N : Norman Kirk


1972 sitting in assembly.

I was 15 recently arrived at a new school – Onslow College.

the 7th formers a radical bunch

(the counter-culture had arrived in New Zealand)

requested boys be able to have their hair whatever length they liked.

‘no’ said the principal.

‘will we accept no ? ‘ a lad asks.

‘no ‘ we all chanted.

we will stay here until our demands are met

and so we did.

it grew warm the hall got sticky – boredom set off missiles and

whispers became shouts .

the goodie goodies left and were attending classes with a serious lack of students.

a victory – boys no longer had to have the regulation short back and sides

we felt invincible – we felt like we could change the world.

we raised our voices about school uniforms and became the only coed high school in the greater Wellington region to wear whatever we liked.

a tide was turning and we were part of the vanguard.

this was the time of the Vietnam war and

nuclear testing in the Pacific Ocean by the French.

our other cry for protest was

the all blacks playing rugby with South Africa who discriminated on the grounds of race in choosing their team.

apartheid was abhorrent to a country struggling to deal with their colonial racism – a country that was striving to make amends and come together.

today there is a march in Wellington to protest against …..

‘you may not go’ said the principal.

we went, taking over the city stopping traffic waving banners.

I was home in time for dinner.

‘what is it all about ?’  asks Mum.

‘radioactivity fish islanders getting sick

earthquakes our backyard ocean.’

‘always been too arrogant those frogs’ says Dad.

‘tut tut’ says mum ‘they shouldn’t carry on like that.

and what has sport got to do with politics?’

‘racism Mum inequality.’

‘well we have to get rid of communism’ says Dad.

‘where will it all end?’ asks Mum.

still no answer on that one .

in 1972 Norman Kirk from a working class background and then leader of the labour party became New Zealand’s 29th prime minister.

in a government characterised by action on behalf of the common people he withdrew our  remaining troops from Vietnam.  he abolished compulsory military training and in a speech to the UN  was highly critical of the U.S. and their involvement with the coup d’etat in Chile.

suddenly New Zealand was coming of age. it seemed for a brief period of time that there was a meld between the people and the  government to stand up – together.

although Norm had said in the election campaign that he would not interfere in the proposed tour by the Springboks, the passionate vocal protests and the potential for violence changed his mind.The tour was cancelled.

NZ  took France to the International Court of Justice but this did not deter them from  nuclear testing at Mururoa Atoll. Norman Kirk  sent two navy frigates in protest with a member of parliament on board ( his name picked out of a hat) along with our fervent prayer and wishes for an end to this atrocity.

there was a sense in the air of revolution,  an opportunity to right wrongs, for justice to prevail.

1974 Norman Kirk died in office and the country mourned – he was a big man with a way of looking into something so deeply that much became possible and he was not afraid to act.


kapiti island dreaming

   coming ashore in my longboat
           gliding gently into the shallows
           the happy slap of ocean meeting land.

           feet splashing into the water
           hands drag the boat to rest
           high above the tide line
           a wave of driftwood and opened shells.

           gull prints etched in the slate grey sand.

           wind tugs our hair
           tattoos tell stories of who we are
           mullet waters- Waikanae –
           fire on the beach
           children playing  fish eaten and plans made.


           Kapiti – bold and mountain blue island
           where maori and european , whale and greenstone met
           symbol of our dreaming.

           like you we too are travellers here
           and call these islands home.