Where’d I get my bag?


For your viewing pleasure.

These ads were very famous in New Zealand in the 80s, but New Zealand’s most famous comedian (until Flight of the Conchords) probably did the most famous “version”.

I remember a lot of Billy T skits but this one is possibly his most famous, and given the amount of versions of it on youtube it obviously made a lot of people laugh in the 80s.

I can tell you, however, that buying a school bag was no laughing matter for a teenager in Paraparaumu in the 80s.  It was an exercise in identity branding on the mean streets of the Kapiti College corridors.  Essentially you could make four statements on the hierarchy of bags:

  1. I have a normal, boring bag, because who gives a shit about bags
  2. I have a cool bag, but I’m normal
  3. I have a cool bag but I’m a little rock and roll
  4. I have a very, very cool bag and I am dangerous

I wanted to achieve level three.  Going for level one meant that you could save a lot of money by buying a non-branded bag, and then use your bag to carry shit around and not worry about what people thought.  These people went on to be well-adjusted and happy in life.  They make a lot of money now.  Very few of these people write weird blogs.

In the 80s in Paraparaumu level two didn’t mean exercising personal choice (you have to give up independent thought to be cool), it meant buying a Gino Borelli bag.

Which is one weird ass advert for a bag.  Put a face to the name?  Let’s build a profile:

  1. Likes to walk around alone at night with no top and no shoes
  2. Has his name on the outside of his bags
  3. Likes fire
  4. Has a boat

I’d say we’re looking for a serial arsonist who suffers from a massive ego and enjoys taunting the police.

Back to the bag.  I wanted one. The local mall had a Lands for Bags store.  My mum bought me one (probably it wasn’t cool for your mum to buy you your bag, but probably that’s what happened in 99% of cases).  My bag was silver, and had the straps like the one in the ad, running around the outside of the bag.  This was freakin cool.  I’m not sure why.  I think it was because other bags didn’t have this feature.  For sensible reasons like if you put the straps on the outside of the bottom of the bag they get worn out heaps faster and break.  Also, Gino Borelli sports bags tended to be a bit saggy on either side of the straps and in the middle.  Not a good bag for transporting very small corpses, but pretty good if you wanted to transport a rigid object that was the exact length of the bag.  Yep, for that it was perfect.

Ok, so now I had the bag I had an even more important thing to do.  I had to tag the bag with band names using a permanent marker.  (As I write this it strikes me that my mother was a very tolerant person.  Not only did she let me buy a slightly more expensive and impractical bag, but then she let me write all over it.)  Writing all over it was impossibly fraught, but it was what you had to do to get to level three on the bag coolness hierarchy.  People at level two on the hierarchy were either too sensible to deface their bag, or knew that their taste in music wasn’t cool.  Again, we are looking at a well-adjusted group who have nice homes now, with nice things in them.

Level three bag people had to pick bands that people at level two had heard of but not listened to but knew were cool, but they also had to pick bands that people at level four couldn’t sneer at, and would therefore leave you alone.  It was a tightrope of cool if you will.  A band like the Psychedelic Furs was pretty perfect.  Unfortunately I can’t for the life of me remember which bands I put on my bag.

Level four people had to buy little canvas army satchel bags.  The bag below is pretty close to what I mean.

Once you had this bag you had to write: AC/DC, ZZ Top and Iron Maiden on it.  I think this was compulsory.  You had to do this in black marker pen and it had to be in the exact style of the original.  I remember one guy in my art class labouring for hours to get the ZZ Top logo just right on his bag.

People with this bag were into smoking, pot, cars, beer, hard rock, and sex.  Probably not as much as my overactive imagination believed, but that was the implication of the bag.  Although I appreciated the aura associated with these bags, I never wanted one because I knew where my musical heart lay, and at the time I was buying my bag it wasn’t a hard rock heart, it was a pop heart.  Later it actually became a hard rock heart for a while, but I was far too squeaky clean to pull off a satchel bag, so I stuck with Gino.

Of the many things in this post I can tell you that Lands for Bags no longer exists, Gino Borelli has moved into luggage, Billy T died, and hard rock bands never, ever die.  My Gino bag wore out (the straps), and the permanent marker faded like the popularity of the bands themselves (see what I did there English teachers?)  I’m picking that China had a lot to do with the death of specialty shops like Lands that sold bags.  It must have been good business up until the late 80s though.  Lands had nationwide TV ads and full-page colour ads in The Listener.

Lands for Bags may have disappeared but bags remain very important in the teenage scheme of things.  The last time I was aware of a bag becoming ubiquitous it was pink Supre bags for girls.  This was four or five years ago.  All the level three girls had them at the school where I taught.

Not that I want to suggest that bags can be used as a profiling tool, but I wish all those girls all the best with their hair dressing careers, or Bachelor degrees in English (I got the later and a perm).

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I wrote a book called Kaitiaki o te Pō

7 thoughts on “Where’d I get my bag?”

  1. The Canvas bags were brilliant! My daughter recently asked for one! My one had HIBS PULP and MAYO graffiti – along with my doc martens it was my most prized possession!!!

  2. Those canvas/hessian? shoulder bags were known locally as ‘Dope Bags’ They had a real smell to them.. It was common to write band logos. Mine was done in punk bands. I also recall Nomads. Girls would paint checker patterns with Twink on the top of them.

  3. It’s a great guitar riff.

    Forget the 80s? FORGET THE 80s?

    Actually I probably will by about mid February.

  4. I had a Gino Borelli backpack. Annoyingly, though, the production of the bags had just switched from a sort of canvas fabric to a nylon one. This marked me out as being slightly different to all the Level 2 kids, which was terrible.

    The Level 4 canvas bags were also big at my school. One popular adornment – a check pattern down the straps. The Doors logo was popular, complete with the diagonal sloping lines in the ‘O’s. Also: “GEORGE IS THOROUGHLY GOOD”.

    As for the mysterious Gino Borelli, he’s the sort of man who loves bags so much that he wears only cargo shorts, treating the rest of his clothing to the privilege of being inside his signature luggage range. At night, he probably cuddles up with his sports bag.

  5. Aah the memories. I too had a Gino Borelli bag, but didn’t deface it with writing. I definitely wasn’t cool, but equally, my mother would never have let me write on it . I also remember at the same time there was a footwear fad for black karate slippers/ shoes. Not particularly robust footwear for school. And huaraches? Something like that.

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