Queen Street riot 1984

Queen Street riot 1984

Poster for the concert that sparked the riots on Queen Street

Are the kids all right? 

‘Tears, terror at the concert that made history’ was one of the newspaper headlines the day following the Queen Street riot of December 1984. It made for heady reading over the morning cornflakes as papers described screaming children, bloody head wounds and police facing ‘gun-toting’ rioters.

The ‘Thank God, it’s over’ concert took place on 7 December 1984 at Auckland’s Aotea Centre. Promoted as a summer celebration of the end of the academic year, this free event was to feature performances by top local bands Herbs, DD Smash and The Mockers. After the set by Herbs and shortly after DD Smash took the stage, the power went off. 

While waiting for it to be restored, some of the 10,000-strong audience started throwing bottles at police. There were a few arrests, and more police arrived, outfitted in riot gear.

On the streets 

Dave Dobbyn, DD Smash’s lead singer, then allegedly told the crowd, ‘I wish those riot squad guys would stop wanking and put their little batons away.’ The concert promoters, radio station Triple M, announced that the concert was being stopped at the request of the police.

Parts of the audience rioted. They poured onto Queen Street, smashed shop windows and left behind broken bottles, rubbish and upturned cars. Damage caused was in excess of $1 million.

The government ordered a commission of inquiry to investigate what had happened. Dobbyn was charged with inciting the riot, but he was eventually cleared of all charges.

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20 comments have been posted about Queen Street riot 1984

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Posted: 08 Dec 2022

My husband and I was working in a restaurant above The Crypt. I saw the crowd charging at the cops. Our car was parked by the road opposite our workplace. Some people were standing on the roof of our car till it started to cave in. They then rolled our car over and started to light fire to it. It has a CNG tank in it. An Auckland Star reporter was dining in the restaurant that night and he managed to retrieve some important documents from the car for us. People were smashing shop windows along Queen Street and looting. It was mass hysteria.


Posted: 10 Jul 2022

Yeah I was there. What a night it was. I don't recall too much of how or why it started. But there were a lot of drunk people. I was 15 at the time. I remember running the glass tourist centre (I think that's what it was) at Aotea square getting all of the glass completely smashed. I remember running down Queen Street with the rioting crowd to avoid police. I remember a quart bottle just missing my head as it was thrown through a jewellery shop window, for the shop to then be looted. As well as other shops down Queen Street. I remember members from the Storm troopers trying to guide a car up Queen Street past McDonald's with an old man and his wife in it. I remember seeing lots of people at taxi stands and bus stops with items such as microwaves, ghetto blasters, clothing etc. I remember when the paddy wagon was in the middle of the traffic lights at Queen and Wellesley Streets, it was stopped there and police were trying to load people into it that they'd caught when they did their run toward and into the crowd of people. But that soon backfired on them when some people that were already inside it kicked the back door open as police tried to load it, and then everyone in it was jumping out and back into the crowd. I knew two of the people that jumped out. I remember seeing some Navy guys helping to try and calm the crowd, I actually knew one of them too.
My night ended whan I made my way up to a nightclub my cousin was at with a group of her friends, the Foundry nightclub on Hobson Street.
The next morning I was woken by my mum saying the police are at the front door and want to talk to me. Someone had pointed me out to them, to this day I don't know who, and I don't know how, nor do I know why.
I was on the front page of the New Zealand Herald the next morning with three of my friends, the photo was of a police car being tipped over. I remember it well. When I saw the photographer I stood upright and trying to yell to my friends to do the same. But they didn't hear me.
The police had a copy of the NZ Herald with them that morning on our front door step. I couldn't really deny the fact that it was me in the photo, and the fact that the shoes I had on in the photo were on the front door step. I explained to them that I wasn't doing anything, because I was "standing upright" and they had to agree with me, a photo doesn't lie. My friends that didn't hear me yelling out to them got Periodic to Detention.
I have the photo that was on the front page of the Herald, courtesy of the NZ Herald. It's hanging on our office wall.
That was almost 38 years ago.
A great afternoon that turned into a piece New Zealand history.
What a night.

