John Roughan 's Opinion

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

NZ memories: Protests during the Springboks tour

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150 years of memories: In 1981, everyone knew what side they were on.

A protester places an olive branch onto the truncheon during protests at the All Blacks test against South Africa. File Photo / NZ Herald
A protester places an olive branch onto the truncheon during protests at the All Blacks test against South Africa. File Photo / NZ Herald

The tour started and ended at Auckland Airport. The night the Springboks arrived, the police lining the perimeter were in ordinary uniform, facing hundreds of protesters in jeans and anoraks. There was tension in the air but occasional banter too.

The night the team left, police were in helmets with visors down and carried long batons and riot shields. The protesters wore crash helmets and extra clothing for padding against baton blows.

There was no more violence that night, just a weary bitter relief that it was over. It had lasted 56 days, dividing the country like nothing before.

The moment, early in the tour, when protesters broke through through barricades at Hamilton, occupied the field and forced the cancellation of a match, New Zealand reeled.

The tour ceased to be a debate and became a struggle between irreconcilable values. For many, including the Muldoon Government, it was a challenge to the fundamental rights of New Zealanders and the rule of law.

For many others - far more than the numbers that had turned out to march before the tour began - it became an agony that should never have been allowed to happen. Apartheid had no place in the modern world, New Zealand was putting rugby ahead of principle and it was ripping us apart.

In the Herald newsroom chief reporter Bruce Morris wrote a memo to reporters, reminding them of the need to keep their personal position out of their work.

The police regrouped after Hamilton. Riot control squads came to the fore. They practised techniques to break protest lines with baton thrusts, shouting in unison, "move, move, move..."

The protest ranks acquired gangs and formed more aggressive squads with tactics aimed at outwitting the police and disrupting more matches, or at least causing enough dismay to stop the tour.

Scenes of violence and bloodied protesters occurred at nearly every game, culminating in the final test at Eden Park.

A light plane buzzed the stadium, dropping flour bombs on the field. Outside police and protest squads fought running battles in the streets.

Fights broke out when protesters tried to bar spectators' paths to the ground. Rocks were hurled at police in Onslow Rd, A car was overturned.

The "Patu" squad hurdled jumbo bins and charged down Marlborough St with fireworks and incendiary devices.

People lay injured on roads and grass verges, 67 were treated at Auckland Hospital that evening.

The tour was over. The country went quiet and all sides agreed it was an experience never to repeat.

- NZ Herald

What are your memories of the 1981 Springbok tour? Leave your comments below

John Roughan

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald. A graduate of Canterbury University with a degree in history and a diploma in journalism, he started his career on the Auckland Star, travelled and worked on newspapers in Japan and Britain before returning to New Zealand where he joined the Herald in 1981. He was posted to the Parliamentary Press Gallery in 1983, took a keen interest in the economic reform programme and has been a full time commentator for the Herald since 1986. He became the paper's senior editorial writer in 1988 and has been writing a weekly column under his own name since 1996. His interests range from the economy, public policy and politics to the more serious issues of life.

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