In a wee storeroom off the top of a stairwell is the Museum’s collection of ephemera. The array of acid free cardboard boxes contain everything from dance cards to fast food menus. The box that is the subject of this blog is a window into two of the great protest movements in New Zealand’s recent history.
It contains pamphlets from the anti-nuclear protests of the 1970s and 80s, and from the Springbok Tour protests of 1981.
Nearly every right we enjoy today, from the right of women to vote through to equality before the law came through people who stood up and demanded change. People who protested, who argued and who mobilised.
New Zealand’s anti-nuclear protests gathered intensity during the 1970s. Visits by nuclear capable US navy ships brought thousands out to demonstrate their opposition to nuclear weapons. It was a time when the annihilation of life on Earth felt imminent. It seemed an exchange of warheads between the two great Cold War superpowers, Russia and the United States, could be precipitated at any momemnt by an accident or geopolitical incident spiralling out of control.
New Zealander’s anti-nuclear campaign culminated in the decision by the then recently elected Labour government to declare New Zealand nuclear free in 1984.
The most divisive protest movement in recent New Zealand history came when the New Zealand Rugby Football Union invited the Springboks to tour in 1981. Opposition was instantaneous. The first protests attempted to dissuade the NZRFU from hosting the Springboks, who were representing the racist apartheid regime of the white South African government.
The NZRFU went ahead with the tour and the protest movement grew and grew. The country came as close to a kind of civil war as was imaginable. The protests culminated at the final test in Auckland’s Eden Park. A pamphlet from that protest informs marchers that there is “no place for dogs, bicycles, babies or WEAPONS”.
It also tells them to be prepared to manoeuvre
- To jog
- To stop
- To wheel
- To turn on the spot
Which seems fitting advice to anyone who wants to make the world a better place.