Well! Who would have thought? I caught a glimpse of Ross Meurant and John Minto on the news last night and it took me back to a time when they weren't getting on quite so well, when Minto led a protest movement and Meurant a movement to stop violence - in what seemed at the time a pretty aggressive manner. The police wore crash helmets to protect themselves against the protesters and vice versa.
As one of those wearing a blue police uniform at the time, it was certainly a weird thing to witness as our country went seemingly wild. I remember a young cop who had just emigrated from the London Met remarking that New Zealand must be the most democratic country on Earth. We had police fiercely defending the rights of free speech while also fiercely defending the rights of people to play and watch sport.
The country was willing to move about half the entire police around the country to allow both sides their view. The police were split themselves on the rights and wrongs of the 1981 tour, but all of us believed in keeping people safe, or at least as safe as they could be in a violent protest and a violent objection to that protest.
We were the meat in the sandwich.
With the death of Nelson Mandela as a catalyst for reflection on history, most of us think the whole situation around the Springbok tour was nuts. For myself, I can't believe that a Government would allow such conflict to ignite and think I am in the majority.
The protesters still believe in their cause, and those of us who were against the tour, but unable to protest, agree. Those who were pro-tour seem to have faded away, or at least don't see the need to restate their position. They have become like those who were against Maori land occupations at Bastion Point and Raglan Golf Course, and pro-nuclear ship visits; they are now quite rightly seen as being on the wrong side of history.
Would we really want to keep living in a world where apartheid still reigned in South Africa or where we ignored our colonial history here in New Zealand?
But like the rest of our history, we just see things differently now. Those of us old enough to remember 1981 like it was yesterday need to remember that, in comparison to today, those days were like living on another planet.
There were regularly big protests about a lot of social issues. Unemployment was almost zero. Petrol was cheaper but rare and so we kept our cars in the garage one day per week, we had no Bill of Rights, no cellphones, personal computers, or Sunday shopping and nobody seemed to notice. The irony is that in spite of having freedom enough to protest on that level, we enjoyed far fewer personal freedoms than today.
In comparison, today there seems to be comparatively little to complain about and to protest against. It will be interesting to see which issues we remember and which we choose to forget in decades to come when we reflect on the joys of life in New Zealand then and now.