Influentials: Events that defined a nation

By The Listener In The Influentials

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In 2004 the Listener celebrated its 65 years of informing New Zealanders with a special feature capturing the big events that had influenced the nation. The first item on the list recorded the moment when New Zealand declared war on Germany; the final entry marked April 2003 as the time when our population reached four million. Since then we’ve become a nation of 4.48 million (coincidentally about three million more than in 1929, at the start of the Great Depression), and the years have continued to define and shape us. We’ve updated the 2004 list with ten more seminal events and themes of the past decade. This new selection has been drawn up in consultation with Lydia Wevers and her colleagues at the Stout Research Centre at Victoria University, and Bronwyn Dalley, the former chief historian at the Ministry for Culture and Heritage.

Auckland celebrates VE Day.


When World War II broke out and Prime Minister M J Savage declared, “Where Britain goes, we go”, it was the first time this country had actually declared war on anyone. The public swung in behind the fight against fascism, with 12,000 men signing up in the first week. Over the next six years, 11,625 New Zealanders sacrificed their lives for victory, while three times as many were wounded. The first few months of war were deceptively quiet, however, and no one knew quite what to expect. When the Listener questioned people in the street, it got some tight-lipped replies. “It’s a pretty rotten business,” opined a policeman. And someone described as a typiste said primly: “You don’t think I am thrilled about it, do you?” Footnote: There is no truth in the common belief that, because of the time difference, New Zealand declared war on Germany before Britain did; but we weren’t far behind.


For a post-Depression nation now facing war, the six-month long New Zealand Centennial Exhibition in Wellington was a tonic. It attracted 2.6m visitors; the country’s population was then only 1.6m. Some came to grapple with their history and identity, as organisers intended. Even more came for Playland, entertainment dominated by a roller-coaster and including the “world’s fattest girl”, the 343kg Mexican Rose. Many Maori protested the exhibition, hardly surprising given its theme of brave British settlers overcoming the odds – which included Maori. “Fortunately for New Zealand, most of the immigrants who arrived in the country were … people of the best British colonising type,” declared Lord Galway, the Governor-General. The exhibition’s dramatic buildings, dominated by a 52m-high tower, burnt down in 1946.


His benign photograph hung on thousands of New Zealand walls, he was the most loved of New Zealand’s prime ministers. A goldminer, flax-cutter and trade unionist, he went on to lead the first Labour government as it pulled the country out of the Depression and introduced the welfare state, which gave several generations the security and opportunities he never had in his early life. The Listener eulogy said many thousands throughout the Dominion would feel “they have lost a personal friend”, and those friends paid their respects at 21 stops along the main trunk line as his body was taken from Wellington to Auckland, where he is buried at Bastion Pt.


“We’re not greatly worried at home, because we’re well out in the suburbs” – so said a librarian to the Listener, when questioned about fears of Japanese invasion following the fall of the supposedly impregnable British bastion of Singapore. Maybe she knew something the authorities didn’t: despite post-Singapore alarmism, the Japanese war machine did not get this far. But Britain’s failure to defend the Pacific rim left New Zealanders feeling abandoned. Although we were slow to act, it began to dawn on us we should start making new friends closer to home, including the US.

MAY 1945 – VE DAY

“Victory tarried long, then came in a clap of thunder; but it was not, and still is not, peace,” Listenereditor Oliver Duff wrote in May 1945 – our Victory issue. Almost a year after D-Day, the Nazi regime had finally fallen and Europe was free. At last, celebration. Flags and kisses. But, as Duff continued sombrely, “peace cannot come suddenly any more than a troubled pool can suddenly go calm”. New Zealand had lost, per capita, more men than any other Commonwealth country, the war in the Pacific continued and rationing would go on for years. The magazine gave away its ads to run 24 full pages on the war years; a mixture of sad reflection and proud hope for reconstruction. “But,” Duff emphasised, “this is victory, the most crushing, complete and spectacular victory in modern history. Our enemies are scattered, crushed, disarmed and dishonoured, blown away like chaff from a thresher’s floor, and we are entitled to harbour more than feelings of relief … We dishonour the dead unless we use our victory to restore the dignity of the human race, which has sunk lower in five years (as well as climbed higher) than in any other brief space in civilisation.”


Glory and horror. Or “Peace at a price”, as the Listenersaid. Nearly six years of war was ended, but the bomb had been dropped. On August 6, a nuclear bomb killed about 78,000 people in Hiroshiman, Japan. Three days later, a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, killing another 40,000. Thousands more were left burnt or poisoned. “Peace came to both sides with fear and trembling,” our editorial read, “… not because the Japanese had no strength or will to fight on, but because suddenly, in the twinkling of an eye, further resistance became national suicide.” The magazine ran a scientific explanation of the bomb. Titled “The world won’t blow up”, it reassured readers that the particles released would not cause a chain reaction destroying the world “in one terrific explosion”. There was also a short story, “The first leaf falls”, rejected a month before the bomb was announced “as too fantastic”. By Sam Rix, it’s the thoughts of a pilot on his way to drop a cataclysmic bomb. “In a sense … the world itself was going to die; a small part of it, newspapers, trams, shops, and people. All the things that made a city, civilisation. And they were going to be obliterated very suddenly. Men would be shaving, and the first traffic of the day would be moving in the streets. Newsboys would be collecting their bundles of papers, and housewives would be making toast for breakfast; children – but no, he’d better not think of them.” Our editorial concluded: “Our whole civilisation will disappear unless we get Hiroshima into our minds and hearts and war out of them into museums and dustbins.”


While war raged in Europe and Asia, Prime Minister Peter Fraser still found time to oversee a radical reform of the country’s manifestly inequitable education system during the 1940s. The school leaving age was raised to 15 years and a “generous and well-balanced” common core curriculum introduced for the first three years of high school. He couldn’t have done it without visionary Education Department head C E Beeby, who wrote later that it was “revolutionary, the first time any government in New Zealand had ever committed itself absolutely to the idea of full and free education for all”.


“The major constitutional development of the postwar years went almost unnoticed at the time by the public at large,” historian Michael King wrote. It remains mostly forgotten today. But on November 25, 1947, the New Zealand Parliament signed the Statute of Westminster, and so our country became an independent state – responsible for our foreign as well as domestic affairs – no longer a colony or a dominion. Canada, South Africa and Eire had all grabbed independence when Britain passed the Statute in 1931. We, however, were the children who didn’t want to leave home. King, shortly before he died, argued persuasively that November 25 should be celebrated, with a national holiday, as our independence day.


