The 1960s

Page 4 – 1961 - key events

First national Waitangi Day celebration

In its 1957 election manifesto the Labour Party declared its intention to make Waitangi Day (6 February) a public holiday. Once in power, though, Labour announced that the country couldn't afford another public holiday. Instead the Waitangi Day Act 1960 made the day ‘a national day of thanksgiving’. Localities could choose to make it a public holiday, but would have to give up an existing public holiday in return.

Baby-boom peaks

Over 65,000 babies were born in 1961, the most fertile year of the post-war baby boom. More women were having children and on average they were having more children - roughly four per woman (in 2017 the rate was 1.71). Fertility rates soon began to fall and the boom was officially over in 1964. The availability of the new contraceptive pill played its part in slowing the birth rate, as did the deterioration in the New Zealand economy from 1968.

End of capital punishment

The first Labour government abolished the death penalty for murder in 1941. National restored it in 1950 and by 1957 eight more men had been executed for murder. Labour made the death penalty inoperative when it returned to office in late 1957. National returned to power in 1960, but by now there was dissent within the party on the matter. In 1961 Parliament held a free vote (meaning that members were not required to vote on party lines) on an amendment to the Crimes Act abolishing the death penalty. With the support of ten government MPs – including future Prime Minister Robert Muldoon –  the amendment was carried 41 to 30.

The first Golden Kiwi draw

Interest was high for the first Golden Kiwi lottery draw in December 1961. All 250,000 tickets had been snapped up the afternoon after they went on sale. Mr C.V. O'Connor won the first prize of £12,000. With his winnings he could theoretically have bought ‘a three bedroom house in a middle class Wellington suburb, a new six-cylinder car, and [still had] some spending money' left over.

Other 1961 events

  • The first Golden Shears competition, an event which was to become iconic for New Zealand shearers and wool-handlers, was held at the Masterton War Memorial Stadium. Ivan Bowen, brother of the legendary Godfrey, beat nearly 300 shearers from New Zealand and Australia to win the title.
  • The New Zealand government took full control of Tasman Empire Airways Limited (TEAL) when it acquired the Australian government's 50% share in the airline. TEAL became Air New Zealand in 1965.
  • Western Samoa voted overwhelmingly for independence from New Zealand. The new League of Nations had given New Zealand a mandate to rule the former German colony in December 1920 following Germany's defeat in the First World War. Independence was achieved on 1 January 1962.
  • On 13 December 1961 diners at The Gourmet in Shortland St, Auckland, became the first New Zealanders to be legally served wine with their meal. Restaurateur Otto Groen had spent seven years fighting the city council for a liquor licence.

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How to cite this page

'1961 - key events', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 8-May-2018

Community contributions

2 comments have been posted about 1961 - key events

What do you know?


Posted: 17 Aug 2022

Could the be reprints? (previously lost)


Posted: 20 Nov 2020

I was born in New Zealand in 1955. My sister was born in 1945. Both of our birth certificates are dated 1961. Does anyone know why they have the same date?