A, nonemous

Posted: 31 May 2020

The only accurate part of this article is that there was a power cut.
People objected to what they saw on the verandah of the nearby Bledisloe building.
The drummer of DD smash whipped ip the frenzy with an epic druk solo and police cracked skulls. I exited west as I saw humdreda of riot police running towards aotea square. In my oppinion DD and co would not have been aquitted if they had been Herbs..... Just saying


Posted: 21 May 2017

I was sixteen - and with a "pub pet" in my belly feeling somewhat loose. There was an edge to the crowd, a mix of freedom and feral drunken abandon.
I climbed up one of the lamp posts in the middle of the square. A great view of the crowd - in front and behind.
There were a few in the crowd who did not like the idea someone else was getting a better view than they were. So the next best thing is to throw beer bottles at the person on the lamppost- me.
Naturally I gave the fingers back which increased the missiles.
The ones that missed, fell into the crowd on the opposite side. They retaliated too. Things were getting messy.
Dave Dobbin - or someone on stage saw the commotion - called on the mike that I should climb down
A bottle smashed on the lamppost , the glass rained down on my friends cutting a gash in her forehead. She collapsed. I climbed down and carried her out of the crowd and down to McDonalds to clean up -
Soon after the riot made its way down Queen Street.
I don't blame Dave Dobyn, the police or any one action- the crowd were a drunken mob looking for any excuse to let loose.


Posted: 14 Apr 2016

I was a young police detective back then. I had recently transferred to Auckland and was living on the North Shore and working in the city. I was about 5 months out of uniform. I heard the news on my car radio on The Bridge. I got a call to report to central police station. No mobile phones in those days. I picked up my home home 5 minutes after getting home from work. Kind of wished I hadn't. Could have easily said I was at the pictures or something.

By the time I arrived back into the city it was a mop up operation. There were about 15 of us under one old school Det Inspector. We were set up into groups of 3 and wandered up and down Queen Street and surrounds. There were people badly hurt and one man had collapsed. We (uniforms, d's, civilians) stood guard while the ambulance arrived and carted him off to hospital. Scrotes wanted to bottle ambulance drivers. There were people beating the hell out of each other. I saw one girl hit with a bottle. I think the guy was in her party and things had got ugly and drunken. He whacked her over the head with a stubbie bottle. He was pounced on and locked up. She was carted off to hospital. There was wholesale looting. I arrested a teenage guy who had a watch from a jewellery store window and asked me if I wanted to buy it from him. He did a few months in jail for that little sales pitch. I took him back to the cells on foot and we both got a bit of lip from bystanders. Lot's of people were anti him for being a rioter and a thief and were all for giving him a bit of a biff. Many were anti me for being a copper - which was obvious from the handcuffs around his wrists that I was holding onto. We got safely back to the cells. It went on long into the night and there were lots of warrants executed, faces picked up while they were at home sleeping it off and some just did one more dumb thing and got locked up for being stupid. In the days and weeks that followed lots more arrests were made. There was as always with police work loads of bloody typing and form filling.

It was surreal. This wasn't the New Zealand I wanted to live in. It had a horrible lawless dangerous feel. An "Animal Farm" vibe. I had been at various events during the springbok tour earlier in my career and had sympathy with the anti apartheid protesters cause. I was in some ugly scenes during this. That was different to Aotea Square. The bok's aroused a sustained protest campaign and I saw a reason for it. There were rent a mob dicks who just wanted to fight the police then too. At Queen Street it was all so unnecessary. So stupid. I never liked the potential violence of policing. I liked the pitting of wits against an opponent and sometimes winning the game. Getting an arrest and a conviction in court later. That was great. There was lots of sad stuff we dealt with. Cot death, fatal road accidents, domestic violence, alcoholism, drug addiction, suicide. I saw people at their worst often. I saw them on their worst day of their life in some cases.

I left the police about 5 years later and became a self employed contractor. I have a bunch of friends who were also once cops. I have some who the cops would like to speak to, I guess with some of their minor drug growing activities. I'm a live and let live kind of person these days in my late 50's. I will hum along if a Dave Dobbyn song comes on the radio. The man can write a tune. We all make mistakes.

Louise Keast

Posted: 05 Mar 2016

I was there on the day, right in the thick of it.

It was terrorizing.

To this day I loathe Dave Dobbyn. Police were getting heavy handed in the mens toilet block which is what started the trouble, and Dobbyn pointed it out to the crowd.

I could go on and on but the city centre was cordoned off by police and you couldn't escape.

Cars were being rolled and torched, I was standing petrified in a shop doorway when the window was smashed and looters went through right beside me.

It took HOURS to get out.

