We all remember the moment of impact. "Thwack." Pink flesh striking pink flesh. The dildo sprung off Steven Joyce's jowls like a prisoner released, careening into a journalist's arm, slumping to the ground spent. Joyce rocked back reflexively, shock, anger, and disgust registering on his face in quick succession. The emotions disappeared as quickly as they arrived. "Oh yes yes," he said, as if receiving word one of his less-loved veges had gone to seed. "Good-o." The thrower, Josie Butler, raised her hands, shrugged, and responded to a million incredulous accusations at once.
In the aftermath, sad internet trolls analysed the footage frame by frame. News producers contorted their bulletins to make room for the motherlode of sexual innuendo. "Protests... against the Trans-Pacific Partnership reached climax today," Sam Hayes said on Newshub Late. "How much of a dick did Steven Joyce feel? We find out at 6pm," tweeted Hilary Barry. "Steven Joyce took one on the chin for his boss John Key," she told a captivated nation once 6pm rolled around. John Oliver hired two people to dance in dildo suits. Peter Jackson waved a dildo-encrusted flag.
Someone send the gif over to John Oliver so we can get it over with..— Steven Joyce (@stevenljoyce) February 5, 2016
We were drowning in dick puns. But where was the phallus that launched our media acockalypse? What happened to the "article" that thrust New Zealand into a boner joke binge? It's a question I started pursuing in earnest a couple of weeks ago, after realising I'd read so much about this sex toy, but never learned its fate. I had visions of tracking it down and returning it to the people: of Richie McCaw choppering it to a new home at Te Papa; Kiri singing 'Pōkarekare ana' as it was handed over; John Campbell weeping gently, murmuring "marvellous" over and over.
If you're pumping your fist and chugging a Lion Red right now, stop. I have some bad news.
The dildo is gone. And it's never coming back.
For a while, I was hopeful. Butler, its rightful owner, told me she would be willing to get behind a Spinoff dildo rescue. "I'd fully support a campaign to get it back and donate it to Te Papa," she said. "I can even sign it if you want." She imagined the handover setting off a tsunami of international headlines. "We could even get Peter Jackson waving the dildo flag at the ceremony!"
But first I had to find the dildo. There was little evidence to go on, except one tweet showing a pink phallus tucked discreetly into the coat of a policeman leaving the scene of the initial strike.
I called police national headquarters. A spokeswoman told me the sex toy was safe in public hands, stored in a secure evidence locker in Whangarei. Butler hadn't been charged with a crime, and there was no reason she couldn't claim her property, she said. The Spinoff office erupted with joy. We were going to rescue the dildo.
The next day, Inspector Chris McLellan rang with the terrible news.
"It was destroyed pretty much the same day," he said. "I was the one that did it."
McLellan had been in charge of security at Waitangi on the day Joyce was attacked. Now he was on the line, telling me New Zealand's most famous fake penis was gone forever, and he was responsible. But how was it destroyed? Thrown into the bin? Cut into pieces? Burned before a consort of its peers? He wouldn't say.
"I personally destroyed it," he said a second time. "It has been physically destroyed."
The extermination had been carried out with Butler's consent, he said. When police told her they wouldn't charge her with the dildo strike, she agreed to relinquish the sex aid to them, he said.
Was that normal?
"That's normal. It's normal, yes," he said.
Others say it's not. Tudor Clee, a defence lawyer, said police usually obtain a court order before destroying property.
"Even in a drug case, if you plead guilty to having a meth pipe full of meth, the prosecutor still stands up and says 'I seek an order for destruction.' Destroying property that isn't even illegal is highly questionable."
A former police officer, who asked to remain anonymous, said it wasn't that surprising or unreasonable for police to destroy the dildo. But there were some unsettling facts about the case.
"You could rationalise that [the dildo] was the property of the thrower and so if she wasn't being prosecuted, it should first have been offered to be returned to her," he said. He questioned why a high-ranking police officer was involved in the elimination of a sex toy.
"It is very abnormal for an inspector to be involved in the destruction of property as a function of their role."
Butler said police told her they were confiscating the dildo, but she didn't know it would be destroyed. At the time, she was just happy to leave custody without being charged with assault. "I remember I asked whether I could have it back. They said they need to take it as evidence."
"I'm pretty saddened."
It's saddening for her; even more saddening for New Zealand. She threw that dildo at one man, but it pierced all our hearts. Its pink spectre is lodged within us all, somewhere deep and mysterious. It should have been hung up alongside Hillary's icepicks, Suzanne Paul's original Natural Glow recipe and Thingee's lost eye.
Now it's gone, lost to this physical world thanks to a strange and possibly illegal act. The only thing we can do is keep it alive in our memories. Talk about its legacy. And maybe once a year, gather around a computer to relive the moment it entered our lives, blinking into being like a new star in the sky; its radiant pink blur flashing across a backdrop of grey, colliding with New Zealand for a split-second. And just as quickly, vanishing back into the ether.
UPDATE: A police spokeswoman has clarified that the dildo was chucked in the bin.
UPDATE 2: The Spinoff is offering $100 and a lifetime subscription to The Spinoff in exchange for the safe return of the Waitangi dildo. It should be in a landfill near Kerikeri.