Sage tea: an autobiography

By Toss Woollaston

Publication date: 2001
NZ RRP: (incl. GST): $24.99
Extent: 272 pp
Format: 210mm x 135mm
Binding: PB
ISBN: 978-0-909010-82-9

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Sage tea, Toss Woollaston’s autobiography, was originally published in 1980 to a mixture of acclaim and consternation. Acclaim, because it is a splendid account of an artist growing up – a kind of Cider with Rosie set in the backblocks of Taranaki. And consternation, because Woollaston wrote with great candour about his childhood and youth, revealing not only his first tentative moves towards painting, but also his first emotional relationships – and the sexual experiences that were part of them.

Woollaston was a gifted painter, yet for many years he wanted to be a writer. Friendships with writers such as Ursula Bethell were important to him intellectually, but they also moulded his style.

In Sage tea he writes with great vividness and fluency. This book is important both for what it reveals of the mind of the artist as it was being formed, and for the picture it paints of life in New Zealand in the 1920s and 1930s. It is also a very good read.