A 1960s historical whodunnit for the holidays.

Are you the sort of person who likes solving mysteries? If so we invite you to help us to identify the voice of the mystery American presenter who appears on an audio tape found in the archive of the ANZASW.

When researching a historical archive most hard copy documents give clues as to their origin. The look and layout of a document can tell you something about its provenance.  Most organisational documents include dates and references to authors or the people involved in their production.  A minute of a meeting might include those who attended and even the minute taker.  An old photograph might have the names of the people captured in the image scribbled in ink on the back, and perhaps (if you are lucky) the stamp of the photographer who took the photo.

Coming across historical artefacts in other formats, such as audio and video recordings, can be an exciting find, but they are accompanied with their own particular problems.  For one thing, especially with older media like magnetic tape, it might be difficult to access a device with which listen to or view the recording.  For another, because magnetic tape can be re-recorded, an audio or video labeled as one thing (if there is a label) might turn out to be another.

The mystery tape recording from the ANZASW archive.

At the ANZASW national office we found an old audio recording (shown in the image above) with a note on the front from Liz Beddoe. You should be able to see from the image that someone has written on the box containing the tape (top right) the words “NZASW INAUGURAL CONF.”   As part of the digital history project, with great excitement and high hopes, we arranged for a specialist audio company to playback the tape and re-record it in a digital format.  The beginning part of the tape was loose and crushed so we knew that we wouldn’t get all of it, but hoped the rest could be saved.

It turned out that this was not a recording from the 1964 Inaugural Conference. The recording is of an American speaker giving a talk called “Mental Health Begins at Home”. There is no such topic on the programme of the 1964 Inaugural Conference.  At first we thought it might be a recording from the two-day seminar organised by the NZASW in 1965. This was the seminar by Dr. Don Jackson from the Palo Alto Mental Research Institute on Family Therapy. It seemed possible that someone might have taped this famous US speaker over the top of a recording from the Inaugural Conference.  But the topic “Mental Health Begins at Home” is not included in the programme for that seminar either.

Unfortunately, because the beginning of the tape was damaged, we don’t hear the speaker being introduced by the Chairperson. However, if you listen to the tape (all one hour and forty-five minutes of it!) there are some clues.  During the early part of the talk the speaker makes a joking reference to President Kennedy and a rocking chair (approximately 6 minutes in).  So, that places the recording post Kennedy’s election in January 1961, and prior to November 1963 when Kennedy was assassinated. The question is who is the speaker, and who organised the event?

There are some other clues at the end when the Chairperson intervenes and refers to the speaker as Dr. Bowen or Dr. Boven?  At the end of the recording the Chairperson also invites a Dr. Bennett to “move a vote of thanks”. So there’s another clue.  Of course the other mystery is why the box has the words “NZASW INAUGURAL CONF.” on the front of it?  Well it could be that someone listened to the tape and assumed it was from the Inaugural Conference.  Or it could be that the tape was placed in the wrong box?  If the latter, then there may still be a recording of the Inaugural Conference out there!

In the meantime, we invite you to participate in our historical detective work and let us know if you come across any other clues.

(Volume will need to be adjusted)

4 thoughts on “A 1960s historical whodunnit for the holidays.

  1. My money is on Dr.Murray Bowen, MD a psychiatirist: this would have been at a time when he was moving into a position of some prominence as an academic at Gerorgetown, particularly as a family systems theorist with training at Mennigers and a number of years at the Natl Institute of Mental Health in the US. Through the 60s, he was also a “guest lecturer” at numerous universities in the US: so I don’t think that it would be a giant leap for him to have traveled to New Zealand. (A long flight perhaps….) The fact that the session was reportedly tied to a conference on family therapy pretty much cinches the deal for me.

    As for the mystery of the label: one of the wonderful things about those tapes is that you could reuse them: it happened all the time.

    Gary Bachman MSSW, LSCSW
    Associate Professor of Social Work
    Park University
    Parkville, Missouri

    1. Hi Gary,

      Thank you so much for taking the time to listen and make a response. Several other US academics have suggested the same name and this seems to have a good fit with the content of the tape and the timing. I’m in the process of checking this out with the Bowen Center for the Study of the Family. I’ll let you know how we get on.

      Best wishes,


  2. Having not read any of Gary Bachman’s comments nor Neil Ballantyne’s until after listening to the tape and scrolling down here, I had concluded beforehand that it was most likely Murry Bowen, MD giving the address. I have lived in the Washington DC area since 1970 and am a graduate of NCSSS and I am familiar with the Bowen Center for the Study of the Family and knew several colleagues who were trained directly by him in the early 70’s just as his intergenerational Family Model started to become well known among family therapists..
    Thomas Verratti, LCSW-C

    1. Hi Thomas,

      I’ve had several direct emails from social work academics in the US who also believe this to be Bowen. However, the tape has also been listened by a someone who was mentored by Bowen. She stated that:

      He sounds like he is from the midwest, definitely not from Waverley, Tennessee. He sounds more like a sociologist or a teacher of some sort…

      Listening to the tape I thought people were very idealistic in the early sixties…
      His ideas are seemingly far removed from the reality of the variation of conditions in which families lived throughout the world, even back then. But he could see some of what goes on in terms of expectations which do not fit with the individual and the sibling rivalry dynamic. How does one get to the point of seeing a family unit over time rather than a lack of discipline etc.

      It made me smile to hear that in that day he had found only one religious teacher to teach doubt.

      He seems to see the family as a place were people can be impacted in a positive way and if the family fails OK bring in the other influencers – the teachers etc.

      It would be a long way for this man to grasp the way Bowen saw the family unit as the way individual development and behavor is “governed” and that the family unit could be altered by one person becoming a more knowledgable and separate individual in relationship to the other family members.

      Dr. Anne McKnight (Director of the Bowen Center for the Study of the Family) is also investigating. Although she didn’t think that Bowen visited NZ. So, the jury is still out.

      Many thanks for your response,


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