The 1950s

Page 12 – 1959 - key events

American evangelical crusade

Crowds at Billy Graham meet

On 29 March 1959 American Christian evangelist Billy Graham arrived for an 11-day crusade. His meetings attracted huge crowds which only sports stadiums with grandstands were large enough to accommodate: Carlaw Park in Auckland, Athletic Park in Wellington and Lancaster Park in Christchurch. A songbook distributed during his visit featured a large silver fern on the cover as if to suggest this was the nation’s crusade. It is claimed that Graham preached to more than 300,000 people while here; more than 16,000 publicly committed themselves to follow Jesus.

Concerns that New Zealand was becoming less God-fearing were not borne out by the 1956 census. Fewer than 1% of New Zealanders claimed to have no religious belief. But Graham was ahead of his time: 42% of respondents to the 2013 census professed no religious belief.

Bruce McLaren

Bruce McLaren

Motor racing attracted huge crowds in the 1950s. The New Zealand Grand Prix regularly attracted the world’s top Formula One drivers. The 1959 race at Ardmore, South Auckland, was no exception. An estimated 80,000 fans turned up to watch two of the greats of Formula One, Briton Stirling Moss and the defending champion, Australian Jack Brabham, fight it out. Moss won in record time with Brabham in second place. The real hero for local fans that day was the up-and-coming Kiwi driver Bruce McLaren, who finished third with a hand torn and bleeding from the threads on his gear lever. Later that year the 22-year-old McLaren became the youngest Grand Prix winner to date when he won the United States GP in Florida. He held this distinction until 2003.

Auckland’s harbour bridged

Auckland Harbour Bridge

The Auckland Harbour Bridge, which spans the narrowest part of the Waitematā Harbour between St Marys Bay on the city side and Northcote Point on the North Shore, was opened on 30 May, four years after construction began. The 1002-m-long bridge – the longest in the North Island – rises 43 m above the sea to allow ships access to the port at the Chelsea Sugar Refinery to the west.

The original bridge carried four lanes of traffic. Earlier plans had included a pedestrian walkway and a fifth traffic lane, but these were dropped to cut costs. It was soon clear that the bridge was inadequate for the amount of traffic it was attracting. A Japanese company won the tender to add two lanes on either side, which became known as the ‘Nippon clip-ons’. This project, which included expansion of the approach roads, took three years. The enlarged bridge was opened on 23 September 1969.

The end of the golden weather

End of the Golden Weather on Te Ara

The first performance of Bruce Mason’s one-man play, The end of the golden weather, was said to represent the birth of ‘authentic, New Zealand based drama’. Described as a ‘funny, warm and poignant story’ about the changing world of the imaginative 12-year-old Geoff Crome, the play was set on Auckland’s Takapuna Beach during a perfect 1930s New Zealand summer. Crome is a daydreamer with a burning ambition to be a famous writer. In his magical world, miracles seem possible. When Geoff meets mentally challenged Firpo, ‘a battle between fantasy and reality, magic and science, the eternal optimism of the child and the harsh certainty of age takes over’.

Mason would eventually perform the play more than 1000 times.

Other events in 1959:

  • The All Blacks defeated the touring British Lions by three tests to one. In the first test at Carisbrook, Dunedin, the Lions outscored the All Blacks four tries to none, but lost 18–17 thanks to six penalty goals from Waikato’s Don (‘The Boot’) Clarke. More than 200,000 spectators attended the four matches.
  • The new Wellington airport opened at Rongotai.
  • The MV Holmglen sank near Timaru with the loss of all 15 crew members.
  • New Zealand and 11 other countries active in Antarctica during the International Geophysical Year signed the Antarctic Treaty. The signatories agreed that the area would be used for ‘peaceful purposes only’.
  • The prominent produce company Turners and Growers announced that it would now export the Chinese gooseberry under the name ‘kiwifruit’.
  • A consortium consisting of Shell, BP and Todd Energy (SBPT) discovered natural gas at Kāpuni, near Hāwera.
  • The New Zealand Broadcasting Service (NZBS) made the country’s first experimental television broadcast from the roof of the 1YA studio in Shortland St, Auckland.
How to cite this page

'1959 - key events', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 5-Oct-2021

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Posted: 02 Aug 2016

Most interesting. I lived down there from June 1959-1961 migrating from England to work in the Textile Industry