World scoops are rare birds for the Listener, but we got one in April 1949 when we published the first photograph of a takahe chick. Long thought extinct, takahe had been rediscovered the previous year in deepest Fiordland by Dr Geoffrey Orbell. Armed with only cameras and 50 yards of fishing net, Orbell and his team were able to find the truth behind the rumours of “a bird the size of a goose … with the speed of a racehorse”. He wrote in the Listener, “It has not been because it was not there – it has been because no one knew just where to look.” (read the full original article here)


Aerial topdressing revolutionised both farming and the New Zealand landscape. Degraded by a century of forest clearing, overgrazing and pests such as rabbits, inaccessible hill country had a ruined look when the 1949 trials dropped fertiliser on 11 Wairarapa properties. Farmers were immediately convinced. In just 20 years, livestock numbers doubled. Surplus aircraft and wartime pilots such as Phil Lightband gave the industry a flying start. Lightband was flying passengers (illegally) at 15, piloting a fighter at 19 and was 25 when he began topdressing in his $700 Tiger Moth in 1950. Now, he says, “I go through country around Taumarunui that I topdressed myself. It was crappy country and after three years it was beautiful. Now it has gone back to scrub again. It makes me cry.”


So many years ago, but still so painful for many. The 1951 waterfront strike (or lockout, depending on stance) was not so much growing pain as tumour. When shipowners refused to give watersiders a pay rise, the wharfies banned overtime. Employers began laying them off. The government declared a state of emergency with draconian measures: press censorship, penalties for anyone so much as helping families caught up in the dispute. Internecine strife broke out between unions. “We got belted around the ear right left and centre,” says unionist and strike veteran Bill Andersen, “and we couldn’t raise a squeak.” Armed forces worked the wharves, the Waterside Workers’ Union was deregistered and its funds seized. An insipid Labour stance prompted National to call a snap election. Fear of communism and trade union power led to a government victory and a scarring defeat for unions. Forty years on, Waterside Workers’ Union leader Jock Barnes told the Listener, “Right at the start I thought, ‘I don’t know how this will end. But those bastards are going to know they have been in a fight.’ And they did!” The strike lasted 151 days.

Striking waterfront workers in a melee with the police in Auckland. Photo/NZH


Rugby, racing and beer used to be the holy trinity of New Zealand social life, with racing by no means the least. Jockeys were heroes with huge followings, and horses – Carbine, Phar Lap, Cardigan Bay – became legends. The world’s first automatic totalisator was installed at Auckland’s Ellerslie Racecourse in 1913, and 38 years later, in Dannevirke and Feilding, we opened the world’s first national off-course betting agency, the TAB. From 10.00am on March 28, betting was steady on the Manawatu and Wellington races. By the end of 1952, there were 167 TABs, with a weekly turnover of £200,000. Although the sport’s popularity has flagged, the TAB’s turnover in the year to July 2003 was $1.01 billion.


In the biggest internal migration this country has known, Maori began to move into the towns and cities from the late 1940s onwards. As they arrived, organisations such as the influential Maori Women’s Welfare League were set up to assist with the social problems that came with moving into a sometimes strange, Pakeha world. Princess Te Puea, the League’s first patron, fretted to the Listener as early as 1950 that young Maori were being lured by the city glamour, high wages and freedom from tribal controls. “I think they should be back in the country,” she said. Prof Ernest Beaglehole said that although Maori labour was boosting national wealth, the Maori worker was often tempted back to the marae, so “continuous work, week in, week out, still comes hard to him”. Today more than 80 percent of Maori are urban dwellers – a complete reversal in just half a century (though there has been a small swing back to rural living in the past decade). The change has been two-edged, however: Maori have sent the old Pakeha monoculture packing, and established themselves as a potent political and cultural force, but urbanisation has created a detribalised underclass no longer in touch with te reo and the old traditions of the land.


At 11.30am on May 29, for the first time, someone stepped onto the world’s highest point, and that someone was a New Zealander. Edmund Hillary – “Sir Ed” to us all these days – had scaled Mt Everest with Sherpa Tensing Norgay. After a night at 8500m, the pair awoke to an “icy silence” and walked into the unknown. And, upon descent, into the roar of worldwide acclaim. The news arrived the morning a queen was crowned. A new Elizabethan era was hailed, humanity knew no bounds. “I really had no idea as to whether the world in general would be the slightest bit interested,” Hillary says. In 1964 Hillary began the hugely successful development and fund-raising work for the people of the Himalayas that has become his life and endeared him to two countries. “It just seemed the right thing to do,” he says. With such straightforward determination, courage and down-to-earth humility, Hillary, now 84, has come to represent the best of the New Zealand character. “Every country, if they’re lucky, has someone quintessential to that country and how it sees itself,” historian Michael King said last year. “Ed is ours.”


Saved by the press. Michael King laid out the timeline in his Janet Frame biography, Wrestling with the Angel: on December 20, 1952, Janet’s mother, Lottie, signed the letter of consent for her daughter to have a prefrontal leucotomy (known as a lobotomy in the US); on December 24, Janet wrote to her friend, Dr John Money, in Baltimore, asking, “Shall I still be able to write?”; on December 26, mere days ahead of the scheduled surgery, word came that Frame’s short-story collection, The Lagoon, had won a major literary prize. Geoffrey Blake-Palmer, superintendent of Seacliff Hospital, walked into the dayroom of the hospital with a Dunedin newspaper that carried the news of Frame’s win. “I’ve decided that you should stay as you are,” he said. “I don’t want you changed.” Frame went on to craft one of the 20th century’s great literary careers, until her death this year.


From December 23, 1953, to January 30, 1954, New Zealand was united as never before, or since, in a public orgy of royalist rapture. Hardly a soul was unaffected by what Prime Minister Sidney Holland called the “multitudinous events of those magic weeks”, as the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II toured the country. The sun shone, the crowds glowed, the young Queen dazzled; even the Duke of Edinburgh seemed glamorous. It was still a time, as historian Jamie Belich says, when New Zealanders were “more likely to give ‘British’ than ‘New Zealander’ when asked their nationality”.


Late on Christmas Eve, a lahar from volatile Mt Ruapehu’s crater lake surged down the Whangaehu River and swept away the Tangiwai railway bridge. A few minutes later, the Wellington to Auckland night express raced along the line and, despite the efforts of a young clerk, Arthur Ellis, to signal it with his torch, plunged into the flooded river. Of the 285 people on board, 151 were killed. The tragedy would have been worse but for Ellis, guard William Inglis and passenger John Holman, who saved all but one occupant from one of the carriages. Ellis and Holman were awarded the George Medal. The disaster stunned a small nation but in one way made it more closely knit. Delia Holman, Holman’s widow, also survived the disaster. “From being a couple of English immigrants, we became well-known people,” she says. “Back in the 50s, we were in the same league as outcasts. But afterwards, the whole country supported us.”


