The 1980s

Page 4 – 1981 - key events

Simply not cricket

Underarm incident video

Anzac relations took a hit on 1 February at the Melbourne Cricket Ground when Australian captain Greg Chappell told his brother Trevor to bowl the final delivery of a one-day cricket international against New Zealand underarm (along the ground). New Zealand’s no. 10 batsman, Brian McKechnie, needed to hit an unlikely six on one of the world’s largest cricket grounds to tie the match and keep the series level. The delivery was legal (at the time) but not in the spirit of the game. New Zealand Prime Minister Robert Muldoon called the underarm ball ‘an act of true cowardice’. His Australian counterpart Malcolm Fraser agreed that it was ‘contrary to the traditions of the game’.

‘Kiwis Care’

Read more on Te Ara

On 2 March a 22-year-old sales representative, Tania Harris, became the face of public anger against militant unionism. Against a backdrop of industrial action, Harris led 50,000 people down Auckland’s Queen St in her ‘Kiwis Care’ march. Some saw the nation’s problems as stemming from the influence of ‘Pommie stirrers’ in the trade union movement. The 4000 striking unionists who had marched down Queen St the previous day had been greeted by ‘fist-waving shoppers’ and booing businessmen who labelled them ‘traitors’.

‘An orchestrated litany of lies’

Mahon report into Erebus disaster

In April Justice Peter Mahon released his report into the 1979 Air New Zealand Erebus disaster. Mahon controversially dismissed an earlier finding that the ‘probable cause’ was pilot error. He laid the blame squarely on the airline, accusing its management of covering up evidence and misleading investigators through ‘an orchestrated litany of lies’. Air New Zealand successfully challenged the report in the Court of Appeal, which concluded that Mahon had acted outside his jurisdiction and breached natural justice by not allowing those he accused to respond to the allegations. Mahon subsequently resigned from the High Court bench and appealed to the Privy Council, which ‘very reluctantly’ agreed with the Court of Appeal’s judgements. The debate over whether pilot error or Air New Zealand was to blame for the Erebus disaster continues today.

The Springbok tour

1981 Springbok tour video

The violent incidents which accompanied the visit to New Zealand of the South African rugby team (the Springboks) in the winter of 1981 were the largest civil disturbances seen here since the 1951 waterfront dispute. A proposed tour here in 1973 had been cancelled when the Kirk government heeded a police assessment that it would ‘engender the greatest eruption of violence this country has ever known’. This decision had angered many who maintained that ‘sport and politics should not mix’. This was the justification given by rugby administrators when they ignored pleas to withdraw the invitation to their South African counterparts despite similar predictions of civil unrest.

Other 1981 events

  • In January, Challenger Corporation, Fletcher Holdings and Tasman Pulp and Paper merged to create the country’s largest industrial company, Fletcher Challenge.
  • Members of the Waitangi Day Committee disrupted the Waitangi Day investitures of Sir Graham Latimer and Dame Whina Cooper, fellow Māori whom they accused of ‘selling out’.
  • On 29 July an estimated television audience of 600 million people saw New Zealand opera singer Kiri Te Kanawa perform Handel’s aria ‘Let the bright Seraphim’ at the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in St Paul’s Cathedral, London.
  • Allison Roe completed a memorable double by winning both the Boston and New York marathons.
  • The New Zealand Times, the country’s first broadsheet Sunday newspaper, was first published in May.
  • New Zealanders travelling to Australia required passports for the first time since 1972.
  • Album of the Year at the Music Awards went to Dave McArtney & The Pink Flamingos, with McArtney also named Top Male Vocalist. Coup D’état won Single of the Year for ‘Doctor, I like your medicine’. Country singer Suzanne Prentice won the award for Top Female Vocalist.
  • The first home-grown television police drama, Mortimer’s patch was named as Best Local Drama.
  • Smash Palace, starring Bruno Lawrence and a young Greer Robson, was released. It soon established itself as a Kiwi cinema classic and helped launch the American career of writer-director Roger Donaldson.

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'1981 - key events', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 10-May-2018

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