Auckland: Swots and stirrers

As Auckland merges to create a supercity, the Herald looks back at how Auckland has changed over the years. Click here to view the full series.

University of Auckland clock tower. Photo / Herald on Sunday
University of Auckland clock tower. Photo / Herald on Sunday

It was not until late in the 19th century that all children went to school and not until well into the 20th century, 1936, that all children were given a secondary education. And it was not until those children had survived World War II that large numbers of them began to go to university.

There had been barely 1000 students at university in Auckland during the war, and not many more in the years before. In 1930 there had been only 175 people studying full time in at the buildings under the clocktower that was known as Auckland University College.

The few who enrolled for higher education in those days were usually working full time, beginning business or professional careers. Most lectures were in the late afternoon or evening.

The pre-war university was "tightly controlled and conformist", according to a recent commemorative study by Nicholas Reid.*

"It was a small community modelled on British ideas of desirable higher education," he writes.

"One common room for men and one for 'ladies' served the needs of the whole student body.

"Was conformity pushed too far?" he asks, recording that a temporary history lecturer, J. C. Beaglehole, had failed to get a permanent appointment after writing letters to the press about free speech. How different things would become.

Post-war enrolment grew from 2900 in 1946 to 3500 in 1950 and 4300 in 1960.

The following year the country's universities ceased to be colleges of the "University of New Zealand" which had existed only on paper. Newly autonomous, the University of Auckland started an ambitious building programme to prepare for the baby-boom that would begin to reach university age in the mid-1960s.

Enrolments more than doubled to 10,000 in the 1970s, continued rising to nearly 20,000 in the 1980s and stand at 40,000 today. Auckland is easily the country's largest university and the only one ranked in the world's top 100 by the Times Higher Education Supplement.

The protest movement

The baby-boomers brought more than a surge in numbers at university, they came with a sense of generational distinction nurtured in them as "teenagers" by rock and roll.

Rebellious music became rebellious politics in the transition from school to university. From the late 1960s, through the 1970s and into the 1980s, students found a great deal wrong with the world.

The Cold War threatened nuclear annihilation. The Vietnam War had dishonoured Western power in their eyes. Racism was still rampant, especially in South Africa - and New Zealand still played rugby with apartheid.

In the 1970s, environmentalism and feminism were added to the causes for which students would march, chant, carry placards and press up against police lines.

"Bloody students", people would mutter. "Stirrers" they were called, though some of Auckland's most prominent protesters, such as the ever-smiling Tim Shadbolt, had dropped out of university by then.

Those who were at university, Reid notes, were far more conservative than their elected representatives. Radical resolutions put up by officers of the Students' Association were usually voted down even by the few who came to meetings.

Out in the streets it was the police who faced the brunt of confrontations. Shadbolt made an art-form of arrests and court appearances, and he was not alone.

Early in 1970, United States Vice-President Spiro Agnew arrived in Auckland at the end of a tour of the Pacific.

Accompanied by his wife Judy, astronaut Eugene Cernan, a team of bodyguards and US news reporters, he faced 500 protesters at his hotel, the city's grand new Intercontinental popularly dubbed the "Big I".

The next night the protest grew to 700 who lined up outside the hotel and shouted at guests as they arrived for a state dinner. The protesters faced about 200 police and scuffles occurred during the guests' arrival.

The protest continued during the dinner where Agnew addressed the 300 guests.

About 11.45pm the police decided to end the demonstration. Next day the Herald described what happened:

"Senior Sgt M. K. Huggard went before the demonstrators and told them to leave. He was chanted down. The demonstrators clapped and yelled anti-Vietnam slogans.

"Senior Sgt Huggard warned the demonstrators in vain for three or four minutes. Then 150 to 200 uniformed policemen crossed the chain barrier that separated police from demonstrators.

"Before the crowd had time to move off, dozens of policemen waded in. Many of the young demonstrators were pushed to the ground. Some were kicked. One was pulled along the footpath by his hair with a constable cursing him.

"One young girl screamed 'bullies' before policemen hurled her along the footpath pulling her mini-skirt up past her waist.

"Helmets flew as many demonstrators resisted the police. Within 10 minutes the police had cleared Waterloo Quadrant and Princes St up to Albert Park.

"A young man lay against a tree outside Maclaurin Chapel wrapped in a rug while friends nursed him. As he sobbed he repeated over and over: 'I thought this was a free country'."

1970 also brought a scheduled All Black tour of South Africa which the protest movement failed to stop. Three years later, however, it convinced Prime Minister Norman Kirk to stop a return visit by the Springboks.

After Kirk's death his Government lost office in 1975 to a politician who used confrontation to advantage. Sir Robert Muldoon did nothing to discourage a rugby tour of South Africa in 1976 or a Springbok tour of New Zealand in 1981.

He welcomed US nuclear warships to the Waitemata. To the chagrin of protesters who had taken to the water in all sorts of craft to try to impede their arrival, the warships usually anchored in the stream.

Queen St was the venue for almost weekly marches on one issue or another, but one day early in 1981, it saw a different sort of protest.

A 22-year-old self-employed sales representative in Blockhouse Bay had been following the news of an industrial dispute over unions' rights to picket workplaces and was appalled to see it escalating into an all-out regional strike.

Tania Harris decided to stage a protest of her own. She announced she would march down Queen St at lunchtime the following Tuesday and invited others to join her to show that "Kiwis care".

Thousands came into the city to walk with her on March 3. Many more came out of shops and offices to join the crowd. The mood had been angry when the march left Aotea Square.

By the time it arrived at lower Queen St it was joyous. By sheer numbers, the marchers knew they had made a resounding statement.
The union movement took heed of the Tania Harris march for a long time after.

Equal Opportunity

Early Auckland was not a university town, unlike Dunedin which had established New Zealand's first university in 1869, or Christchurch which followed suit in 1873.

In Auckland the university owed its origins more to Parliament than local initiative, according to Nicholas Reid. An Auckland MP, Sir Maurice O'Rorke, persuaded the government to sponsor legislation in 1882 setting up an Auckland college of the "University of New Zealand", an institution which existed only on paper to set exams.

The college was opened with an egalitarian flourish. It was to be not only for "people of private means and learned desire", but open to all, women as well as men, and to all classes, said the Governor, Sir William Jervois.

On opening day there were 95 students and four professors. By 1890 more women were enrolled than men, says Reid.

O'Rorke, who had been Speaker of Parliament, became chairman of the college council for it first 33 years. His name survives on one of the halls of residence provided since the 1940s.

For 20 years the university was based in Auckland's Old Parliament House vacated when the capital was shifted to Wellington. The large wooden building near the present High Court was demolished in 1917.

The university moved into Auckland Grammar School<0x2019>s building in Symonds St when the school moved to Epsom. It was not until 1919 that the university was given a permanent site, where it has survived periodic proposals to shift it somewhere more spacious.

Blood in the streets

Within a few months of the spirited unity of Tania Harris' march, Auckland and the country was divided as never before. Auckland was the Springboks' point of arrival and departure and the venue for two matches at the end of their tour.

When the team arrived at Auckland airport, hundreds of police faced a crowd of protesters at a perimeter fence. There was the normal chanting, some abuse, one or two attempts to break through the fence and 28 arrests.

When the team departed 56 days later, the police were wearing visored helmets, had long batons at their belts and carried full body shields. The protesters were wearing padded jackets and crash helmets.

There was no banter, no eye contact, no more energy for the argument. Just a heavy, weary, cold horror at what had happened. The Eden Park test the day before had been the last bitter battle. The streets around the stadium had seen a riot.

Protesters had blocked New North Rd, Western Springs Rd and Sandringham Rd to arriving spectators. Fights broke out. They had hurled rocks at police in Onslow Rd and overturned a police car.

The worst violence had been witnessed at Marlborough St's intersection with Walters Rd where 350 helmeted protesters made several rushes at police lines.

A group calling themselves the "Patu squad" hurdled a barricade of jumbo bins near the corner of Kowhai Rd and eyeballed the police "Red Squad". They wheeled and made a mass charge down Marlborough St to hurl rocks, fireworks, flattened tins and incendiary devices at the police.

Elsewhere, stink bombs were being lobbed at rugby fans and paint bombs at the police.

Meanwhile, a light plane was buzzing the stadium, making passes at grand-stand height. It dropped leaflets, flares and flour bombs on the field, stopping the game several times.

Outside the park, the air was filled with shouting and the thwack of batons on shields. People lay injured on the roads, grass verges and under trees as the protesters were driven back.

Ambulances took away the injured. Auckland Hospital treated 67 of at least 90 injured people injured that day.

The following evening the Springboks left a country that had shocked itself. It returned the Muldoon Government later that year but something much deeper had changed.

The battle had been about more than racism in another country. It was about the character of New Zealand, and its future.

* Reference: The University of Auckland - The First 125 Years by Nicholas Reid, Auckland University Press, 2008.

- NZ Herald

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