The second series of Westside launches tomorrow, set in 1981. Sarah Daniell asked key players to shoulder-pad up, and look back on the 80s.


Antonia Prebble had Rita in mind when buying her tasselled miniskirt (above right) in Europe.
Antonia Prebble had Rita in mind when buying her tasselled miniskirt (above right) in Europe.

Who do you look to from that decade as women who stood out, stood up and stood tall?

I was 6 when the 80s ended. My mother was a teacher, and she stopped to have children and went back to teaching part-time when my brother went to high school. She did the cooking and child-rearing and Dad would cook on Sundays. I never got the impression women couldn't do whatever they wanted. It was assumed I would go to university, like my siblings and cousins. There was no gender difference. No assumption I would just find a husband ...

Playing Rita is in an interesting situation because she definitely wants to be more than a housewife and comes up against resistance. Mum said she never felt that was her experience.

She made a conscious choice to stay at home and then later she did her Masters in applied linguistics and has been at Victoria University since. She never felt restricted. The weird thing is, as a child I knew I wanted to be an actress. My parents always supported me, kinda saying, "why not?"


But I do remember when I started school, in 1989, I went to the Clifton Terrace Model School in Wellington. It was interesting because the three teachers were all principals and all women. I was too young to be aware it was significant, but I think it is, looking back, and I'm sure I sponged up a lot seeing women in power, making decisions.

I love 80s fashion. I always have. Jumpsuits, shoulder pads. I donated one of my skirts to Rita's wardrobe. I was in Europe and bought this suede miniskirt with tassels and I thought, maybe I bought this for Rita? I haven't worn it myself - it doesn't feel quite right. Rita is more fierce than me in terms of her interpretation of the 80s. Sometimes when I'm "Rita" and I'm walking past a window and see my reflection, I get a fright.

I do remember food from the early 80s. I remember always wanting a cake from the Woman's Weekly cook book. I remember a fairy icecream cake one year. And a swimming pool. That was amazing. The toys I played with? Barbie. I was obsessed with Barbie. I had Barbie friends, Barbie boyfriends. I never got the Barbie Campervan. But I do know what I got and I'm sure this was the 80s - a doll that ate, then pooed. Genius! For my birthday once, I got an old school zip-zap credit card machine.

On the engraved plate it had "Antonia Prebble". It was a great decade to be a kid. Neon. Slap bands. Elastics. Rollerblades.

LAURA HILL (Belinda)

You came to New Zealand from Britain as a child. What do you remember of what was happening and what the country looked like?

1981 was the year my family arrived in New Zealand. My parents were too busy sorting out our new life in a strange but beautiful country to really engage with the Springbok protests. They remember new-found friends apologising for the riots and protests though, explaining that New Zealand wasn't normally like this.

We lived at Stephens Bay when we arrived, on a jaw-droppingly pretty stretch of coastline just out of Nelson - Kaiteriteri Beach was the next bay round. My parents were used to cramped British and European beaches, and were astonished by the sparsely populated golden sand we now roamed over freely. In England I used to have to be coaxed into the water. Once we hit New Zealand, I became a total water baby - first in, last out with wrinkly, pruny fingers and toes. On the hill above the beach was one of the iconic spaceship houses from the 60s - bright yellow and somewhat incongruous in a fairly conservative, rural setting.

Beige features strongly in my memories of the palette of that time - a hangover from the 70s I guess, until the neon of the 80s really hit its stride. My first experience of Kiwi fashion included grown men wearing shorts for work. As a point of comparison, in England my brother (age 7) had been anxious to get into long pants at school, as shorts were only for the little boys - and here the grown-ups were wearing them, proudly. Even the language was different - "longs" was what trousers were called. And we were introduced to local delicacies: eating condensed milk out of the can with a teaspoon.

I loved Olly Ohlson on TV. "Keep cool till after school" were words to live by. McPhail & Gadsby was family viewing, and I remember being thrilled and scandalised when Angela D'Audney took off her top on that show. Country Calendar was appointment viewing (my parents went through a Good Life phase and we lived on what would now be called a lifestyle block) and, as Dad worked in television, we watched local shows like Country GP and Close to Home. I was allowed to visit the set on their last day of shooting. I loved Children of The Dog Star, and was stoked when Dad was able to get me production stills of the show.

