A collection of photos of the divisive 1981 Springbok tour will go under the hammer next month.

Some of the 54 images of the anti-apartheid protests were taken by leading photographers including Ans Westra, Gil Hanly, Peter Black and Bruce Connew.

The photos were in the possession of a collector who was "getting older and rationalising his possessions", said Charles Ninow, director of auction house and art gallery Bowerbank Ninow.

"I was absolutely amazed by the material he had," Ninow said. "Nobody could see them where they were. Nobody could get any joy from them while they were in storage.

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"Part of the motivation to sell them is that the world would see them again."

Two members of St John's College run onto Rugby Park, Hamilton, while two supporters of Springbok Rugby Tour try to stop them by Peter Black.
Two members of St John's College run onto Rugby Park, Hamilton, while two supporters of Springbok Rugby Tour try to stop them by Peter Black.

A number of the photos were included in Tom Newnham's 1981 book about the protest movement, By Batons and Barbed Wire, but others had not been widely published.

"What we found there were some really striking images that weren't included in the book that needed to be seen. We decided to unearth some of the photos that haven't really seen the light of day much," Ninow said.

The most valuable works being sold were a selection of Ans Westra images which were expected to go for between $3000 and $5000 including a photograph called Aftermath, Springbok Tour, Wellington - a haunting portrait of a young boy wearing a helmet after one of the protests.

Aftermath, Springbok tour, Wellington by Ans Westra is one of the photos up for auction.
Aftermath, Springbok tour, Wellington by Ans Westra is one of the photos up for auction.

Given the international significance of the tour and the anti-apartheid movement, Ninow expected interest from beyond New Zealand in some of the images. And, he said, some New Zealand institutions were interested in purchasing some of the works.

The tour was an "incredible" event that polarised and divided the nation, Ninow said.

The 1981 tour of New Zealand by the Springbok rugby team was welcomed by some rugby supporters but also vehemently opposed by those who saw it as an acceptance of the apartheid regime.

Protesters filled the streets surrounding the rugby grounds and in Hamilton managed to invade the pitch, forcing the game to be called off.

Many protesters wore helmets as they confronted police riot squads armed with long batons.

But the conflict was not just between police and protesters but also between everyday Kiwis divided in their opinion about the tour.

"There has not been a more tumultuous event that occurred on a wide scale throughout the country since then," Ninow said.

The auction will be held at 6.30pm on April 3 at the Bowerbank Ninow Gallery on Karangahape Rd, Auckland.