The 1960s

Page 5 – 1962 - key events

Peter Snell breaks world record for mile and 800m

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

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

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.

Can you remember 1962? Add your memories and comments in the form below.

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'1962 - key events', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 1-Feb-2021

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Posted: 22 Jan 2021

On the 1962 page, your reference to the Howard Morrison song about George Wilder is incorrect; it was "George The Wild(er) New Zealand Boy", based on the Australian "Wild Colonial Boy".


Posted: 23 Nov 2012

I came to N.Z as teacher in August 1962 from the U.K.

I trained at Te Awamutu College under the auspices of Auckland University.
Three plane loads of teachers came out on old DC6 planes and each plane suffered damages en route.
Our plane lost an engine during the flight over Greenland and we had an emergency landing in Newfoundland.
We were there about ten days, stationed on an American airforce base, whilst a new engine was brought out to us from N.Z.
When we arrived in Auckland, we were sent to various training schools.
It was a great shock to the teachers to end up in tiny towns where there was little in the way of entertainment. I went to Te Awamutu. Pubs closed very early in those days and no one we knew had T.V.To make things worse, it began to rain and it went on for six weeks! I was freezing cold the whole time.
We shared a house with two N.Z girls and paid a ridiculously low rent of about £1 per week.
The sun soon began to shine and my friend and fellow teacher began to enjoy ourselves.
People took us on visits to local beauty spots and I shall never forget the wonders of visiting the glow worm caves at Waitomo.
Years later, I met up with one of the Aussie guides who worked there, but that is another story.
Veronica ward and I went to live with Morrison family in Te Awamutu. They were lovely and let us help ourselves to asparagus etc from their garden.
A highlight of the time was being invited to spend some time on a farm of the Frost family.The children came to the school. I had a marvelous time and spent a lot of it in the kitchen being taught how to cook.
Another lovely memory is of one child who would ask us each day what colour clothes we would be wearing next day and she would appear with an appropriate flower to set off the ensemble.
Her father ran a nursery.
At weekends we started going over to Tauranga and Mount Maunganui.We admired the surf skills of the young people but found it difficult to surf ourselves.I remember being able to buy fried oysters for a penny each. Also, the Peter Pan icecream was delicious- nicer than any I had ever tasted.
Soon it was the holidays and we hitch-hiked to Rotorua.
One Maori family gave us a lift but warned that we would have to push the car to start it going!One day as we walked along an isolated road, we were sprayed from the air by a crop sprayer. A nice way to say, Hello!
We discovered the amazing sights and smells of the region.
I found a job in Wellington and took a ten hour journey down by train. An amazing sight feast for the eyes.
I didn't know a soul down there and it was a lonely time for a few months until I got to know some friends.
I managed to travel a lot in the South Island and cannot praise its beauty enough.
One memory is walking on the Tasman Glacier and exploring the ice caves there. Hearing the groaning of the ice was amazing.
My grandad came from the Nelson area so that was a place I visited.
I also went to Bulls where he used to be a plumber until he went off to fight in W.W.1.
Sadly, he lost his life and my Grandma returned to live in England, bringing with her, my mother, Alma Richards.
After Grandad died Grace, his wife, went to work on Trickers Farm in Bulls.
I left N.Z and went to Sydney to explore a bit more before returning to the U.K in 1965.
I went back on The Southern Cross and found the journey boring in comparison to the journey out.
My brother, later, settled in Auckland and he spends half his life there and half back in Europe.
I have been back to N.Z. with my husband, David and I really enjoyed showing him your amazing country!