Maire Leadbeater, 72
The Year: 1985

In 1985 the anti-nuclear movement had enough momentum behind it to stand up to a proposed visit by a US destroyer, the Buchanan. If that had entered a New Zealand port, it would have meant the end of our nuclear-free commitment. Fortunately, the New Zealand people rejected it.

It began late in the month when we decided the only way to go about making sure the Buchanan didn't come in was to organise a protest march. I was very involved in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and we only had about two days to do it in. Along with Tom Newnham, I was one of the main organisers and 15,000-20,000 people turned out to march up Queen St.

I honestly believe that was a big factor in reversing the decision. There were other things going on, directed at Parliament and Cabinet ministers, but I think that had the biggest single impact.


I've had a lifetime of that sort of commitment. I'd been active since I was a teenager in the 1960s, but 1985 was particularly busy, because we had that fantastic opportunity to make a difference to the nuclear arms issue here and, hopefully, more widely.

That year, another story went round, about the possibility of the US firing their MX missiles into the Tasman Sea, using a base in Australia as part of that project. The missiles would have been fired from the US, but an Australian site would have been part of the network. Sydney would have been a staging area for monitoring aircraft.
There was quite a lot of protesting in Australia about it. We got together with Australian colleagues, and we thought we would organise a peace fleet to go to the touchdown point.

That was ambitious of us. It's probably just as well the missile tests were called off, as I'm not sure how we would have managed it.

On the back of that I was invited on a speaking tour of Australia. Although I was about 39 then, it was my first overseas trip.

And that was also the year of the Rainbow Warrior. Because I was in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament it wasn't quite as big an event for me as if I'd been in Greenpeace, but we were all working together and it was impossible not to get caught up in it.

It was just a very exciting year. I also had two young children to fit everything around - a 10- and 9-year-old. It was a bit of a strain sometimes.

All kinds of amazing things happened. Another was then-Prime Minister David Lange going to speak at the Oxford Union debate. He did a good job, and when he came back to Auckland he was welcomed. It always struck me as amazing, because prime ministers didn't get an official welcome when they came back.

The sense that we were important in the international peace movement went on for a year or two. It was very encouraging. It didn't go on at that level, but for a campaigner, it was a highlight.


• Maire Leadbeater's latest book is See No Evil: New Zealand's betrayal of the people of West Papua (Otago University Press, $49.95)
-As told to Paul Little