“The neck had been stretched considerably, while the tongue was out of the mouth and looked to be about nine inches long.” Quoted in Sherwood Young’s book Guilty on the Gallows, this comment by a constable who saw the body after the last official hanging in New Zealand, at Mt Eden Prison, may help to explain why capital punishment was abolished four years later, in 1961. The condemned man was 68-year-old Jim Bolton, convicted of lethally poisoning his wife by putting sheep dip in her tea for more than a year. He protested his innocence to the end.


The jandal was invented by Maurice Yock, and for its first two years came in brown or white. According to Yock’s granddaughter, the former Alliance minister Laila Harre, the name was an abbreviation of Japanese sandal. Australians claim the jandal and the pavlova as their own, but call it a thong, flip-flop or le slap, the jandal is New Zealander Yock’s invention. However, says Harre, it never made him rich: “He was simply an entrepreneur who came up with a good idea.” Harre, like everyone else, owns a pair of jandals, now an icon-cum-fashion item. But a sign of the times: hers are not made in New Zealand. And the most popular colour is now blue.


When New Zealand’s first super market, a Foodtown, opened in Otahuhu, Auckland, curiosity was such that traffic on Great South Rd was brought to a standstill and people had to be drip-fed through its ultra-modern, self-opening doors into the full-to-bursting store. Convenience and consumerism had arrived. The recent development of plastic wrap and food packaging meant products could be kept fresh and on shelves for longer, changing what and how we ate. Foodtown/Woolworths general manager Dave Chambers, who ran the store in the 80s, says his far-sighted predecessors saw the growth potential offered by young families, new suburbs and the car. The store had 65 trolleys and 150 car parks. Merged with Woolworths and Countdown, the company now has 149 supermarkets nationwide, but its first was closed in the 90s because it was too small.


Driven over, climbed, flown under and jumped off, the Auckland Harbour Bridge has become both a queen city and a national icon. Its opening in May 1959, at the height of the Baby Boom, heralded a new era of suburbanisation that saw the country’s cities sprawl outwards into the countryside. Dairies, then malls, then shopping centres followed. Says historian James Belich, the bridge can also be seen as a symbol of Auckland’s dominance, as the country’s “big four” centres became the “big one”. Immediately too small, the bridge’s capacity was doubled by clip-ons in 1966. But it’s still struggling to keep up, and planners are investigating new harbour bridges or tunnels. The bridge cost $16m 45 years ago, a bargain given the current cost of saving Auckland from gridlock. Now, with bungy jumping and bridge-climbing, it has become a tourist attraction, too. “It’s a place where you can go and have fun,” says Tourist Auckland’s Rochelle Lockley, “rather than just drive over it.”

The Auckland Harbour Bridge under construction.


Only a quarter of a century after the first broadcasts in the US and Britain, at 7.30pm on a Wednesday, our first official programme beamed to viewers from Auckland’s Shortland St studios. As the Listener’s first TV listing shows, it began with Robin Hood. Ian Watkins interviewed British ballerina Beryl Grey. The Howard Morrison Quartet sang. We were entranced. Then, after just two hours, it shut down for the night. The occasion also marked the arrival of the television critic: “They shone,” wrote the Auckland Star’s John Berry. “But other glitter, from Miss Grey’s jewellery and reflection from the Morrisons’ hair oil were the only distractions.” As our television industry has continued to demonstrate, you can’t please everyone. In 1981, after the removal of import restrictions, New Zealanders were allowed to purchase video cassette recorders. With the new technology came freedom from network schedulers (if you could figure out how to operate the thing), amateur camera footage on the news, porn in the local video store and endless series of Funniest Home Videos. “Freeze frame. Slow motion. Wow, this is more fun than Star Wars,” Phil Gifford wrote in the Listener.


The police said that it would cause drunken rioting in the streets, church leaders claimed it would undermine the moral fibre of the country, but what actually happened when restaurants were licensed to serve wine with meals on June 1, 1960, was the emergence of a new national pastime – dining out. Once we got a taste for wine, we then decided to make more of our own, and now everybody wants it.


Although New Zealand tended to lag behind counter-culture, the sexual revolution arrived right on time when oral contraceptives hit our shores. Sandra Coney, in her late teens at the time, says the Pill gave women the power (and responsibility) to administer contraception themselves instead of “having to rely on a fumbling teenage boy to get it right, or not be too drunk”. It was only available to married women and by prescription, and Coney remembers women having to put on faux wedding rings before going to Family Planning. Punitive social sanctions for sex outside marriage were skirted, heralding a move away from traditional, nuclear family structures.


More babies were born this month than in any other in New Zealand’s history. There were 5338 registered births, out of a record 65,476 that year. It was the peak of the postwar baby boom; a last hurrah before fertility rates fell away. And it was huge – our family sizes increased more in the 20 years after the war than in any other Western country. By sheer weight of numbers, the boomers have dominated this country’s political and social life ever since, moulding the destinies of generations either side of them. Growing up through the postwar decades of affluence, “they were the spoilt ones”, says historian David Thomson. “The baby boom has shaped and is going on shaping New Zealand in many ways. The boom in house building and new suburbs, and the whole infrastructure of schools and the welfare state was shaped by it … Money’s now shifting towards the same boom of people later in life.”


When Western Samoa gained independence, a quota was established allowing 1000 or more immigrants per year into New Zealand, on top of those coming to join family. Independence for the Cook Islands and Niue followed, with their people retaining New Zealand citizenship. These policies and the growth in New Zealand industry offering well-paid, unskilled labouring jobs turned a postwar trickle of Pacific Island migrants into a steady flow by the end of the 60s. New Zealand manufacturers and politicians invited islanders in, expecting them to be temporary – disposable – workers. The immigrants had different plans, however, staying and overstaying even after many were laid off as unemployment bit in the 70s. The issue reached crescendo in 1976 when PM Rob Muldoon ordered “dawn raids” to find overstayers and police burst into homes at sunrise to make arrests. The public disliked such “Gestapo tactics” and the policy lasted less than a week. Pacific Islanders now make up seven percent of the population and Auckland, the largest Polynesian city in the world, is the de facto capital of the South Pacific.


In the month that the Beatles made their only visit to New Zealand, young Christchurch reporter Sue McCauley, not yet a novelist, wrote to the editor of this magazine, pointing out the “unforgivable error” of mislabelling Ringo as Paul in a reversed order photo caption. Now, she says, she was always more a Stones fan, anyway. But those heady days, when 7000 fans waited at Wellington Airport and another 7000 stood in the rain in Auckland, gave us a first-hand dose of a new pop hysteria. Beatlemania pitted those who knew their Beatles – which included virtually everyone under 17 – against those who didn’t. Youth triumphed and, with the Beatles as spiritual figureheads, a generation of New Zealanders grew its hair, picked up guitars, dabbled in drugs and mysticism, gave peace a chance and ultimately bred pop icons of their own.

