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The 1970s

Page 7 – 1974 - key events

Waitangi Day becomes New Zealand Day

With the exception of the 1940 centennial celebrations, Waitangi Day had barely registered with most New Zealanders. A public holiday only in Northland, it was seen as essentially a local event. In 1973 Prime Minister Norman Kirk announced that from 1974 Waitangi Day would be a national holiday known as New Zealand Day. Kirk sought to celebrate New Zealand’s multiculturalism. A photograph of Kirk walking hand-in-hand across the marae at Waitangi with a young Māori boy remains one of the enduring images of his prime ministership. The new National government reinstated the name Waitangi Day for 1976 while keeping it as a national holiday. Waitangi Day increasingly became the focus of growing Māori protest about the status of the Treaty of Waitangi.

‘Join together’: the games come to Christchurch

Redmer Yska wrote in the New Zealand Listener in 2011 that the 1974 Christchurch Commonwealth Games had sent ‘Kiwis into a collective rapture’. They were ‘the shining peak of our 70s, the last great post-war party before a brace of oil shocks put the global economy into free-fall.’

The main venue for ‘the friendly games’ was the purpose-built Queen Elizabeth II Park. Publicised by Steve Allen’s catchy theme song ‘Join together’ and an iconic logo, these games were the largest undertaking ever for the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation. With colour broadcasting still in its infancy in this country, there was insufficient equipment to provide colour coverage of all the events. Swimming, track and field and boxing were those chosen. The sight of Dick Tayler winning the men’s 10,000 m on the opening day of competition – in full colour – remains one of the memorable New Zealand sporting images of the decade. The 1500-m final was described as ‘the greatest middle distance race of all time’. New Zealand’s John Walker broke the world record but could not catch Tanzania’s Filbert Bayi.

New Zealand super

National Superannuation cartoon, 1976

The Labour government’s New Zealand Superannuation Act, passed in August 1974, required mandatory pension contributions by employees and employers for all workers over the age of 17. Contributions could only be withdrawn if people were leaving the country permanently and payments would begin upon retirement from the age of 60. The new scheme came into operation on 1 April 1975 but its life would be short. In that year's election the National opposition proposed an alternative tax-funded National Superannuation scheme. This wooed many voters who were unhappy about their take-home pay being reduced to fund their retirement. The affordability of National Super, which replaced Labour's scheme in February 1977, would be severely tested as the numbers eligible for it grew. The question of how to pay for our retirement has dogged successive governments.

Death of Big Norm

On 31 August Norman Kirk became the fifth New Zealand premier or prime minister to die in office. He was only 51. There was a genuine outpouring of grief and thousands attended his state funeral. Kirk had become leader of the Labour Party in 1965 and after a narrow defeat in the 1969 election led Labour to a landslide victory in 1972. Kirk’s popularity at the time of his death was highlighted by the pop group Ebony, whose hit single ‘Big Norm’ reached number 4 in the New Zealand charts in early 1974. 

Other 1974 events

  • Economist Dr W.B. Sutch was charged with spying following ‘surreptitious and clandestine’ meetings with a Russian diplomat.
  • The Electoral Amendment Act lowered the voting age from 20 to 18
  • The Auckland Medical Aid Centre, the country’s first abortion clinic, opened in Remuera. Patients faced constant harassment and the clinic was damaged in an arson attack.
  • Witi Ihimaera won the Sir James Wattie book award for Tangi (1973), the first published novel in English by a Māori writer.
  • The Committee on Women was established to advise the government on a wide range of issues relevant to achieving social, economic, and political equality for women.
  • Robert Muldoon deposed Jack Marshall as leader of the National Party.
  • The Bull Dogs All-Star Goodtime Band was the group of the year. Glam-rockers Space Waltz became the first local act for three years to reach number 1 with ‘Out on the street’.
  • New Zealand cricket team defeated Australia for the first time, winning by five wickets at Christchurch’s Lancaster Park.
  • The Accident Compensation Commission came into being. Kiwis gave up the right to sue for compensation in exchange for a scheme which assisted accident victims from a fund created by levies on earners, employers and vehicle owners.

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How to cite this page

1974 - key events, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated