homosexuality, and the power dynamics in early 20th-century New Zealand. Diamond's investigation offers a unique view into a concealed part of New Zealand's history and the lasting impact of Mackay's experiences, emphasizing their unintended role in shaping the discourse on homosexuality and advancing gay rights in the country.

This summary is created using Generative AI. Although it is based on the recording's transcription, it may contain errors or omissions. Click here to learn more about how this summary was created.

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Record date:7th September 2011
Audio courtesy of:NZ History
Location:Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand
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