Anti-tour protest actions
All Blacks vs. Springboks. A rivalry, which dated back 60 years to 1921. The stage was set for what would be the climax of the highly contested affairs between the two sides over the years, the 1981 Springbok tour. Anti-tour and anti-apartheid movement had reached numbers unseen in New Zealand before around these issues and even before the Springbok’s side had even landed in New Zealand things began to deteriorate. Many pleas from the public to the NZRFU and Prime Minister at the time Robert Muldoon had come in, in an attempt to put a stop to the tour. However Muldoon’s policy of “no politics in sport” would not make exceptions, even for an event with the potential to transform a country. The anti tour protests were spearheaded by the protest group HART (Halt All Racist Tours), led by the infamous John Minto, and although a non-violent group, they would certainly make a statement on a global scale in the months to come.
Springbok vs. Poverty Bay (Gisborne) – 19/7/1981
The 19th of July 1981 saw the pilot episode of the internal conflict, which would be the 1981 Springbok tour of New Zealand. The Springbok’s were set to play Poverty Bay, the provincial rugby team of Gisborne. Murray Ball, an anti tour protester recalled his experiences on TV1’s Close Up, as he was there to witness the tragedy of the conflict in Gisborne. He recalled how as the anti tour group he was apart of met the pro tour group; “it was strange for New Zealander’s to feel so aggressive towards other New Zealander’s”, showing how the tour had injected a feeling of hostility into New Zealand society which it was yet to feel. Ball described it as a “feeling of hatred in the air”. Ball also described how his family was torn apart due to the tour, much like the rest of the country. Having his father as a former All Black, he wanted the tour to go ahead, however Murray, although being a former All Black’s trialist himself, resisted the tour along with his sister who was married to a South African. Murray’s defining action against the tour was to retract his iconic cartoon mascot, Dog, as All Black mascot. - Protesters in Gisborne ahead of the clash between Poverty Bay and the Springbok
Mereana Pitman, also an anti tour protester recalled her experiences in Gisborne. She recalls breaking into the field the night before the game to litter broken glass all over the field in an attempt to put a halt to the game, the first illegal act she had committed in her life. Pitman was to be arrested seven times during the 1981 Springbok tour showing just how passionately people felt about the tour and all the negative ideas that were brought with it. Although the Springbok’s emerged victorious 24-6 after the final whistle, the real result was off the field where the violence between anti tour and pro tour groups overshadowed the game that day, forever forged into New Zealand History.
Springbok vs. Waikato (Hamilton) – 25/7/1981
On the 25th of July 1981, not even a week after the horrific scenes in Gisborne, the standard had been set for the volume of protest against the tour. In fears that protesters would some how find their way onto the pitch, the Waikato Rugby Union took extra precautions with this game to ensure the holders of the Ranfurly Shield, Waikato, could play the Springbok with no disruption, by having 535 police spread out around the ground. However this plan did not come to fruition as even before the game had begun around 350 protesters had already penetrated the fortress, which the Waikato Rugby Union had attempted to form, and gathered in the centre of the pitch linking arms forming a solid and unbreakable structure, a ‘band of brothers’ against the Apartheid Legislation as can be seen below.
This sparked abuse from the fans who chanted, “We want rugby! We want rugby!” So ensued a storm of bottles and cans hurled at the protesters on the pitch. Police decided that it was time for the game to be cancelled, as there were reports that Pat McQuarrie had stolen a light aircraft from Taupo and was on route to the game in Hamilton. Although Pat’s intentions were not clear they decided to neutralize the commotion as they ended they game for ‘security reasons’. As protesters were gradually escorted off the pitch person by person, they received abuse from oncoming fists and boots belonging to pro tour supporters. South African supporters back at home would have got up early anticipating a riveting game of rugby as this was the first major South African sports team to be televised back to South Africa. What they would have witnessed was anything but a game of rugby and gave them a small taste of the scenes that were happening live in New Zealand.
Molesworth Street, Wellington – 29/7/1981
Although no game was played in Wellington on the 29th of July 1981, Wellington, in particular Molesworth Street saw its peak in terms of violence during the tour. Over 2000 anti tour protesters on their way to South Africa’s Consul in New Zealand to protest all ties with South Africa, including the tour. Police had courted off Molesworth Street however protesters headed for the street destined for violence. Anti tour protesters chanted one of their more publicised chants, “One two three four we don’t want your racist tour!” as they began to confront the line of policemen on Molesworth Street. Some protesters argued that the momentum of numbers carried the crowd forward into the line of police, however the police viewed it as a blatant act of disobedience. This was the first incident where police were equipped and given the ability to use their batons, this gave the horrific event the name the Molesworth Street Battening. Bert Hill, a member of police in the line that stood in front of the crowd of protesters, stated that police were told “they could use their batons in self defence and to protect the line”. He also states that they did not use their batons until they had been pushed 100 metres up Molesworth Street where it was then where they felt it was necessary. Police from the training College in Trentham where also brought in to increase the numbers. Rachael Bush, a member of the protesting crowd, recalls police using excessive force against unarmed protesters, blindly striking their batons into the crowd (Shown below). Bush remembers the disbelief as she witnessed the sight of batons striking old woman and even herself, in her school uniform. Many said that the actions by police were an attempt to reassert their authority after police in Hamilton were over run by protesters. As the crowd of anti tour protesters retreated chants began, “Shame! Shame! Shame!” directed at the police and the actions they had just demonstrated. The effects of the brutal police actions had literally and figuratively rained down on the anti tour protesters, as is pictured to the right, a protester wearing the battle scars of violence that occurred on that winters night.
