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"I'll tell you something about the 70s," says Dr Oliver Sutherland on the phone from Nelson.
"It was a decade where successive governments, first the Kirk Government and then the National Government under Robert Muldoon, essentially waged - as I look back on it - a sort of a war against Pacific Island people and Māori. It was politically expedient to hammer people of colour."
Oliver is the main subject of When Nobody Was Looking, a short film by his nephew Alex Sutherland, which covers his personal fightback campaign against that racism across half a century.
The Loading Docs film, made with the support of NZ On Air, features key moments in our recent history which have become all too familiar to New Zealanders again this year, thanks to the work of Royal Commission into Abuse in State Care and the Government's apology for the dawn raids on Pacific Islanders in the 1970s.
It also draws on Oliver's book Justice and Race: Campaigns against racism and abuse in Aotearoa New Zealand, published just before lockdown last year.
Sutherland's film, like his uncle's book, surveys the outrages that went unseen in the New Zealand of the 1960s and 70s – because no one was looking. Māori and Pasifika children, as young as 8 or 9, were picked up on flimsy grounds by police, run through the courts without legal representation, confined in the worst cells of Mt Eden prison and tortured with electric shock therapy while in the care of the state at places like Lake Alice Hospital.
Oliver speaks particularly warmly of the work of the New Zealand Herald's justice reporter, Peter Trickett, whose front-page stories rattled ministers after Oliver's path led him to the horrors of Lake Alice.
"Peter did a great job as did the Herald in publishing in such depth what he had uncovered. He was such a powerful voice in the Lake Alice story. I make no bones about it – we used the media. They were the only way we could get Cabinet ministers to be held to account."
He remains clear-eyed about the persistence of racism in New Zealand today but feels positive that his long struggle alongside Māori and Pasifika campaigners has achieved something.
"I think if you look back into the 70s when Hana Jackson was leading the petition for teaching Māori language in schools, you see how widespread that has become, along with the use of te reo in everyday life. We got the duty solicitor scheme in 1974. We stopped the remanding of children to adult prisons in 1984. Campaigns that we were involved in got Lake Alice closed down within the space of six years.
"So there were positive changes. And we ended up in a situation now where people will ultimately talk about institutional racism and understand it more fully than they were able or willing to do back in the 70s when we first saw it and called it out for what it was."