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The 1950s

Page 9 – 1956 - key events

Death of Opo, the ‘gay dolphin’

Opo the dolphin

Opononi George, or Opo (the ‘gay dolphin’), was found dead on 9 March 1956. The young female bottlenose dolphin had regularly approached the beach near Opononi wharf, in Hokianga Harbour, to frolic with locals. Her playful antics attracted widespread media coverage over the summer of 1955–56, helping to attract thousands of holidaymakers to Opononi.

An Opononi Gay Dolphin Protection Committee was established, and the government made it an offence to ‘take or molest any dolphin in Hokianga Harbour’. These measures failed to save Opo – some say she was killed. Upon news of her death, messages of sympathy poured in from people around the country, including the governor-general.

Sporting firsts

Cricketers finally win

Cricketers celebrating

Having suffered the indignity of being dismissed for 26 runs the previous season, the New Zealand men’s cricket team finally won its first test match. On 13 March New Zealand completed a 190-run victory over the West Indies in the fourth test at Eden Park. The elusive triumph had taken 26 long years, with 22 defeats and 22 draws along the way. The series was lost 3–1, but that counted little to the men who had at last put New Zealand cricket on the map.

Boks finally conquered

1956 Springbok poster

The year of sporting firsts continued into winter when the All Blacks defeated the Springboks in a test series for the first time in 35 years of trying. In the previous series played between these two fierce rugby rivals, in 1949, the Springboks had secured a 4–0 whitewash over the All Blacks, plunging New Zealand rugby fans into a state of despair. Revenge in 1956 was greeted as if the country had just won a war.

Arrival of Hungarian refugees

New Zealand showed another dimension to its support for the West in the Cold War in the wake of the October–November uprising against communism in Hungary. In the face of a Soviet-led crackdown, more than 200,000 Hungarian civilians sought refuge abroad. New Zealand offered sanctuary to just over 1000 of them. The first 66 ‘weary, bewildered’ Hungarian refugees arrived in Auckland in December. Though the government intended to disperse them throughout New Zealand, most settled in Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch.

Other events in 1956:

  • Norman Read won the 50-km walk at the Melbourne Olympics, claiming one of New Zealand’s two gold medals at the games (the other was won by yachtsmen Peter Mander and Jack Cropp). The British-born Read was voted New Zealand’s Sportsman of the Year.
  • 44,000 New Zealand schoolchildren were vaccinated against polio with the newly developed Salk vaccine.
  • The New Zealand Security Service was established. Apart from a brief period during the Second World War, national security and espionage matters had previously been handled by the police.
  • An exhibition of Henry Moore drawings and sculptures opened in Auckland. It was described as a ‘nauseating sight’ by Auckland mayor John Luxford, but record crowds attended the exhibition there and in Christchurch.
  • The New Zealand Antarctic Expedition sailed from Lyttelton to establish Scott Base in McMurdo Sound.
  • The first Mobil Song Quest was held. This competition would later launch the careers of operatic Dames Malvina Major and Kiri Te Kanawa.

How to cite this page

1956 - key events, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated