Next week marks the 35th anniversary of 1981’s Springbok Tour of New Zealand. NZ On Screen’s Nicky Harrop revisits classic film and television depictions of one of the most turbulent chapters in our history.

On July 19 1981, the South African rugby team arrived in New Zealand, dividing the nation, and sparking 56 days of major civil unrest (along with years of subsequent fallout.) More than 200 demonstrations took place throughout the country, with over 150,000 people taking part. Clashes between tour supporters and protesters, and protesters and police, became increasingly frequent and violent. Not surprisingly, many of our film and television makers felt it important to document and interpret events.

Directed by Merata Mita, Patu! Is both a landmark in New Zealand's film history and a startling record of the tour. Made on a shoestring budget, with the aid of several volunteer camera people (among them Roger Donaldson), it still holds up as a standout piece of activist filmmaking. The documentary profiles the anti-tour campaign, capturing highly charged footage of the clashes. While filming, stock was shifted around and, at times taken out of, the country, as the production team went into hiding to prevent the police from hijacking the editing process.

Watch Patu! here:


Made for the 25th anniversary of the tour in 2006, the documentary Try Revolution examines the impact of the tour in South Africa, showing how events in New Zealand poured shame on the apartheid regime, and helped provoke democratic change. As quoted from Archbishop Desmond Tutu: "You really can't even compute its value, it said the world has not forgotten us, we are not alone."

Watch an excerpt from Try Revolution here:


Landmark documentary series Revolution mapped the social and economic changes in 1980s New Zealand. Touching on the political ramifications of the tour, it highlights then Prime Minister Robert Muldoon's refusal to intervene in its go-ahead, and the effects of his decision on the National Party. Writer CK Stead reflects on the tension of the on-field protest that stopped the tour's Hamilton game.

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See part two of Revolution for coverage of the tour:


1982 one-off drama The Protesters explores issues surrounding race and land ownership in the aftermath of both the tour and the occupation of Bastion Point. Starring Billy T James, Jim Moriarty and Merata Mita, it also features early roles from Robert Rakete and former newsreader Joanna Paul. Capturing a mood of division and uncertainty, it's a telling representation of the post-tour climate.

Watch The Protesters here:
Loose Enz - The Protesters

Made in 2011, TV movie Rage is set during the tour, telling the story of a protester who falls in love with an undercover policewoman. The script was written by noted cartoonist and columnist Tom Scott - a protester during the tour - and his brother-in-law Grant O'Fee, a detective sergeant in Wellington at the time.

Watch an excerpt from Rage here:


Made by Ric Salizzo and John Kirwan in 1992, All Blacks for Africa - A Black and White Issue follows the All Blacks on their first post-apartheid visit to South Africa. Between scenery shots and match highlights, players past and present reflect on politics and sport - amongst them ex-AB Ken Gray, who refused to tour the republic in 1970 and joined anti-tour protesters in 1981.

Watch All Blacks for Africa - A Black and White Issue here:



You can see more Springbok Tour footage here, in NZ On Screen's Spotlight Collection.