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The 1960s

Page 5 – 1962 - key events

Peter Snell breaks world record for mile and 800m

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Snell set a new mile (1609 m) record of 3 minutes 54.4 seconds at Whanganui’s Cook’s Gardens in late January. He followed this up with a new 800m record a week later in Christchurch. Snell won gold in both the 1500m and 800m at the 1964 Olympics, cementing his status as one of the greatest middle-distance runners of all time.

Pioneering heart surgery


In August New Zealand heart surgeon Brian Barratt-Boyes became the second surgeon in the world to replace a heart valve, using one from a cadaver. The first such operation had been completed only a month earlier. At Auckland's Green Lane hospital Barratt-Boyes assembled a team that was at the forefront of heart surgery. In 1958 he performed New Zealand's first cardiopulmonary bypass using an imported Melrose Heart-Lung machine. He pioneered new surgical techniques involving the replacement of defective heart valves.

Soviet spies expelled

Soviet Legation

The spying and espionage which were a feature of the Cold War came to New Zealand in July, when two members of the Soviet Union’s legation in New Zealand were expelled for spying. Attempts by Commercial Counsellor V.S. Andreyev and Second Secretary N.I. Shtykov to gain information from New Zealand citizens had been reported to the Security Service. Their expulsion was the first of its kind in New Zealand. The New Zealand Herald reported that some MPs were ‘white-faced with shock’ when Prime Minister Holyoake announced the expulsion of the two men for attempting to bribe ‘New Zealanders with offers of gifts and money in return for secret information affecting defence and external relations.’

Mass vaccination against polio

Child with Polio

An outbreak of paralytic poliomyelitis (polio) in 1961 infected 214 people, seven of whom died. The virus caused paralysis and in some cases permanent crippling. In response, the Health Department launched a mass vaccination campaign in 1962. Nearly 80% of adults and 97% of schoolchildren received an oral vaccine. Outbreaks of polio had occurred on a regular basis since the 1930s. An effective vaccine developed by Jonas Salk was used in New Zealand for the first time in 1956. New Zealand was declared polio-free in 2000, but remains at risk from infected individuals arriving from overseas.

Other 1962 events

  • George Wilder achieved folk-hero status with the first of his three high-profile prison breaks in May. The Howard Morrison Quartet celebrated his exploits with their song ‘George The Wild(er) New Zealand Boy’.
  • The country's first roll-on roll-off ferry, New Zealand Railways' Aramoana entered service across Cook Strait between Wellington and Picton on 11 August 1962.
  • Sir Guy Powles was appointed as New Zealand's first Ombudsman. The office was created to investigate complaints about central government departments and organisations.
  • Sir Bernard Fergusson arrived as the new governor-general in November, following his grandfather and father in the position. Fergusson was the first holder of the office since George Grey to be a fluent speaker of Māori.
  • Barrie Davenport spent just over 11 hours becoming the first European to swim Cook Strait. The first person to have crossed the strait was reputedly Whakarua-tapu, who was fleeing from Te Rauparaha in about 1831.
  • New Zealand-born Maurice Wilkins and his colleagues James Watson and Francis Crick won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work on the structure of DNA.
  • The Maori Welfare Act 1962 established the New Zealand Maori Council. Criticised by some for being dominated by conservative Māori leaders, it was envisaged as the government's main source of advice on Māori policy.
  • The speed limit was raised to 55 miles per hour (88 km per hour)
  • Lord Cobham opened the Outward Bound School at Anakiwa in Queen Charlotte Sound. Using the ‘native bush, mountains, rivers and seaways of Marlborough’ as its classrooms, the school promotes the realisation of individual potential through outdoor challenge and adventure.

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How to cite this page

1962 - key events, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated