Pre-1983 (Year Zero)

Cook's flawed map of New Zealand Click for larger view (actual size - this may take some time to download on slow connections)

Before 1983 (known as ‘Year Zero‘ by Axemen devotees in a misguided homage to Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge which The Axemen took years to dissociate themselves from [this stemmed from the unfortunately badly misquoted comment by Steve who, having been asked by a women’s Magazine what his favourite make-up was, proclaimed “I like the Estee Lauder Eyeliner, but I love the Garnier Rouge”]), travel between Dunedin and Christchurch was considered difficult and treacherous, mainly due to the continued use of Captain Cook’s long since discredited map showing Chistchurch as an Island and what is now known as the South Island being divided into two Islands, which Cook called the “South Island” and the “Souther Island”.

When Cook first mapped New Zealand in 1964 (just in time to allow it to be added to the Beatles tour) he inadvertantly spilt the coke he was about to snort onto the (still wet) map he had just finished drawing. Being a frugal man not inclined to waste, he snorted a line right through the middle of the South Island (sucking up a part of the Southern Alps along with the snow), and got so wasted he forgot to later draw it in again. Being a rather backward nation at the time and intensely patriotic monarchists for the most part, the kiwis simply accepted that “The Queen’s Esteemed Map Drawer, Fake Captain and Lande Surveyor” could not be wrong, and stopped all road travel between the two “Islands” without even checking whether Cook was right. Such was their intense belief that many families living in the land area known as ‘Cookes Channel’ separating the South and Souther Island were declared ‘missing, presumed drowned’ and were actually believed to be Ghosts or “Channel Spirits” when they appeared in the surrounding towns.

(As an interesting historical footnote, some of these mischievous spirits would take advantage of their newfound status by going into town covered in flour, walking into the pub and scaring off the locals and drinking themselves into oblivion before staggering home the worse for wear; to this day a liquor is distilled in Timaru known as “Cook’s Spirit” with a group of very pale gents depicted on the label and the motto “it’ll turn you white as a ghost.”)

Full-scale travel between the lower reaches and higher echelons of the South Island was not resumed until the late 70s when a small boy wandered across “Cook’s line” which had been roped off by villagers to stop hapless travellers crossing into the area marked by Cook as volatile and highly dangerous seas (even going to the extent of erecting lighthouses on either side).

Once he emerged a couple of days later on the other side, some of the brighter villagers realised Cook’s Channel was a palpable nonsense and, after declaring the whole thing a farce and reopening the road, started the anti-monarchist United Island Republic movement, whose primary goal was (and still is) to break New Zealand away from its ties with the UK Monarchy, and ideally dethrone the British Queen and replace her with a flagpole (See The New Zealand Flagpole Movement).

Posted By Little Stevie McCabe

The Axemen – Bus boys from way back

The long association of The Axemen with the buses of Otago probably began with their featuring role in Wilma McCorkindale’s seminal book on the subject, Otago Road Services Ltd – A Brief History.

While researching the book McCorkindale became fascinated (some would say obsessed) with these ‘frequent flyers’ and would chat with them for virtually the entire journey between Christchurch and South Dunedin, which by 1983 was a regular occurrence.

The venerable 1968 Starliner coach which ferried the lads and served as tour bus, writing room, coffee wine drinking establishment and muse became the Axemen’s second (and in Bob’s case, first) home throughout the mid-80s, and was later featured in the Axemen’s short-lived New Zealand version of the long-running British TV Series “On the Buses.”

The programme, though critically regarded as a Pinteresque masterpiece, became yet another casualty of Rogernomics, New Zealand’s pathetic but ruthless imitation of Thatchernomics and Reaganomics—this type of sycophantic replication of dumb-ass overseas trends continues to this day unfortunately, reaching a possible new low recently with New Zealand versions of “Wheel of Fortune,” “The Weakest Link” and “American Idol” (brilliantly re-packaged as “New Zealand Idol”).

On The Buses with the Axemen
On The Buses with the Axemen (TV Series 1983-84). Promo shot circa 1983 courtesy South Pacific Television - Kiaora Kiwi and Cat!

To say these programmes are a crock is doing a harsh disservice to crocks everywhere, and perhaps the Axemen’s brief glimmer in the spotlight as TV stars was its only redeeming feature; but I digress.

The demise of the show did have one lasting benefit – it gave the lads much more time to concentrate on honing their songwriting, performing, spray-painting, screen-printing and self-promotion skills, and forced them to extend their minds further.

The Bus Association continues today - Tour Groups still take the bus around Christchurch to visit various Axemen Points of Interest
The Axemen bus association continues today - Tour Groups still take the bus around Christchurch to visit various Axemen "Points of Interest"

Through experimentation with early blends of coffee wine (brewed by Steve and locally known as ‘Co-Wi’ [pronounced ‘Kowhai’ like the native New Zealand flower], which McCabe was always trying to perfect), alongside other powerful psychoactive agents, the songs really began to flow at this time, and the legendary banter and verbal interactions which were the staple of the show now became the Axemen’s trademark—many a club manager or promoter remember ruefully being on the sharp end of one of the lads’ papercut-on-the-eyeball retorts.

Posted By Little Stevie McCabe