When Jack and Mary Woodward started protesting against nuclear weapons in the late 1950s, some New Zealanders judged them harshly.

They were dangerous communists, hissed detractors. They were naive cranks. They were not Safe People to Know.

After one Christchurch street march in 1958 (they had to walk on the footpath and stop at traffic lights), Professor Woodward, then a junior electrical engineering lecturer at the university, was even hauled before his boss and told to pull his head in lest he risk his career. A Government intelligence officer had been asking questions and people were spooked.


After a long and successful career, Professor Woodward, now 78, laughs at that incident: "People are so easily frightened."

The atom bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki - the 59th anniversary of Hiroshima is August 6 - spurred the Woodwards into a lifetime campaigning against nuclear weapons.

It was Mrs Woodward, now 80, a member of the university tramping club, who got her mild-mannered husband-to-be striding the streets, carrying banners and shouting slogans.

The Woodwards, a delightfully sprightly pair, were among the 50 people who gathered at Auckland City's Aotea Chapel at lunchtime yesterday to share lunch and mark 20 years to the day since David Lange's Labour Government was elected, bringing with it a nuclear-free policy that has become one of the cornerstones of our national identity.

The policy, which became law in 1987, has survived considerable pressure from allies, including recent hints from the United States that changing it might lead to favourable trade deals.

The venue, opposite the Auckland Town Hall, was decorated with black-and-white press photos of protests of the time, and two posters of Mr Lange just after his election win. The crowd, which included Green MP Keith Locke, was mostly Pakeha and predominantly mature people, with a sprinkling of younger faces.

The gathering had hoped to hear from 61-year-old Mr Lange, who has an incurable blood disease and heart problems (and who had sounded frail during a radio interview that morning).

Eventually unable to attend, he sent a message via Peace Foundation director Marion Hancock. "Hang on!" it said. "I'm as keen on it as I ever was. There's no excuse to even dream of changing it for possible trade advantages."

Among the speakers who reminisced about their early campaign days were Bob Harvey, now Waitakere's mayor, and Richard Northey, a former Labour MP and current Auckland City councillor. Mayoral hopeful Bruce Hucker made a brief speech, and the way he was introduced as "Auckland's next mayor" left no doubt about the leftist leanings of the crowd.