All Black’s vs. Springbok First test (Christchurch) – 15/8/1981
On the 15th of August 1981 the All Blacks were set to play their debut match of the 1981 Springbok tour of New Zealand at Christchurch’s Lancaster Park. Despite the three core matches of the tour consisting of the All Blacks and the Springbok not featuring as of yet, the protests held prior to this match exceeded all expectations that the police and the New Zealand Government would have prepared for. The ultimate goal of the anti protesters, as they embarked upon Lancaster Park, was to repeat the successful actions of the game at Hamilton just less than three weeks ago, where a pitch invasion put a stop to the game that was internationally televised. However the police force and riot squads were alert to the development in tactics and were now equipped with long batons allowing a more versatile and effective use on the oncoming protesters in an effort to subdue them. This match also saw the debut of the crash helmets (Pictured right) implemented due to the Molesworth Street battening that occurred just over two weeks prior, in an attempt to show the use of force and violence would not deter them from protesting. In 2011 documents emerged detailing the specific actions that the anti tour group HART intended to execute at the game. Written by HART member and future Labour Party Minister Marian Hobbs, she wrote, “Aim – to get inside park – carrying 4 ropes. At 5 mins before match to run on to the ground to bring down one goalpost by using rope ... I'm not sure of exact means but it had been practised successfully.” Showing that strategic and tactical plans were being executed in an effort to exceed the efforts being made by the police and riot squads. Hobbs’ report on the Christchurch protest ended with her stating that their efforts were a success she states, “Springboks late arrival in ChCh/forced to stay on stretchers in squash courts”, she went on to say that the aim of Christchurch was to create as much disruption pre-test for the Springboks as possible. She went on to describe how they had kept the players up all night creating noise that could not be ignored even four to five blocks away.
All Blacks vs. Springboks 29/8/1981 Athletic Park Wellington
The 29th of August 1981 saw the All Blacks set play their second test against the Springboks of the 1981 Springbok tour of New Zealand, at Athletic Park in Wellington. Tensions were running high as exactly one month ago the Molesworth Street battening had occurred signifying an escalation in the conflict between anti tour protesters and tour officials, Police, riot squads and pro tour activists. Anti tour protesters showed up in record numbers with over 7000 in attendance of the demonstrations that happened that day. Groups took at blocking entrances to Athletic Park blocking off pedestrian access to the ground and even forming human barricades on motorway exits in an attempt to starve the game of any spectators. However protesters witnessed riot squads and police put a stop to this as they formed human wedges and pathways for spectators to get through feeding the gates of the ground. Some spectators lashed out in frustration at the anti tour protesters, and police batons made another appearance on the streets of Wellington. The presence of the anti protesters in Wellington ahead of the second test, between the All Blacks and the Springboks, was obviously felt as the 23 man Springbok squad was forced to sleep under the main grandstand at Athletic Park in order to escape any attempts by anti tour protesters to block them out of the ground on the day of the test.
All Blacks vs. Springbok 12/9/1981 Auckland Eden Park
The 12th of August 1981 saw anti protesters go ‘all out’ in an attempt to stop the game from taking place. That game was the final test of the 1981 Springbok tour where the All Blacks would play the penultimate decider against the Springbok, with the series sitting at one a piece. However it wasn’t the All Blacks emerging victorious in the series with a 25-22 win in extra time that stole the headlines, it was Marx Jones and Grant Cole who overshadowed the game in the papers and in the sky. Jones and Cole piloted a Cesena aircraft (Pictured below) above the game, dropping flares and flour bombs on the pitch and in one instance hitting All Black prop Gary Knight, although not injuring him caused him some serious grief on the pitch. It was the opinion of many that down on the ground serious protesters who were fighting for a cause they believed in, were joined by opportunists just looking to pick a fight with police, and getting what they asked for as security was said to be at its height during this final test. Outside the ground the streets that surrounded Eden Park erupted in violence, as tensions between protesters and police grew beyond control. In a 2006 segment on TV1, Doug Rollerson and Pilot Marx Jones were featured in an interview together (Click here), where the two shared their opinions on the tour then and now, unsurprisingly their opinions had not changed and all that was shown was the stark contrast on the views of the tour from opposing view points.
The anti tour movement in New Zealand was labelled a resounding success by those who fought against it, as they had carried out their intentions of disrupting the tour us much as they could and got their actions recognised on a global scale as their actions were internationally televised. Nelson Mandela who heard about the protest while in jail under Apartheid legislation said that when he heard that the Hamilton game had been cancelled due to anti apartheid and anti tour protesters, “it was like the sun came out”, and later stated on a 1995 trip to New Zealand as President of South Africa that the 1981 Springbok tour of New Zealand was “probably the most poignant memory of New Zealand”. Demonstrations in Hamilton, Gisborne, Wellington, Christchurch and most significantly Auckland showed the large volume of protesters as they witnessed the actions of the protesters and the actions upon them. The successful unification of protesters and activist groups proved to work to great effect as the large scale protest at times proved too much for police and riot squads. The evolvement of protection gear by protesters and weapons by police escalated the conflict to an extremely violent standard most significant in Molesworth Street. The divide shown between pro and anti tour activists illustrates how this event polarised a nation and still to this day has long standing effects on New Zealand, changing its image forever.