The Beatles arrive in New Zealand. Photo/NZH


Jack Lovelock and John Walker both won the Olympic 1500m title, the blue riband event in track and field. But powerful Aucklander Peter Snell went one better at Tokyo in 1964, when, running in the grand manner, he outclassed the 800m and 1500m fields to win two golds. All up, Snell, described by Time magazine as “a Sherman tank in overdrive”, won three Olympic gold medals and set world records from 880 yards to the mile. The Listenerfretted about the lack of depth in track and field, but toasted Snell as “the iron man of athletics”. “We were thrilled at Peter Snell’s success,” it intoned. He was the brightest star in coach Arthur Lydiard’s stable of running greats. No wonder he was named New Zealand Athlete of the Century.


New Zealand, with Australia and Korea, went to war in Vietnam as an American ally but came to regret it. By the time the Americans were beaten, 37 New Zealanders had been killed and 187 injured from a force that peaked at 543 and involved 3890 men and women in total. In 1965, the Listeneroffered a prescient warning: “To succeed, the Communists and their supporters do not even have to win the war in the traditional sense of achieving a positive victory. They need only keep what they already hold.” Huge anti-war demonstrations in the US were echoed in New Zealand, growing steadily in size and volume, marchers including Helen Clark and Phil Goff bellowing such songs as “We Shall Overcome”. In 1972, tens of thousands demonstrated in the four main cities. Anti-Vietnam war sentiment pushed Labour towards a more independent foreign policy. It also taught a nation how to protest. “Just being a protester then was a novelty in itself,” says Murray Horton, who marched as a member of the Progressive Youth Movement. “Now, protest includes all shades of social class and political opinion.”


Once, the New Zealand economy could be described as depending upon processed grass. After the wool price collapse, that was never going to be enough. On December 14, 1966, the auction price of wool tumbled, eventually to levels comparable to those of the Depression, bar a brief respite in the early 1970s. At that time, wool and sheepmeat combined earned more than half of all New Zealand export revenue. The resulting rupture to the economy included a devaluation in November 1967, the infamous “nil-wage order” of 1968, and the beginning of more than a decade of inflation. The economy stopped growing as fast as those of the rest of the world. Exporters were forced to diversify. Today, wool earns less foreign exchange than tourism, dairy, meat, forestry, horticulture, fish or machinery exports. A different society and politics have been the result.


After a long argument over what it should be called (poet Denis Glover wanted the “zac”), and some bizarre proposals for the coinage (a rugby player on the 50 cent piece), the dollar replaced the pound as the nation’s unit of currency on DC Day. Under the tutelage of Finance Minister Rob Muldoon and Mr Dollar, we replaced the system of 20 shillings and 240 pence with the simplicity of 100 cents. The total conversion cost $6.5m, which was more than covered by the sale of old coins for scrap metal and collectors’ coin sets. An initial run of 27m banknotes was issued, but the pound didn’t cease to be legal tender until 1982.


Six o’clock pub closing was introduced in 1917 as both wartime measure and palliative to the powerful temperance movements. Liquor laws had always been eccentric; women and Maori were sometimes not allowed in hotels or to buy alcohol, some districts had total prohibition, Sundays were dry. Alcohol could not be served with food outside hotels until 1961. The swill, though, was in a class of its own. As the hour approached, men packed pubs and lined up jugs that had to be downed in a furious rush by 6.15. It ended in 1967, and was replaced by 10.00pm closing, marking what the Listener called “a time for maturity”. “If you drink too much beer too quickly, you will become drunk,” the Listenerwrote. “If too many people do it too often, they help create a sordid spectacle. If citizens impose such conditions on themselves, they debase their humanity. It has taken us half a century to admit this. Now we have had a belated flash of the obvious.” With undue optimism, we continued, “Maturity may come next.” Few mourn the swill, although Bill Manhire, in his essay “Under the influence”, remembers “a kind of wonderful uproar, a thundering, male exuberance”.


It was Giselle that did it. Few people know the name of the cyclone that caused the country’s worst marine disaster in living memory, but everyone remembers its principal victim: the inter-island ferry Wahine. Carrying 610 passengers and 123 crew, the ship ran into the storm from hell as it approached Wellington Harbour at dawn on April 10, 1968. Battered by winds of up to 160kph, the vessel was driven onto Barrett Reef and eventually capsized. Fifty-one people died.

The sinking Wahine.


A Catholic mission had been at Jerusalem, or Hiruhirama, on the Whanganui River since 1854 – and Suzanne Aubert founded the Sisters of Compassion there in 1892 – but it took the arrival in 1969 of bearded, barefoot, prophetic James K Baxter to turn the community into a counter-cultural symbol, one that attracted the young and idealistic – including, if you can believe it, MP Deborah Coddington. “New Zealanders worship a new Holy Trinity: the Dollar Note (the Almighty), School Certificate (the Saviour), and Respectability (the Holy Spirit),” Baxter said. For a short time, holy poverty was deemed the solution.


Lake Manapouri turned a nation into environmentalists. Engineers planned to tunnel under the mountains to Doubtful Sound, raising the lake to supply the power station. The prospect of ruining the lake to supply a foreign-owned aluminium smelter with cheap power enraged New Zealanders. A Save Manapouri campaign began in 1960 and a new conservation movement was born. Public anger grew until, in 1972, it brought down a National government and tinted politics green thereafter. The tunnel was built without destroying the lake. In 2002, Meridian Energy opened a second tunnel at Manapouri, generating enough extra power for 64,000 homes. They worked so sensitively that not a squawk of protest was heard. Alan Mark, the botany professor whose efforts to save Manapouri saw him reviled in the 70s, now found himself feted in the new millennium. “Things have come a hell of a long way,” he said.


In collaboration with poet John Caselberg, Colin McCahon looked for words to fill up the spaces: spiritual vacuums, empty landscapes. In the monumental – try this for size: 3m by 10m – “Gate III” (1970), McCahon sets God’s message to Moses in a landscape as a storm passes. “In this dark night of western civilisation” it begins, but the white light in the far corner is intended to be reassuring. Doubt, personal struggle, anxiety: no wonder that, after its first viewing in Auckland in 1971, the painting spent years hanging in the foyer of a university lecture theatre.

Colin McCahon.


Fried chicken, with the opening of the first KFC in Royal Oak, represented “the first challenge to fish and chips”, according to Ministry for Culture and Heritage chief historian Bronwyn Dalley. An eat-on-the-go culture followed.


Playing to 30 people at the Wynyard Tavern’s “Folk Night” was hardly an auspicious debut. And as Split Ends they would endure further indignities during their first year, such as being booed at the Great Ngaruawahia Music Festival and finishing seventh out of eight finalists in television’s New Facestalent quest. But it was the same things that initially drew hostility – original songs, bizarre clothes and haircuts – that ultimately came to defi ne Split Enz as New Zealand’s iconic band. “I Got You”, “I See Red”, “Six Months in a Leaky Boat”, among others, became huge hits and de facto anthems.


When these big birds started flying in, they did for tourism and migration what refrigerated container ships did for agricultural exports. In the words of Michael King, jet transport “opened New Zealand to the world, and the world to New Zealand”. Replacing slower propeller aircraft and introducing economies of scale, jumbo jets brought fast and affordable travel to the masses. And if it wasn’t for that first Qantas 747, a quintessentially Kiwi rite of passage may never have got off the ground. King: “The rate of travel shot up as young New Zealanders in particular claimed what came to be seen as a right: OE or overseas experience.”


The drift away from Britain had begun during World War II (see “Fall of Singapore”), but this was when the Mother Country really cut the apron strings and – economically, culturally – we suffered. In 1940, when we were “Britain’s farm”, 87 percent of our exports went “home”. By the end of the century, it was a mere six percent, and we had learnt the hard way that we were a South Pacific nation, not an island off the Kent coast. Not that we should have been surprised. Britain had flagged its intentions a decade before, and even after 1973 we had years of grace before full EEC regulations kicked in. In 1970, the Listenerreported concerns from government advisers that we could lose $150m of dairy income overnight, while a correspondent in London pointed out “the Common Market needs New Zealand butter like a dose of cholera”. “It really kicked New Zealanders in the guts,” says historian David Thomson. “It changed the economy and made us feel quite different about where we were in the world.” In the end, diversification came hard and late in the form of Rogernomics.


Don Hutchings, aka Mr Telethon, was the doyen behind the camera during this golden era of participatory television. He says that the popularity of these 24-hour variety fund-raisers was such that “they were almost crimeless nights because people were at home watching it on the box, or out raising money”. Telethons set ratings records and raised millions for charity. It was genuine humanity that made the event for many. Two little people approached Hutchings after one Telethon, and said, “The money doesn’t matter. You’ve given us credibility and stature.” “That still brings a lump to my throat,” says Hutchings. Could Telethons be reprised for the modern era? Mr Telethon doesn’t think so. “Up until 1987, you could put a photo of a smiling child and a phone number on the box and you would raise millions. Now, you would be lucky to get a half-dozen calls.”

Telethon ’78. Photo/NZH


The character – a sort of thinking joker’s good, keen man – only graced our screens for three years, but local television’s love affair with bloke culture endures. A little bit of Fred Dagg has lived on in everything from Crumpy’s Toyota ads and Footrot Flats to Speights’ Southern Man, Sports Cafe, Game of Two Halves… John Clarke may have long since decamped for Melbourne, but Fred’s boots and singlet reside at Te Papa, as eloquent and recognisable a local artefact as a Kelvinator or a McCahon.


When Sleeping Dogs was on the cover of the Listener in September 1977, the story inside was headlined “The $450,000 question” – that figure being the movie’s budget and the question being whether New Zealanders would go to see it. This political thriller, directed by Roger Donaldson and starring Sam Neill and Ian Mune, was deliberately aimed at the film-going mainstream – in fact, the local advertising spend was the same as for Jaws. Ultimately, the public answered yes. Several careers were launched, along with, in 1978, the New Zealand Film Commission, to make future productions less risky. Still, despite the international action elements (guns, planes, riot squads), Listener reviewer Stephen Ballantyne noted that “we always come back to the personal dilemmas of the hero. There is a streak of introspection a mile wide running through New Zealand arts and Sleeping Dogsis no exception.”


It’s an iconic image that tells two tales at once: 80-year-old Dame Whina Cooper was on her way to Parliament, leading the 29-day, 1100km land march or hikoi that brought the sale of Maori tribal land to national attention, and, wider, Maori were on the move, with a cultural renaissance and a strengthening political voice. From the early 1970s, Maori protest groups raised long-held grievances in ways that meant Pakeha could no longer ignore them. There were Waitangi Day protests and the occupations at Raglan and Bastion Point. At the same time, Maori artists and artisans with new things to say appeared – Witi Ihimaera, Patricia Grace, Ralph Hotere. Ihimaera wrote for the Listenerabout the first conference of Maori writers and artists at Tukaki marae in 1973. It was, he wrote, “a small sneeze, but loud and open-throated and vocal against the restraints limiting Maori artistic expression … the question was, would the sneeze be sustained?” It was. Marae were rebuilt and traditional crafts learnt anew. Te reo became an official language and was taught in schools. Kohanga reo were started. The hikoi model left such a dent in our consciousness that it has been re-used twice: by the churches in their 1998 march against poverty, and this year in the foreshore and seabed hikoi, which saw Maori land issues once again brought to the steps of Parliament.

Dame Whina Cooper on her way to Parliament. Photo/NZH


The nation spent its longest night waiting for news of its worst disaster when Air New Zealand Flight 901 slammed into Mt Erebus in Antarctica. All 257 passengers and crew were killed. Until then, Air New Zealand had been as much an institution as an airline. But a 1981 inquiry headed by Judge Peter Mahon blamed the airline for effectively aiming the aircraft straight at the mountain by changing the route on the plane’s computer without telling the pilots. He accused the company of trying to hide its blunder with an “orchestrated litany of lies”. The phrase now lies deep in the national consciousness. Mahon himself became a further casualty. His findings were criticised by appeal courts and denounced by Prime Minister Robert Muldoon. He resigned as a High Court judge soon afterwards and died in 1986.


The famous Listener cover at the end of the Springbok Tour had no need of a question mark. The country had torn itself in two – some friends and family members irreconcilable – over a rugby tour. The Springboks arrived for a 56-day, 15-match tour, despite heated protest that in accepting a whites-only rugby team, New Zealand endorsed South Africa’s race-based apartheid system. Anti-tour people wanted a statement of solidarity and social justice. Pro-tour people wanted politics kept out of sport and revenge for the last two Springbok-All Blacks series, which we had lost. At every game there were violent protests, police riot squads with swinging batons and barbed wire. Of course, it was about so much more than rugby. The Muldoon government was hanging onto power by the slimmest of majorities. By allowing the tour, it – accurately – believed it could deliver enough electorates to scrape another three years. It was town against country, a new baby-boom generation against the old, a more liberal, urban middle-class against the conservative provinces. To historian James Belich, it was also a case of “contested nationalism”. Both sides claimed to be representing the true New Zealand character, something picked up on by Listenerjournalists Tony Reid and Phil Gifford, writing about the pivotal day in Hamilton on July 25, when protesters on the pitch forced the game against Waikato to be abandoned. The crowd fury at the protesters invading “the equivalent of their living-rooms … was like a great lump of poisonous phlegm being cleared from the national throat. “Once you weren’t a Kiwi if you did not love rugby … The crowd bashed and kicked its rage that life was now so incomprehensible that these protesters should also claim to be patriotic New Zealanders.” John Minto, a leader of HART, now says that the most profound legacy was not the change in attitude to South Africa, but to ourselves. “It forced us to confront racism in this country and encouraged the country to look more seriously at a just, bicultural framework.”


