National Library of New Zealand
Harvested by the National Library of New Zealand on: Apr 11 2015 at 11:19:51 GMT
Search boxes and external links may not function. Having trouble viewing this page? Click here
Close Minimize Help
Wayback Machine
GayNZ Logo & Link
Saturday 11 April 2015

Pieces of a magical puzzle

Posted in: True Stories
By Jay Bennie - 14th January 2015

Warwick Broadhead
Yesterday's funeral for the eccentric, creative and mystical Warwick Broadhead was attended by upwards of 600 people. Every person there, and hundreds more who couldn't make it, had been touched by Warwick in special and sometimes puzzling ways.

Gay men and lesbians abounded. Famous faces from the theatre and TV screen. Spinners and weavers from Waiheke Island, Remuera and Fendalton ladies who had hired Warwick to entertain their guests with one of his in-your-home one man shows, singers and poets, and heaps more. All came to pay tribute to and remember Warwick.

Here, without the distraction of attributions, is a sampling of the glimpses into his character and life provided by those who spoke at the service which was non religious but filled with emotion, laughter, drama, grandeur, music, poetry, waiata and wails of lament. It is augmented occasionally by some of the author's own first-hand knowledge.

Warwick was born in 1944 into a family headed by a staunchly Catholic mother and a protestant father. The family lived in a classic kiwi state house in the Auckland bible-belt suburb of Mt Roskill. He was educated at St Theresa's primary school and later at St Pauls in Grey Lynn. Family life, robust and vigorous, physical and sporty, was a challenge for the young, aesthetic Warwick.

His emerging homosexuality, of which he was aware from a very early age, was stridently at odds with his conservative Catholic upbringing and education. The clash would drive him away from the received understandings of his youth, leading him to embark on a personal journey of self-exploration which continued almost until the day he died.

He was also deeply unsettled by his mother's suicide.

As a young man Warwick joined the gay exodus to Australia, revelling in the bright lights of Sydney in particular, escaping his troubled relationship with his family and embracing a whole new, glbti, family which embraced him back. He studied modern dance and lived the life of an emerging adult and unabashed gay man.

When he returned to Auckland, in the early 1970s, he could be found at the nascent Cook Street Market working in hand-crafted and hand-dyed fabrics. As he matured into adulthood he began to re-engage with his family, particularly the younger generations.

He started a small performance group, the Full Moon Follies which performed random and wonderful theatrical events timed to coincide with the full moon.

He travelled widely, to Africa, the Arctic circle, Turkey, Britain, Fiji where he studied indigenous dance and Japan where he delved into Kabuki theatre. He would spend time in thought and meditation at retreats in the Australian desert. For a time he lived in San Francisco, living in the creative and ebullient overlap of homosexuality and creative expression of the Castro and Haight-Ashbury. He was a member of the Angels of Light beards and sequins genderfuck performance group. He created a performance language which was uniquely his own. He came to believe in, and advocate for, the strength of communities and its expression through performance.

Returning to New Zealand Warwick was increasingly contracted by communities around the country to create theatrical events. He would draw ideas and performances from anyone who turned up to be involved, no matter how unlikely the raw material. He taught unsuspecting and hitherto ordinary people grace and elegance and how to find their voices. He was gifted with great leadership qualities and an unshakeable belief in his craft.

He also created his own personal shows, sometimes with a small supporting cast and sometimes solo. The most famous was his interpretation of The Hunting of the Snark. He would be engaged by people wanting to entertain the likes of dinner guests, performing to just one or two dozen people with verve and passion, the whole production appearing out of a small, battered, leather suitcase. He performed in New Zealand, the USA, the UK and Europe.

His flamboyant and unique lifestyle became notorious. A close friend remembers Warwick arriving at Auckland railway station to see her off on a trip to Wellington, dressed in a flowing white clothing, a white turban and carrying a large white handbag containing home-made biscuits for her journey. A travelling companion recalled his cavorting with the stiff, starched and moustachioed Turkish railway platform staff as they waited for a train that never came. Despite the language barrier Warwick's guileless appreciation of their exotic and macho beauty caused no offence and they happily joined in with his whimsical ways.