I've saved some of my 80s clothes - but only for the dress-ups box. My uni flatmates will be appalled to hear that I've recently revived my denim overalls from the 90s, but that's a whole other decade ...


The Homosexual Law Reform Bill was passed in 1986. As a gay married man, how do you view this time?

I was born in 1984, three years after season two of Westside is set and two years before homosexual law reform in New Zealand. I feel extremely lucky to have been born at this time, being a huge time of change for our country. My life couldn't be more different from Bilkey's. I've never had to hide my sexuality as an adult and recently got married to my amazing husband. Looking back on the 80s, I feel a strong sense of gratitude to the people who had to fight for the rights I now enjoy today. Not just the people who were involved politically, but the people who weren't afraid to just be themselves in everyday life. Growing up and having an awareness of my sexuality in the 90s, there was still a feeling of it being "wrong" and of trying to escape from it. I can't imagine what my life would be like had I been born a decade earlier. Bilkey is really going through a huge turmoil in season two. I think for him he'd thought that sexuality was just sex. But actually falling in love with someone can really change your identity if you're repressing yourself and the way you see the world. I think in the 80s, if you wanted to come out of the closet, you would feel like you had to decide between your family who may never accept you, or an unknown life that may seem terrifying.


Where were you in 1981 and what was the soundtrack to your life then?

I was at Auckland University, deeply involved in anti-tour protests. I used to report on the protests for the student magazine, Craccum. I travelled around and put myself in ridiculously perilous situations, like sitting in the middle of the road, photographing police as they were running towards me. I remember thinking, "I hope they don't take me out," but they didn't. I hid under rubbish skips between the two frontlines - protesters and police.

1981 was such an outrageously good year for New Zealand music. The Screaming Meemees, Blam Blam Blam, the Nneumatics. I'm a hoarder and I still have 12-inch singles of the music of that time.

In 1982 and 83 I started to notice rich people around Auckland. The Champagne melba culture was starting to emerge. In the end, what we learn is that bubbles always burst. We're living in a bit of a bubble right now with house prices and economics that can't be sustained. It's not entirely real. The tour was a great test for New Zealand society. You had people who were on opposite sides of the fence, but the animosity didn't linger. I'd go to mate's place for a few beers before a game. Half of them would be heading off to the match and we'd stage mock fights in the flat before they headed off.

Television was a powerful medium - the image of protesters on the pitch going out live on TV was the most powerful image I'd ever seen. It's a reminder of how TV can capture a moment and put it out. It got people out on the street. It also had a good long-term result for race relations in New Zealand. We have stronger relations with Maori as a result.


TV was the key medium to reveal defining stories of the time - like the 1981 Springbok Tour protests. What do you recall of the time?

I was at Auckland Theatre Co-op and part of Artists Against Apartheid. We made guerilla theatre and attached ourselves to marches and demonstrations. The thing about that whole period is it wasn't as simple as half of New Zealand being for and half against the tour. The thing was, the Muldoon Government manipulated it as a law and order issue. That government was as culpable for how it turned out.

I wasn't in Hamilton, but I did go to Eden Park, to engage in "civil disobedience". I remember secret meetings at the Trade Union Hall and a planning meeting for civil disobedience in Huia. Theatre was a great tool. There were no divisions. All my friends were artists, so were against apartheid. In the script for Westside for that particular episode [on the tour protests] we had to have some of our characters go to Hamilton and get on the field. But we couldn't afford to. And we only had 100 extras. We couldn't get epic wide-screen shots, so we used TV magic. Combining old footage, we wiped out the background with a smoke bomb, we combined the wider angles of the old footage with our own close-up, handheld footage. The camera is interesting because it never lies, but it always lies. To match the cameras in 1981 we had to degrade our own footage so we had to make it look grainy and not so sharp. We filmed the famous Hamilton protest scene at a football field in Henderson.