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The 1970s

Page 5 – 1972 - key events

Labour sweeps to power

The National Party’s long tenure, which had begun in 1960, came to an end in 1972. Jack Marshall had been handed something of a hospital pass when long-serving Prime Minister Keith Holyoake stepped down in February. The electorate had grown tired of National. Labour, led by the increasingly popular Norman Kirk (he had become known as ‘Big Norm’ because of his stature), went into the general election with the slogan, ‘It’s time’. And time it was: Labour won 55 seats to National’s 32. Shortly after taking office Kirk announced New Zealand’s diplomatic recognition of communist China and the withdrawal of New Zealand training teams from Vietnam, bringing to an end our involvement in this controversial war.

Watch video of a 1973 Gallery interview with Kirk on his first 250 days in office here.

New Zealand’s rowing eight win gold in Munich

The terrorist attack in which 11 members of the Israeli team were killed cast a shadow over the 1972 Munich Summer Olympics. A few days earlier the New Zealand rowing eight had won gold. Sports writer Joseph Romanos called their ‘emphatic’ victory ‘one of New Zealand’s all-time Olympic highlights’. The New Zealanders held off 11-time champions the United States for a three-second victory. ‘God defend New Zealand’ was played at an Olympic medal ceremony on its own for the first time (it had been played in 1952 when Yvette Williams won the long jump – after ‘God save the Queen’).

Broadsheet magazine founded

Broadsheet, a national monthly feminist magazine produced by an Auckland-based collective until 1997, played an important part in women's activism. Reporting on everything from politics to art to sexuality to crime, the magazine was a forum in which women expressed a broad range of concerns. Māori issues were at times a particularly strong focus, provoking fierce exchanges in the letters pages. Broadsheet also reported on class-related matters and on the position of women in unions. This June 1985 issue featured articles on the impact of the new goods and services tax, Māori women and the Human Rights Commission, and bulimia.

All Black Keith Murdoch banished

Keith Murdoch

Given the alcohol-fuelled antics of some modern, highly paid footballers, the actions of Keith Murdoch which saw him banished from the remainder of the 32-match tour of North America, the British Isles and France in December 1972 were almost a storm in a teacup. Hours earlier Murdoch had scored the All Blacks’ only try in a hard fought 19–16 victory over Wales at Cardiff Arms Park. After a night’s drinking the Otago prop was involved in a fracas during which he punched a security guard. Initially named in the team for the next match, Murdoch was then told he was being sent home. It was alleged that the Rugby Union (the English RFU) had applied pressure on the New Zealand management team. Murdoch never made it home to New Zealand. His self-imposed exile in the Australian outback and refusal to discuss the incident enlarged the significance of the incident in New Zealand sporting folklore.

Other 1972 events

  • The Black Bulls, a Māori gang established in Wellington in 1970, changed its name to Black Power. The gang became increasingly prominent from 1975. Like its name, its symbol – the clenched fist – was inspired by the US Black Power movement. Its colours were blue and black.
  • The Equal Pay Act established that women and men should be paid at the same rate when their work called for ‘substantially similar skills, effort, and responsibility and was performed under similar conditions’.
  • Witi Ihimaera became the first Māori writer to publish a book of short stories with the publication of Pounamu, pounamu.
  • Big Ted, Little Ted, Humpty, Jemima and Manu, the five toy characters on Play school, made their first appearance on television. They would be an important part of daily life for Kiwi kids of a certain age until 1990.
  • Suzanne with her single ‘Sunshine through a prism’ and Creation with ‘Carolina’ won the final Loxene Golden Disc awards. Reckitt & Colman announced the end of their sponsorship of New Zealand’s premier music awards, which had begun in 1965.
  • Auckland’s Round the Bays fun run was held for the first time, attracting about 1200 participants. These days 70,000 sweat it out from Quay St to St Heliers. 
  • A petition supporting the teaching of Māori language and culture in schools was presented to Parliament by Ngā Tamatoa member Hana Jackson.
  • James K. Baxter, widely acknowledged as one of New Zealand’s most accomplished poets, died in Auckland at the age of 46.

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How to cite this page

1972 - key events, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated