The 1980s

Page 9 – 1986 - key events

Homosexual law reform

Homosexual law reform poster

On 9 July Fran Wilde’s Homosexual Law Reform Bill passed its third and final reading. When the Homosexual Law Reform Act came into effect on 8 August, sexual relations between men aged 16 and over were decriminalised. This was the culmination of a long and at times bitter struggle which had moved beyond the gay community to encompass wider issues of human rights and discrimination. Opponents of the law change warned of the imminent destruction of the ‘New Zealand family’ and predicted the spread of AIDS through the community. Their arguments often rested on moral and religious grounds. The Act paved the way for future reforms such as civil unions in 2005 and the 2013 Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Act which allowed for same-sex marriage.

‘Cavaliers’ tour South Africa

Cavaliers rugby tour, 1986

The controversy which had dogged New Zealand rugby and its ties with South Africa took another twist in April when a rebel ‘Cavaliers’ team arrived in the republic. All but two of the 30 players had been selected for the 1985 All Black tour which had been called off at the last minute after legal action against the NZRFU. The team was coached and managed by two of the greats of New Zealand rugby, Colin Meads and Ian Kirkpatrick, and led by current All Black captain Andy Dalton. The tour was widely condemned at home and abroad, the more so after seemingly well-founded allegations that team members were being generously paid despite rugby’s strict amateur status. Like their officially sanctioned predecessors in 1970 and 1976, the Cavaliers lost the ‘test’ series 3-1.

Footrot Flats: the dog’s tale

Footrot Flats: the dog’s tale, the country’s first animated feature film, was a runaway hit at the box office. Murray Ball’s cartoon strip of the same name about the adventures of farmer Wal Footrot, his trusty sheepdog Dog, and a host of other characters human and animal, had since the mid-1970s established itself as New Zealand’s most popular. Another spin-off from the movie was the smash hit ‘Slice of heaven’, written by Dave Dobbyn and featuring reggae band Herbs. This topped the charts for eight weeks and was named Song of the Year at the 1986 New Zealand Music Awards. In 2001 it was voted seventh on the list of New Zealand’s top songs of all time.

Sailing away

Sailing away

Many New Zealanders were swept up in the excitement of the country’s first attempt to win world yachting’s oldest and ultimate prize, the America’s Cup, off Fremantle, Western Australia. The ‘Auld Mug’ had always been the preserve of the wealthy, and the New Zealand campaign was bankrolled by businessman and financier Michael Fay. To support the campaign a group of New Zealand singers and entertainers – including heavyweights like Dave Dobbyn, Billy T. James and Tim Finn – and a host of sporting personalities released a single, ‘Sailing away’. It was set to the tune of a popular Māori folk song, Pokarekare Ana, and the first few lines were sung by Annie Crummer. ‘Sailing away’ spent nine weeks at the top of the charts, the longest tenure for a local recording until 2009.

Other 1986 events

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'1986 - key events', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 15-Sep-2021

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