The 1920s

Page 5 – 1922 - key events

First radio stations on the air

Radio advert

Following Robert Jack’s experimental broadcasts in late 1921, radio broadcasting stations were established in New Zealand’s four main centres. Wellington’s first station, owned by Charles Forrest’s International Electric Co., opened in February, followed in July by Arthur McClay’s Wellington Broadcasters Ltd. In Dunedin, Fred O’Neill’s British Electrical Engineering Co., Norman Arundel’s British Radio Supply Co. and the Otago Radio Association (later 4XD, today Radio Dunedin) were all broadcasting by the end of the year, as was Radio Service Ltd in Auckland and the Radio Society of Christchurch.

None of these stations were on air for more than a few hours per week, and there were then fewer than 1000 radio listeners in New Zealand. But, as elsewhere in the Western world, radio would soon take the country by storm. In 1925 there would be 4702 radio listeners’ licences in the country; by 1935 there would be 152,808, and by 1940, 345,682.

Committee probes ‘scarlet scourge’ of VD

Newspaper headline

In July 1922, at the urging of the New Zealand Branch of the British Medical Association, the Minister of Public Health set up a Committee of Inquiry to report on the prevalence and causes of venereal disease, and ‘to advise as to the best means of combating and preventing’ it. The committee’s main concern was ‘the occurrence of promiscuous sexual intercourse’, which it blamed on ‘moral laxity’ among young people (especially girls), weakening parental control, delayed marriage, overcrowded urban housing and ‘the restlessness of the age’. It recommended limited sex education, some improvements to treatment at VD clinics and ‘conditional notification’ for VD patients, but stopped short of more radical proposals such as compulsory notification or the detention of those infected. Its report concluded that:

It must be obvious to every thinking person that looseness of conduct between the sexes as is shown to exist in New Zealand is destructive to the high ideals of family life associated with the finest types of British manhood and womanhood, and if not checked must lead to the decadence of the nation.

US prohibitionist tours New Zealand

Pussyfoot Johnson cartoon

The legendary American prohibition campaigner William E. ‘Pussyfoot’ Johnson toured New Zealand to mobilise temperance supporters ahead of December’s national licensing referendum. Despite agonisingly narrow defeats in two 1919 polls, the prohibitionist cause remained a powerful mass movement throughout the 1920s. Both the liquor trade and its ‘no license’ opponents spent heavily on election advertising in the run-up to each referendum. Pussyfoot’s presence wasn’t enough in 1922, though, as the prohibition vote again fell just short of a majority with 48.6% support.

Catholic bishop tried for sedition

James Liston

Sectarian tensions between New Zealand Protestants and Catholics festered during and after the Great War, partly as a result of events in Ireland, especially the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin. The Protestant Political Association emerged as a powerful anti-Catholic force, and many Catholics felt that they were being made scapegoats for wartime and post-war problems.

On St Patrick’s Day 1922, during a speech in the Auckland Town Hall, Bishop James Liston criticised the Anglo–Irish Treaty, praised the dead rebels of 1916 (he apparently said they had been ‘murdered by foreign troops’), and predicted a successful fight for Ireland’s freedom. Amid a flurry of Protestant outrage, the Reform government announced that Liston would be prosecuted for making seditious utterances. After a two-day trial in Auckland’s Supreme Court in mid-May, the bishop was acquitted by an all-Protestant jury.

Other events in 1922:

  • William Massey’s Reform Party retained power in December’s general election, despite winning only 39% of the vote in a three-way fight with the Liberals and Labour. Incoming results were broadcast on radio for the first time.
  • This was also the first general election to include the Chatham Islands. The islanders voted in either the Lyttelton general electorate or Western Maori (the latter reflected the tribal affiliations of the Chathams’ Māori population).
  • In response to the 1921–22 recession, the Meat Producers’ Board was established to coordinate the production, transport and marketing of farm produce.
  • New Zealand’s first Poppy Day was held on 24 April, the day before Anzac Day. More than 260,000 poppies were sold, earning £13,166 (equivalent to nearly $1.3 million in 2018) to help war-ravaged areas of northern France and assist unemployed returned soldiers and their families.
  • The New Zealand government offered support to Britain when the Chanak crisis threatened to reignite war with Turkey. Within two weeks 13,000 men and 400 nurses volunteered to serve, but conflict was averted.
  • In November Seamen’s Union members began a nationwide strike in protest at cuts to wages and conditions ordered by the Arbitration Court. The dispute, which lasted until January 1923, ended in crushing defeat for the unionists.
  • The New Zealand Federation of University Women was established to provide a contact network for women graduates and grants to female students.
  • The Forests Act was passed, establishing the State Forest Service.
  • The Correspondence School was opened to provide lessons to about 100 isolated primary schoolchildren scattered throughout New Zealand.
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'1922 - key events', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 30-Apr-2018

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