Jeff Phillips

Posted: 07 Dec 2014

Queen Street Riot. 30 years anniversary eh, wow! Yep, on that day I was living up top of Queen St. Wasn't even interested in the show, too busy living life. Then someone asks if I'm going along and I said nah not realy interested. Next minute they came back saying there was a fight broke out down there. So we all piled out onto footpath by the park. And as it all unfolded before our eyes everyone just started shaking a bit, even the cops and dees standing next to us. And then one of us said out loud "Don't you let them up to our place!" And for once, for all the rubbish we used to witness at night and early morning hours we and the cops became united right there and protecting our homes. We will always remember that, no matter what. It was scary alright, and we were some pretty hard blokes back at the time. That day we saw everything about what people will do to each other. It was just so extremely violent and stupid. Sudden and full on like you couldnt believe. Let's hope this never ever happens again in NZ history. Its not great, but you hav'nt seen people till you've seen this friends. And a message here to all those who knowingly took part, something I've never said till now. None of us could sleep easy that night because of all of you! You were the most selfish headstrong drunk idiots we have ever come across in life - and for what, exactly?. Just to blow off some steam? Realy? It shook us, shook our faith in people for the rest of life. But go ask a psychiatrist eh - yeah right! I don't suppose people have still actualy learned from their behaviour even now, have they? I remember this day like it was just yesterday. Sometimes I don't wanna be here because I know what you can all be like. Never let this happen again kiwi's. Too nasty for words.

Johanna (Bunjie)

Posted: 23 Aug 2014

Wow! My son turned ten this week and I've been thinking a lot about the sort of independence I would like to offer him now he's a tween. It got me thinking about all the freedom I had as a child, and at ten I had walked down into Auckland city alone to watch this concert! I still remember being at the front of a standoff and people were hurling beer bottles at police. One guy was holding a baby and was pondering aloud whether he should throw the baby's bottle at the police. I remember seeing all the looters smashing shop windows and stealing. Good or bad, what an experience for a young girl!


Posted: 30 Jan 2014

Hello sociology student and others;
I was heading up Queen street to catch my bus back to Dominion Road when the music was still playing that day and I waited for the bus in that block opposite and down a bit from the Aotea Square. The music sounded good and I was thinking of catching a later bus and heading over to listen when the music stopped and I could hear the caffufle beginning with angry shouting and so forth....(Nah, perhaps I will just catch my bus after all).
When the people started pouring out of the square and running in a bit of a frenzy down the street, smashing the windows and (I let my first bus go by and decided to wait for the next one heading roughly in my homeward direction) - then I watched from a distance as the guys who were rocking the little car so much it was going to overturn....somewhere on the western corner of Wellesley and Queen street intersection...got it to bounce over on its side and then as I recall it was set fire to. People were running around with a naughty frenzy look on their face and once some people were smaching things and behaving badly, it seemed a bit addictive like others were so very tempted to join in...and they looked caught up in the urge to be voyeurs of the procedings, or to actually smash some things themselves....the opportunity to rebel against the state authority and "civil" authority was there and people were really tempted to take the opportunity themselves.
I was internally struggling too, I was fascinatged enough (adrenalin?) to hang about at the bustop, observing, waiting to "see what happened next" whilst also thinking "No, I have to do the right thing and the right thing is that if all these people just took themselves home now, the streets would clear out and there would be no audience to fuel the worst of the behaviour. I made self catch the next bus homeward - which came along in the next 5-10 minutes.....though internally I desired to hang about and watch more....not liking it....but yes - there was definately a "crowd-fever" thing and perhaps the alcohol, some weed, the hostility to police authority (post the "81 tour etc), and the cutting short of the concert itself....all conspired to allow the violence and destruction in the people present to have an avenue to leak out through. I was about 22 and I recall thinking that good solid citizens would and were behaving dangerously and destructively, given the right circumstances. I got home and told my flatmates about it and had to be content to watch what unfolded on the telly. I still think I did the right thing by managing myself into the bus and off the street, would tell my family to go home and leave the scene of such things too. Damn shame when your conscience gets in the way of the excitement like that...but such is life, self control and excercise of wisdom.


Posted: 26 Apr 2011

I was there on the day and it was frightening. The cops basically cordoned off the city and the rioters (and innocent bystanders like me) were caught in a trap and couldn't get out for hours. I saw cars being rolled and set alight, the crowd chased, caught and attacked a photographer in front of me. Shop windows smashed, looters, the works. I blame Dave Dobbyn to this day. The guy's a tool of the first order. He was willfully working up the crowd and taunting the police.