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Flour-bomber goes back to Eden Park

By James McOnie

Some days people feel it's necessary to get a light aircraft off the ground to change the world.

It's practically a New Zealand tradition, started by aviation pioneer Richard Pearse in 1902. In two world wars more flying Kiwis shaped history and in between Jean Batten made several record-breaking solo flights.

Then there was Aucklander Marx Jones, the man who flew the plane that flour-bombed Eden Park during the third and final test match of the 1981 Springbok rugby tour.

But 25 years on from that powdery yet indelible protest against South Africa's racist political policies, Jones plays down his part in history. "It's still taken way out of context because there were thousands of people protesting and doing all sorts of things."

He blames the romance of flying. But the events of September 12, 1981 are pure thriller mixed with baking products - specifically self-uprising flour.

Jones, 32 at the time, says he took the little Cessna lower than the top of the goalposts during some fly-overs, but usually was just above them. His "bombadier" Grant Cole was dropping one-pound (450g) paper flour bombs. "We used paper instead of plastic because we wanted them to burst on impact so no one would get hurt," says Jones.

Some people were hurt but none seriously. Flour bombs hit at least eight people in the crowd before the bombers got their eye in and the pitch was peppered. Famously, All Black prop Gary Knight was felled by a direct hit to the head.

Apart from a fleeting moment outside court in 1981, Jones has never come face to face with Knight - but has thought about it. When Jones saw Knight's Manawatu dairy farm had been ravaged by flood in 2004, his first reaction was to help.

"I nearly rang him up to offer to come down and help him rebuild. I must have been drinking."

He also passed up the opportunity to meet Nelson Mandela, who said those Springbok tour protests gave him hope while he was in jail in South Africa. Jones is chuffed the protesters helped Mandela and other black South Africans but clearly he hasn't been too impressed with the work of Mandela and his ANC party since his release in 1990.

"When Mandela came to New Zealand, the asshole spent most of his time with [prime minister Jim] Bolger who was totally pro-tour. He'd allotted an hour to see us at a church which didn't appeal to me much anyway. I actually wrote a note saying that I really would like to meet him, but I wasn't going to meet him under those circumstances and that I had some disagreements with his policies. I gave it to [protest leader] Johnny Minto to hand to him but I never heard from him."

"He was actually a bit of a stooge for the West. All the hard-line guys over there who wanted more of a revolution and change, they were all killed - Steve Biko and all them, they just got dispatched. They left Mandela alive because they realised when it got too tough for them to hang on to their regime they bailed out and said 'you take it'. They knew he was the soft option. He's developed into the world statesman. But in terms of poverty and the slums, nothing's changed... except you've got a small elite set of black people who've made themselves very wealthy."

Today, Jones is a builder and his latest project, renovating two cottages surrounded by high-rise buildings in Auckland's CBD, looks like an act of staunch resistance. He just hopes they'll give him some money to retire on. He's a diminutive man, who's ready to laugh and is one tooth short of a beaming smile.

He has a colourful family. His cousin is broadcaster Lindsay Perigo and his uncle is renowned art forger Karl "Goldie" Sim.

With a name like Marx, it seems Jones was born to protest. His grandfather was a founding member of the New Zealand Communist Party and flew to Moscow for the funeral of a great Russian general in the 1950s.

"My parents never forced it upon me but they were in the Communist Party. I didn't get into any of that until I was 25. When I was young I was racing motorcars and flying, driving petrol tankers. I got involved in the union movement and it went from there. I was just as active in the anti-nuclear thing."

Jones was named after German socialist and philosopher Karl Marx, the father of communism. And, as it happens, Jones is a Marxist who believes in breaking down class barriers and giving workers more power.

His first anti-apartheid protest flight was in 1978 when he painted "RACIST" under the wings of a hired plane and flew over a softball game between South Africa and New Zealand in Papakura.

The late Pat McQuarrie, who flew Spitfires in World War II, dropped flour bombs on that softball game and in 1981 he was in the air and ready to bomb the Waikato Springbok game but it was called off after protesters stormed the pitch.

"When he came out of the war he went over to South Africa and flew in the Flying Doctors service so he had a good background and knew exactly what he was on about. He was a rugby coach out at Waiuku. He wasn't anti-rugby."

Neither was Jones. He played flanker in the first XV at Rutherford College in West Auckland but when McQuarrie was under 24-hour police guard, protest leaders asked Jones if he'd "take a plane up for Pat".

They hired a plane from Dairy Flat, boarded with a suitcase full of flour bombs and reached Eden Park just before the 2.30pm kick-off. As they flew over the harbour bridge, Jones got on the airwaves.

"I said: 'This is Radio Anti-Apartheid, you've got to stop the game'. There was this long silence and this guy comes back and says: 'Or what?'.

"First we went round Eden Park three or four times and dropped our leaflets. We tried the soft approach first. Then we had half a dozen parachute flares but I think only two or three landed on the pitch. It's quite difficult getting your speed and your trajectory sorted out. I went quite low and diagonally so I wouldn't tangle with the goalposts."

Jones was 99.9 per cent confident they wouldn't kill anyone that day. They knew they'd hit someone on the field but didn't know it was Knight and they were probably lucky the victim was the burly Manawatu prop and former wrestler.

Jones and fellow protesters saw Knight on the street outside court before Jones was sentenced to nine months' jail.

"We said: 'You won't do that again in a hurry, will ya' and he said: 'I bloody well would'." Jones would do the same again as well.

Jones had been flying since he was 18 so had 14 years' experience and more than 250 hours in his log book, which he still has along with other memorabilia in an old suitcase.

He simulated a forced landing, coming in steep and levelling out. While he says he was never going to land on the field, he admits it's possible.

"A good pilot could do it. You couldn't guarantee you wouldn't have hit someone. You probably would have killed a couple of rugby players. That wouldn't have mattered," he laughs.

From Jones' Auckland home, he can see the Central Police Station - "so I can keep an eye on them" - and the Sky Tower, which was the scene of the last rebel flight when flight instructor David Turnock lost the plot last year on election night and took to the skies to try and win back his wife.

"I thought the judge was an asshole for sentencing him to jail. The guy was mentally unstable. Still loved his wife - that's unusual," says Jones.

Jones spent six months in jail for his protest and while he said the experience was thoroughly unpleasant, including a run-in with a racist guard, at each of his three prisons he got "five-star treatment" from the inmates.

"Every jail I went to a Maori guy would come up to me and say 'any trouble come and see us'."

The Herald on Sunday took Jones back to Eden Park on Friday with a bag of flour. It was his first time on the pitch since he and other protesters tried to topple the goalposts in 1985 to protest the Cavaliers tour to South Africa.

Their attempt was thwarted when a priest in the protest party started hammering crosses into the turf and the noise alerted security guards.

Inside the ground, Jones looks skywards. He says he's been banned from Eden Park since 1981 but frequently accepts invitations into corporate boxes. Well, that is his altitude.

He maintains that the Springboks weren't simply innocent rugby players.

"Half those guys were Broderbund [a party likened to the Ku Klux Klan]. Even then the national sport was to go home and shoot a few darkies. Their policy was white supremacism. They could come out here and be nice guys but back home they were right prats."

Jones still watches rugby every Friday. And he was at a pub last night to catch the opening Tri Nations test. He loves the game.

But then he still calls his old adversaries "rugger buggers".

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