Critics and defenders identify the floating of the dollar as having the greatest impact of any Rogernomics policy. No longer was the value rigidly fixed to another currency, but found its own level, reflecting those who wanted to buy or sell it. It was a logical consequence of the 1971 Smithsonian Agreement that ended the world’s fixed rate regime, but a totally free-floating policy (reversed in March 2004) was unusual. The dollar floated up, to the joy of consumers (who get cheaper imports) and the financial sector (who like a “strong” dollar). But it devastated the export sector, business and jobs were depressed and per capita economic output fell for six successive years. As Finance Minister from 1984-88, Roger Douglas began dismantling the welfare state – a policy continued by Ruth Richardson – as subsidies were eliminated, import duties reduced and state assets sold.


Terrorism came to New Zealand 19 years ago when the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warriorwas blown up in the Waitemata Harbour, causing a photographer’s death. This, however, was not the act of some proto-al-Qaeda or urban guerrilla gang: the bombs were planted by agents of the French Secret Service, under instructions to stop the ship from leading a protest against French nuclear testing. Two agents were sentenced to 10 years each for manslaughter, but French Government pressure soon had them freed. Both the US and British governments of the time declined to condemn this act of terrorism by a leading member of the Western alliance.


The Treaty of Waitangi was largely ignored by Pakeha for more than a century, although Maori fought continuously for their Treaty rights. In 1975, the same year Whina Cooper led the massive Maori land march on Parliament, a Labour government set up the Waitangi Tribunal. In 1985, another Labour administration changed the tribunal’s rules, allowing it to hear claims and grievances dating back to 1840. The move was pivotal. The Treaty was resurrected as a living document. Settlement of ancient grievances, worth around $600m so far, forged well ahead of Pakeha understanding, a discrepancy bringing its own compensation for National leader Don Brash this year. But two of the biggest settlements were achieved under National. The northern Tainui and southern Ngai Tahu accepted $170m each. Tainui struggled, but Ngai Tahu proved a corporate star. Says Ngai Tahu kaiwhakataere (chair) Mark Solomon, “To let go issues of the past you had to have them heard, if you’re to go forward.”


By 1986, gay men had suffered 80 years of harsh judicial discrimination, although lesbian women had largely slipped beneath the government’s radar. Writer Frank Sargeson, who changed his name after a conviction for indecent assault in 1929, spent the rest of his life in fear of discovery. Then MP Fran Wilde (pictured) introduced the Homosexual Law Reform Bill and was cast as the Antichrist. Opposition led by Auckland businessman Keith Hay (“God’s carpenter”) resulted in a petition claiming 800,000 signatures. Polls, though, showed a more tolerant public supported reform. On July 9, 1986, the bill was passed. The sky stayed up.


New Zealand – forelock-tugging, Uncle Sam-pleasing, Pommy-greasing, butter-access-begging – finally took a stand of its own in the mid-1980s, when it struck out independently of our traditional allies and said no to nuclear ships in our waters. And we have rather grown to like ourselves for it, too. By refusing to welcome the US warship Buchananin 1985, we buried the moribund ANZUS alliance; and by passing the Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament and Arms Control Act two years later, we formally gave the foreign-policy fingers to the Americans – who haven’t really forgiven us yet. Even though we now know that Prime Minister David Lange initially sought ways of appeasing the US, his name will forever be associated with this historic legislation.

The Peace Squadron surrounds a US submarine.


Crazy, yes, but definitely and distinctively, Kiwi. In June 1987, A J Hackett leapt from the Eiffel Tower and into world attention. Hackett survived, secured with, and bouncing on, latex rubber cords developed in conjunction with the University of Auckland. Inspired by Vanuatu ritual and the Oxford Dangerous Sports Club, bungy jumping took extreme tourism to the mainstream and helped give the country a new brand image. Hackett says that those taking part in his global operation have a range of reactions: “They laugh, they scream, they cry.” And they come from the world over.


The Tuesday New Zealand stockmarket crash followed Black Monday in the United States. But New Zealand’s market crashed deeper than any other rich country’s. The boom, fuelled by promises of “Rogernomics” reforms with their rapid liberalisation of financial markets, proved to be fake, unsustained by the economic fundamentals, and dependent on cowboy investment strategies and creative accounting. Despairing investors lost their fictitious fortunes, and some company directors went to jail. Businesses that were market darlings – the longstanding and the fashionable – disappeared, or were sold off overseas. (Brierleys almost went down with them.)


When the All Blacks won the inaugural World Cup in 1987, we didn’t think too much of it. It was a quaint, understated tournament and the All Blacks, as expected, were the best team – they hammered France 29-9 in the final. Who would have guessed that, all these years later, this remains New Zealand’s only World Cup triumph? The 1987 tournament launched onto the world stage future superstars Sean Fitzpatrick, Michael Jones and Zinzan Brooke and confirmed the class of Grant Fox and John Kirwan. New Zealand rugby wasn’t in great heart entering 1987. Years of debate over the South African issue had eroded the sport’s popularity. But the World Cup success turned that around, at least for a while.


It was but a tiny drinking straw compared to the mighty digital culverts that connect us with the world now, but the opening of New Zealand’s first Internet connection – a 9.6Kbit/s link to Hawaii – conquered the tyranny of distance just as much as the freezer ships or affordable air travel. As has often been the case in the history of the Internet, the initiative was largely the work of individuals: Dr Torben Neilsen of the University of Hawaii, who in 1988 won a NASA grant to extend the Internet to other Asia-Pacific researchers, and the University of Waikato’s John Houlker, who drove the New Zealand end of the original Paccom project.


Once, you shopped Monday to Friday. The great New Zealand weekend began crumbling in 1980, when shops could again open on Saturdays, too. Sunday trading was allowed from Christmas 1989, amid complaints from trade unions and churches over emptying pews and the falling quality of life for shop workers. Now, only Christmas Day, Good Friday, Easter Sunday (seriously challenged by business) and Anzac Day morning are sacrosanct – except for a long list of shops, garden centres, restaurants and service stations.


In early 1991, the Asian population exceeded 100,000. It rose to exceed a quarter of a million by 2001. Two years later, Prime Minister Jim Bolger declared himself pleased to be an Asian leader. The nation’s face was changing and it made some Kiwis nervous, as Winston Peters’s success in the 1996 election proved. But that same election gave us our first Asian MP, National’s Shanghai-born Pansy Wong. In her maiden speech, she described the long march from the active legal discrimination of the period 1881 to 1951: a “path leading to parliament … paved with tears, blood, hard work and determination”. After jumping off the Sky Tower in 1999, Wong found herself labelled “crazy”, but “suddenly, I became an Aucklander”. With the Asian population expected to more than double by 2021, New Zealand, culinarily, linguistically, politically and culturally, is becoming more and more part of the Asia-Pacific region.


The early 90s saw a run on gowns and mortarboards. Universities bulged and polytechnics offered degrees as more New Zealanders than ever participated in tertiary education. Association of University Staff president Bill Rosenberg says, “During this time, fees were going up quite steeply, so if you were a dry economist, you would expect to be turning people away.” Instead, with high unemployment in low-skill areas encouraging upskilling, and the loans scheme enabling borrowing to cover costs, student participation increased by one-third to 200,000 between 1991 and 1993. Non-Pakeha students made inroads, comprising 30 percent of the student body by 1998, up from only 15 percent in 1990. Although the loans scheme, which began this month, enabled wider participation, borrowing reached $7 billion early this year, raising the spectre of debt strangling the dreams of home ownership and having children.


Powered only by defibrillator paddles running red hot and a defiantly wooden indigenous acting style, the initially ailing patient somehow managed to become our oldest surviving (if a little bewildered) television drama. There were regular handbaggings from the critics, but the Streetstoryliners’ spooky ability to stay one step ahead of the headlines (AIDS, youth suicide, the rise to culinary iconhood of the muffin) became the stuff of legend. And, over 3000 episodes down the track, “You’re not in Guatemala now, Dr Ropata” has insinuated itself into our historical record, alongside “We knocked the bastard off.” Not just the National Soap – see the exhibition, read the thesis and weep – Shortland Street has become a slightly worrying but beloved cultural monument.


Abrupt and unexpected policy changes in the previous decade sowed doubt in the minds of many over the legitimacy of the First-Past-the-Post (FPP) electoral system. A Royal Commission in 1986 recommended changing to the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) system – where parties would receive representation in direct proportion to the number of votes won. In 1993, as the binding referendum approached, the Listenerendorsed MMP. “We do not think MMP is a perfect system – nor will it solve all the problems facing this country, not by a long shot. But it is fairer than the present system.” The plebiscite, according to this magazine, was “the most important choice faced since women’s suffrage”. Despite Labour and National uniting in opposition, and MMP being tied to an unpopular increase in the number of MPs, a close but clear majority (53.8 to 46.2%) voted to embrace proportional representation. (Although, if FPP reckoning was applied to the referendum vote, MMP would have won 76 out of 99 electorates; a landslide.) The next election, in 1996, saw more parties, women and Maori in Parliament than ever before.


The America’s Cup soured for New Zealand in 2003, with the 5-0 whitewash by Alinghi and controversy over Russell Coutts’s defection to the Swiss team. But in 1995, Coutts and Peter Blake were heroes, after Black Magic hammered Stars & Stripes 5-0 off San Diego to win the cup and complete a journey started by Michael Fay at Fremantle eight years earlier. Coutts’s Team New Zealand earned more glory by outclassing Pradain the final in Auckland in 2000. How quickly it all fell apart after that.

Sir Peter Blake carries the America’s Cup. Photo/NZH


“When I saw the first versions of the effects, I thought, oh my God, not good. And the sound was quite ropey. I thought, maybe we’re just making the most expensive home movie in history. Do these Kiwis really know what they’re doing? Well, it’s easy to underestimate someone who doesn’t wear shoes and who has only got two shirts and they’re both the same colour.” That’s Ian McKellen, speaking after the world premiere of The Fellowship of the Ring. It’s hard to remember just how much nervousness surrounded the first film, right up to curtain lifting in London. The film went out worldwide nine days later and – guess what? – it turned out the world did want three films of orcs, hobbits and magic rings. The three Rings movies earned an estimated $US4b, with The Return of the Kingwinning 11 Oscars on the way.

Peter Jackson.


New Zealand women blazed global trails to the ballot box in 1893, but it wasn’t until 2002 that these trails led to positions of power – women occupying, simultaneously, the top jobs in politics, law and business. Prime Minister Helen Clark, Attorney-General Margaret Wilson, Chief Justice Sian Elias, Governor-General Dame Silvia Cartwright and Telecom CEO Theresa Gattung make New Zealand society an icon for feminists. Equal Employment Opportunities commissioner Judith McGregor says that the rise to power by these five was due to a “combination of their competence, determination and timing”. This is something that we should all take pride in, says McGregor, “after all, it was male Members of Parliament who voted to give women the vote”.


When New Zealand’s population passed the four million mark at around 5.30pm on Thursday, April 24, 2003, on one level, it meant just one more entrant in the global game of sardines started by those first Polynesian explorers. We reached one million people in 1908, two million in 1952 and three million in 1973. Reaching the four million club brought us alongside countries as diverse as Singapore, Moldova and Eritrea. Significantly, it may be the last million milestone we pass; for the next century at least. Our fertility rate of 1.9 is below the 2.1 needed to replace ourselves, so Statistics New Zealand expects our population to peak at 4.8m in 2046 before declining to 4.4m by 2101.


How many dudes you know flow like this? Not many, if any. When Christchurch rapper Scribe (real name: Malo Luafutu) became the first local artist to conquer number one on both the singles and album charts simultaneously, it signified a coming of age for New Zealand music. Radio was now playing around 20 percent local content, without enforced quotas. Our best was as good as anything the world had to offer, and it no longer had to be an overseas hit (as in the case of Crowded House) before we would believe it. Scribe told the Listenerof the day that his album sold 7500 copies by lunchtime: “It was like everything I’d been working for was happening. I couldn’t wait for the day to end so I could go home and tell my cousins. “I do believe I’m the greatest,” he added.


Rod Drury and Sam Morgan

Sam Morgan (left) with Xero director Rod Drury. Photo/Glenn Taylor

It all started with Sam Morgan’s frustrating effort to buy a second-hand heater to warm his Wellington flat. By the mid-2000s, Trade Me was fundamentally changing the way we buy and sell stuff. And not just second-hand stuff: it had become a place for small businesses to get started and showcase their wares, a place to look for jobs, buy and sell houses and cars, and find flatmates. In the process, it was a major factor in the drying up of the “rivers of gold” – classified advertising – that had been at the heart of the newspaper industry’s business model. In 2006 Fairfax made an “if you can’t beat ’em, you may as well buy ’em” decision, and shocked the nation by paying $750 million to buy the business from Morgan and his fellow shareholders. Six years later Fairfax sold it off in profitable bits for a total of $1.37 billion, and the company that Morgan developed from a bedroom start-up was valued on the New Zealand sharemarket at $1.7 billion.


