The 1960s

Page 6 – 1963 - key events

Bus tragedy kills 15

On Thursday 7 February the driver of a bus carrying 35 passengers lost control on a bend as it descended Pilbrow Hill in the Brynderwyn Hills, on State Highway 1 south of Whangārei. The brakes had failed and Harold Parker could not prevent the bus tumbling down a near-vertical 30-m slope to the bank of the Piroa Stream. Fifteen people died in what is still New Zealand's worst bus accident. The party was returning from Waitangi Day commemorations which had been attended by Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip.

Bob Charles wins British Open

Carterton-born golfer Bob Charles became the first New Zealander, and the first left-hander, to win one of golf’s four majors when he won the [British] Open, the oldest of the four major championships in professional golf. He defeated American Phil Rodgers in a 36-hole playoff at Royal Lytham and St Annes. Thirty years later Charles won the Senior British Open, one of more than 70 titles he won in a career spanning 50 years. It would be 40 years before another left-hander won a major. In 2005 Michael Campbell became the only other male Kiwi to win a major when he won the US Open at Pinehurst, North Carolina. Lydia Ko won the Evian Championship in 2015 and the ANA Inspiration in 2016.

Notorious murders hit the headlines

In the 2000s there were around 50 murders a year in New Zealand, compared to an average of three in the 1960s. It is easy to see why such crimes were big news stories. 1963 got off to a particularly violent beginning when four police officers were killed in two separate incidents. In January Detective Inspector Wallace Chalmers and Detective Sergeant Neville Power were shot dead by Victor Wasmuth while attending a shooting in the Waitākere Ranges. The following month Constables James Richardson and Brian Schultz were shot dead while sitting in their police car after responding to a domestic dispute in Lower Hutt.

As a result of these killings, in 1964 the Police began training officers for a specialist armed offenders squad. Between 1890 and 2009, 29 police officers lost their lives as a result of a criminal act committed while they were on duty.

The year came to a violent conclusion with the Bassett Road machine-gun murders, which resembled an execution-style killing in Chicago’s gangland days.

New Zealand enters the jet age

The British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) began a twice-weekly jet service between London and New Zealand. The de Havilland Comet 4 aircraft had a flying time of 37 hours and could carry between 74 and 81 passengers. The arrival of the jet age helped reduce New Zealand’s sense of isolation. By 1966 there were direct flights from California to New Zealand, and jets began flying the domestic main trunk route in 1968. These bigger and faster planes saw Kiwis take to the air in much greater numbers. Passenger numbers increased from around 500,000 in 1959 to 1.3 million a decade later.

Other 1963 events

  • Massey Agricultural College and the Palmerston North branch of Victoria University of Wellington combined to establish Massey University College of Manawatu; on 1 January 1964 this would become the fully autonomous Massey University of Manawatu.
  • Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip returned to New Zealand for the first time since the hugely popular royal tour of 1953-54.
  • In what remains New Zealand's worst internal civil aviation accident, all 23 passengers and crew were killed when an NAC DC-3 crashed in the Kaimai Range near Tauranga in July.
  • Aunt Daisy (Maud Basham) - the ‘first lady of radio’ - died in July.
  • In October ‘Lynnmall’, our first American-style shopping mall, opened in west Auckland.
  • The All Blacks departed for a tour of the British Isles, France and Canada. They played 36 matches during the four-month tour, losing only once, to the Welsh club side Newport, and drawing with Scotland.

Can you remember 1963? Add your memories and comments in the form below.

How to cite this page

'1963 - key events', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 13-Jan-2022

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Posted: 28 Jun 2018

I was the young NZ Herald journalist who went up with the first search party to look for the crashed DC3 in wet and cold conditions. The aircraft was not located until the following day. The bodies were subsequently brought out by helicopter.
Does anyone recall a multiple drowning at Mount Maunganui in the early 1960's. A 14 year old boy was the only survivor?

Charles D'Ath

Posted: 19 Mar 2018

The D'Ath triplets started school in July 1963 at North New Brighton School