OZ magazine was launched in Sydney on April Fool’s Day 1963. Its co-editors, Richard Neville and Richard Walsh, had been editors of the student newspapers Tharunka (University of New South Wales) and Honi Soit (University of Sydney) respectively, while the main cartoonist, Martin Sharp, had been involved with the shortlived Arty Wild Oat at East Sydney Technical College. OZ was self-described as a ‘satirical magazine’ and intended to be monthly.
The irreverent newcomer soon ran into legal problems. The first issue was prosecuted successfully for obscenity and then issue number 6, published in February 1964, became the subject of a protracted and famous obscenity case. Initially, Walsh and Neville were each sentenced to six months’ hard labour and Sharp to four months’ hard labour after a procession of cultural and scholarly figures had traipsed through the Magistrates Court to give evidence in their defence. Their appeal against this conviction in the District Court, spearheaded by Sir John Kerr QC, was successful, but then the NSW government appealed. In the end all charges were dismissed.
To meet their legal costs, the ‘OZ Boys’, as they were known, organised a national fundraising effort. The successful Mavis Bramston Show featured the ‘OZ Newsroom’, written by Richard Walsh, and as their contribution to the legal defence appeal, the stars of Mavis Bramston appeared at a fundraiser.
Richard Neville and Martin Sharp set off for London in 1966, and in the following year established London OZ, which was less satirical than its Australian antecedent and became a major underground magazine. In an amazing twist of fate, in 1970 the then editors of the British version—Jim Anderson, Felix Dennis and Richard Neville—were prosecuted for obscenity in relation to their famous ‘School Kids Issue’ and sentenced to jail; they too were eventually acquitted on appeal.
With the departure of Neville and Sharp, Dean Letcher joined Richard Walsh as co-editor, and the pair continued to produce OZ intermittently until issue 41, published in February 1969. Subsequently, it limped on as a political newsletter, appearing surprisingly regularly from 31 March 1969; an Election Special of OZ was produced in October that year.
OZ was mainly written by its editors, when and if they felt sufficiently inspired. It was topical and irreverent, but without any party political leanings. It sought to discredit the strong influence at that time of the church and the Returned Services League (RSL); it was fiercely anti-monarchy and nationalistic in its aspirations. It also provided an outlet for a wide range of literary and artistic rowdies: Robert Hughes contributed the cover for the second issue, and Bob Ellis and Mungo MacCallum wrote for it before later joining Richard Walsh’s Nation Review in the early 1970s.
Undoubtedly OZ’s star contributor was Martin Sharp—his dazzlingly original artwork was its most memorable feature. Although very uneven in quality, it managed to throw off the dullness of the 1950s and early 1960s and to begin the long process of invigorating Australian cultural life.
REF: R. Neville, Hippie Hippie Shake (1995).