More cows, fewer sheep – that’s been the big story of New Zealand’s agricultural economy over the past decade. Dairying has expanded beyond its traditional zones of influence in Taranaki and Waitako and spread across the pastoral landscapes of Southland, Canterbury and Otago. Even parts of the harsh, arid Mackenzie Basin in the central South Island have been “greened” by pivot irrigators and blanketed in Holstein Friesians. Poor returns for lamb and improving prices for milk have been behind the enormous change in the livestock population: the number of dairy cows increased almost 25% to 6.4 million between 2002 and 2012, while the number of sheep fell 21% to 31 million. The country that once lived off the sheep’s back now depends on the cow’s udder. Exports of milk and milk products doubled between 2006 and 2012 and now make up a quarter of the nation’s merchandise trade – the great bulk of which is channelled through one company, Fonterra. No wonder New Zealanders felt a little exposed when Fonterra thought it had discovered a strain of botulism-causing bacteria in its product.

2004 – MAORI TV

Maori TV suffered an early setback when the man hired to be its first chief executive, Canadian John Davy, turned out to be a fraudster. But the government-funded station finally got to air in March 2004 and over the following nine years established itself as a bulwark not only for the Maori language but also for high-quality broadcasting in general. The channel’s rise roughly inversely mirrors the decline in standards at TVNZ; it has become, in effect, the default public television broadcaster. It brought gravitas back to coverage of Anzac Day, delivered insights into modern Maori culture by using the medium of reality TV to fresh effect through shows such as Marae Kai Masters and Homai Te Pakipaki and won plaudits for its current-affairs work. The current fiasco over the hiring of a new chief executive will hopefully not undo the fine work achieved during the channel’s first decade.


Michael Cullen’s big plan to turn New Zealand into a nation of savers, with the help of a little “nudge” in the right direction, began in July 2007. Borrowing from the new realm of behavioural economics, the scheme was designed to take advantage of normal human inertia to build new savings habits. New employees would be automatically enrolled in KiwiSaver, with contributions coming from their wage packet and their employer, and would remain in the scheme unless they made an active choice to withdraw. Within a month, 130,000 members were in the scheme and fewer than 6000 had opted out. Six years on, almost 2.2 million New Zealanders have KiwiSaver accounts, with a combined total of $17 billion invested.


Prime Minister Helen Clark led a large entourage of dignitaries and business leaders to Beijing for the signing of the first free-trade agreement between China and a developed country. Trade Minister Phil Goff and his counterpart, Chen Deming, put their signatures to the document in a highly polished ceremony at the Great Hall of the People, witnessed by Clark and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. Four years on, exports to China had tripled and the country was New Zealand’s second largest export market after Australia – although the outflow of goods was dominated by milk powder and raw logs. The free-trade agreement didn’t make New Zealand immune from its own foul-ups, however: earlier in 2013, $100 million of export meat was left sitting for weeks on Chinese wharves because of faulty New Zealand paperwork. And when Fonterra declared a recall of baby formula because it feared botulism-causing bacteria had infected a batch of milk, China’s state run news agency Xinhua went to town, describing this country’s “100% Pure” tourism campaign as a “festering sore” and saying free-market ideology had resulted in Kiwi homes becoming damp, leaky and uninhabitable.


Between 2006 and 2010, New Zealand saw the collapse of 45 finance companies, which wiped out $6 billion of wealth and affected the life savings of as many as 200,000 investors. In any other market, and perhaps at any other time, the investments touted by the finance company sector would have been known as “junk bonds”; instead, they were marketed by well-known personalities and described benignly as “deposits”. A 2011 inquiry by Parliament’s Commerce Select Committee listed the chief causes of the sector’s failure as poor management and slack governance by boards of directors, criminal misconduct, poor standards of disclosure and advice, a lack of understanding of risk by investors and inadequate supervision by trustees and regulators.


One hundred and eighty-five lives lost, $40 billion worth of damage, entire suburbs that were once home to over 7800 households forcibly abandoned because of land damage, 80% of the central business district razed, 220 heritage buildings bowled. It all began with a 7.1 magnitude quake at 4.35am on September 4, 2010, and proceeded to the deadly destruction of the 6.3 magnitude shallow “aftershock” centred close to the city centre on February 22, 2011, then continued on with further savage aftershocks on June 13, 2011 and December 23, 2011. Over the two and a half years from the September 4 quake, Cantabrians endured more than 11,000 aftershocks. The effects of destruction in Christchurch rippled through the country – most noticeably in the form of huge increases in the cost of insuring homes and commercial buildings, and heightened public and political attention being paid to earthquake-prone heritage buildings.


Photo/Mark Mitchell/NZH

On November 19, 2010, Pike River went from being a proclaimed “showcase” mine to a mass grave for 29 workers. Just two men escaped a massive explosion in the coal mine’s underground workings, and none of the bodies have been recovered. Pike joined a long list of New Zealand’s underground coal-mine disasters, including Kaitangata, Brunner, Huntly, Dobson and Strongman. A subsequent Royal Commission into the tragedy laid bare the failures of board and executive oversight and slack policing that had allowed the mine to masquerade as an exemplar of modern mining when in reality it had been dicing with danger for months before the explosion. The Pike disaster marked the end of New Zealand’s fascination with industry self-regulation, and prompted a tightening of the role of the state as an enforcer of health and safety standards.


Sir Paul Callaghan. Photo/Jane Ussher

More than just a world-class researcher, Callaghan made science and the wonder of discovery dinner-table conversation. In his seminal radio interviews with broadcaster Kim Hill, his love of learning and curiosity about life was infectious and compelling – even to the extent of describing with wonder the progress of his own cancer and its treatment. In his 2009 book Wool to Weta, Callaghan laid down a brave challenge, describing why and how New Zealand needs to move away from low-value commodity industries such as dairying to high-value, science-led industries, in which his own company Magritek was an exemplar.


New Zealand’s first gay weddings took place on August 19 when this country became the first in the Asia-Pacific region and the 13th globally to make same-sex marriage legal. The reform came 27 years after New Zealand legalised homosexuality. Student Timothy Atkin observed prosaically when the law was passed in April: “It’s important to be seen as equal under the law.” The tourism industry saw the reform as a chance to ramp up the foreign weddings market by luring gay Australians who can’t marry in their own country.

Click here to read more from our Influentials series.

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