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The 1950s

Page 7 – 1954 - key events

It’s in the bag

It's in the bag radio show, 1959

The popular quiz show It’s in the bag began its 11-year stint on New Zealand radio on 2 January. Host Selwyn Toogood became famous for expressions like ‘By hokey!’ and ‘What should she do, New Zealand, the money or the bag?’ that became part of the Kiwi vernacular.

Each show was broadcast from a different town, giving it a local feel. Contestants selected from the audience were asked three relatively easy questions. If successful, they got to play for ‘the money or the bag’. Hidden in the prize bags were three ‘booby prizes’ of little value and a ‘Super Bag’. Toogood offered each contestant an increasing amount of money in exchange for their unopened bag. At some point the haggling stopped and the contents of the bag were revealed – to cheers if the final choice was a wise one, or to gasps and groans if the booby prize had been won.

It’s in the bag made a successful transition to television in 1973, with Toogood hosting it until he was succeeded by John Hawkesby. In 2009 the show was revived for Māori Television with comedian Pio Terei as host.

Parker–Hulme murder

Parker-Hulme murder in Christchurch

The sensational June murder of Honorah Parker by her 16-year-old daughter Pauline Parker and her best friend, Juliet Hulme, 15, drew extraordinary attention both here and overseas. One of New Zealand's most infamous crimes, it later inspired the play, Daughters of heaven, by Michelanne Forster, and Peter Jackson’s Academy Award-nominated film Heavenly creatures.

At the trial the Crown prosecutor maintained that the girls were not insane but ‘incurably bad’. The pair was found guilty but escaped the death penalty as they were both under 18. They were sentenced to indefinite imprisonment and ordered never to contact each other again. Each served about five years in prison.

SEATO signed

NZ signs Manila Pact

In its search for security in the post-war years New Zealand became involved in a number of regional alliances. Two of the more important were the ANZUS alliance of 1951 and the September 1954 South-East Asia Collective Defence Treaty or Manila Pact. Its signatories – Australia, Britain, France, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand and the United States – sought to resist the creeping spread of communism in the region. This fear was often referred to as the 'Domino theory', a term first used by US President Dwight Eisenhower in April 1954.

The institutional expression of this treaty was the South-East Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO).

Mazengarb Report

Mazengarb report released

The Mazengarb Report of 1954 was in part a response to two infamous and well-publicised events of that year: the Parker–Hulme murder and what was referred to as the ‘Petone incident’, in which a missing 15-year-old girl eventually told Lower Hutt police that she had belonged to a ‘Milk Bar Gang’ which met ‘mostly for sex purposes’.

The inquiry’s chairman, Queen’s Counsel Oswald Mazengarb – described by other committee members as ‘a puritan moralist’ and a ‘fundamentalist’ – dominated the proceedings. The perceived promiscuity of the nation’s youth was blamed on the absence from home of working mothers, the easy availability of contraceptives, and on young women enticing men into having sex. The inquiry’s report advocated a return to Christianity and traditional values.

Other events in 1954:

  • New Zealand was elected to the Security Council of the United Nations for the first time.
  • In its centenary year, the New Zealand Parliament was for the first time opened by a reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II.
  • Yvette Williams set a new world record in the long jump with a leap of 6.29 m.
  • An NAC DC-3 passenger plane crashed while approaching Paraparaumu airport in May; three children died.
  • TEAL’s flying boat service between Sydney and Auckland ended.
  • The New Zealand Opera Group, soon to be renamed the New Zealand Opera Company, had its opening performance in Wellington in October.
  • 18-year-old amateur golfer Bob Charles won the New Zealand Open tournament, beating seasoned professional players.

How to cite this page

1954 - key events, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated