Richard Neville, the ’60s hippie who made Australia laugh and helped change censorship laws, has died

Felix Dennis, Richard Neville (centre) and James Anderson before their obscenity trial in London, August 1971. Photo: David Cairns/Daily Express/Getty Images

Writer, social commentator and 1960s counterculture champion Richard Neville has died. He was 74 and had been suffering from Alzheimers.

Neville was born in Sydney in 1941 and educated at Knox Grammar before studying arts at the University of New South Wales. In the early ’60s, he co-founded the satirical magazine Oz with journalist Richard Walsh and artist Martin Sharp.

The first edition went on sale in Sydney on April Fool’s Day, 1963, with a front page story about the collapse of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It sold 6000 copies within hours and satirised the establishment and pushed the boundaries of Australia’s draconian censorship laws.

It also carried a story about abortion, illegal at the time, based on Neville organising a termination for his girlfriend. The magazine’s trio faced the first two instances of charges for publishing an “indecent and obscene publication”, and they were evicted from offices in The Rocks.

The second set of obscenity changes followed the cover photo from Oz #6 (printed below), which had Neville and two others pretending to use a Tom Bass sculpture in the new P&O office on Bridge street as a urinal. Sharp, Neville, and Walsh, who’d pleaded guilty in the first case, were found guilty again, and sentenced to three to six months in jail. They were acquitted on appeal because the judge had misdirected the jury and was found to be prejudicial, but the case also sparked a public outcry.

The Australian edition lasted a little over three years, but things got a little more serious for Neville after they published “The Oz Guide to Sydney’s Underworld”, with a top 20 list of Sydney criminals. While the No. 1 spot was left blank, Lenny McPherson, considered the Mr Big of organised crime (he would later feature in Underbelly: A Tale of Two Cities), was named at No. 2 and turned up at Neville’s home less than happy.

Four years later, Neville achieved global infamy after travelling to London with Sharp on the overland route known as the hippie trail. The 1967 London Oz magazine featured work from expatriate Australians Robert Hughes, Clive James and Germaine Greer, as well as cartoonist Michael Leunig.

In 2013, Neville told ABC Radio National’s Big Ideas program about the time saying: “There were lots of kind of stuff going on in the ether that was beginning life quite a lot different from the life of our parents, and I guess you could say sex, drive-in movies, rock and roll, the pill, great music all over the world.”

London Oz embodied the swinging ’60s in a mix of counter-culture ideas, from marijuana legalisation to feminism, sexism and the sexual revolution and led the notorious “Oz obscenity trial” in 1970.

Neville and co-publishers Felix Dennis and James Anderson where charged with “conspiracy to corrupt public morals”, which could attract a life sentence.

The charges came after they published the 28th edition in May 1970, produced by secondary school students. Neville was actually on holidays when it was produced.

While Neville defended himself, his colleagues were represented by John Mortimer (who wrote Rumpole of the Bailey) with Australian Geoffrey Robertson as his junior. Among those supporting the trio was John Lennon and Yoko Ono who recorded a song “God Save Oz” and protested outside the Old Bailey in support of free speech.

After the then-longest obscenity trial in British history, they were convicted and sentenced to prison, but once again that was overturned on appeal due to the judge misdirecting the jury. Hugh Grant would later play Neville in the 1991 TV drama The Trials of Oz.

Neville returned to Australian where he met his life partner, journalist Julie Clarke. They moved to New York for her career in the late ’70s. Together they wrote a book on the serial killer Charles Sobhraj. They returned to Australia in the ’80s and moved to the Blue Mountains. He became a social commentator on channel Nine’s The Midday Show, and at one point smoked a joint on camera.

He co-founded the Australian Futures Foundation, and focused on sustainability. His autobiography, Hippie Hippie Shake: The Dreams, the Trips, the Trials, the Love-ins, the Screw ups—the Sixties was published in 1995.

Neville’s archive was acquired by Yale University and Wollongong University and digitised the entire Oz magazine series.

Richard Neville is survived by Julie Clarke and their two daughters, Lucy and Angelica.

The Oz magazine cover that led to obscenity charges. Source: Wikipedia