A fragment of a jigsaw puzzle, pressed into service as a post card by Warwick to the author

Another recollection was of two people seeing an elegantly tall sun-bronzed man strolling bare-chested with panache down Ponsonby Road. They felt they had to say hello - and at that moment a decades-long friendship was born.

Open and unabashed, Warwick's emotions and spontaneity new no bounds, no control. This could be mostly a good and wondrous thing and occasionally extremely hard to deal with. In a soon-to-become-notorious episode he hurled a kitchen knife at a friend. The knife struck only a glancing blow with no actual injury but the incident wasn't easily forgotten by the victim who came to refer to the incident as attempted murder.

In another incident a lovingly and beautifully-made and hand-decorated birthday cake, ready to be carefully sliced and handed around was the victim. On impulse Warwick plunged both hands deep into the cake, ripping it apart and exuberantly hurling the fragments around the room.

Eventually the cake-maker, and the 'attempted murder' victim, forgave him. No-one could hold a grudge against this mercurial yet vulnerable man forever.

In the late 1970s Warwick bought a grand Grey Lynn villa in which he lived a life assembled from meditation and his own unique spirituality, an organic and simple existence. To family and friends who visited or guested he was a delightful and generous host.

Nephews stayed on holiday breaks and were co-opted, sometimes unwillingly, into his free-thinking yet well-grounded lifestyle based on original and creative thought. Never one to use garden pest chemicals he would pay the kids one cent for every two snails they plucked from his flower and vege garden.

He loved his Grey Lynn community and his house. In a flash of off-the-wall pageantry he even married his house in a ceremonial performance shared with invited friends and family. When he eventually moved to Waiheke Island, there to build a new home to his own exacting specifications, he divorced his villa in another afternoon of wonder that will never be forgotten by those who were there.

Some family members helped him build his final home at Waiheke's Palm Beach, with tasks that should have taken a day or two growing into weeks-long efforts as Warwick obsessed over every detail to get things exactly as he wanted. It was his dream home made real and he felt at home there. It was a space for loving, creating and meditating and performing. Those who knew him slowly became aware that he had come to a physical and spiritual place of peace and acceptance.

In his travels overseas, his involvement in meditation and in the friends he confided in he exhibited his belief in the importance of ritual and spiritual practice, of a rich life experience pared down to a balanced simplicity. His business card bore only his name... no description or even contact details. Just his name.

He believed in pure and simple love, always given and invariably received. He was a compulsive creator of genius.

Warwick was provocative - sometimes challengingly so - and playful. He was by turns mad, stimulating, funny, revealing, annoying, challenging, caring and uplifting. He squeezed every bit of possibility and drama out of life. He was an extrovert, an attention seeker, who knew no boundaries and attracted a cult-like following. He loved applause. At his funeral his life, which was his greatest creation, was acknowledged with a loud and sustained standing ovation, with vigorous applause, cheering, whistling, stamping and whooping ringing around the magnificent and theatrical space of St Matthew-in-the-City.

He was a true seeker of the mysteries and depths of life and humanity, a deeply thoughtful man with a bright and brash demeanour. Someone who understood the impermanence of life and came to embrace it, Warwick didn't fear death, he embraced it. He studied the mysteries of life and death and came to refer to his eventual death as his 'coronation.'

When death came, it was exactly as he had anticipated. He always wanted to die in his own home, surrounded by the physical and personal manifestations of his inner life. At the funeral we learned that he died around sunset on Thursday January 8th, lying back on his bed. He was found next morning with his arms crossed over his chest holding the book of favourite poems he had been reading.

[Footnote: The fragment of jigsaw puzzle shown above was sent to the author as a postcard in 2002 as Warwick recovered from heart surgery. For those who believe a person's handwriting is a window onto their character the reverse of the card is shown below.]


   Bookmark and Share
Jay Bennie - 14th January 2015