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Film: clash on Molesworth St - 1981 Springbok tour

Video file

Molesworth Street, 29 July 1981 (8mb)

Police and protestors clash outside Parliament: asserting the rule of law

On 29 July the Springboks defeated Taranaki in New Plymouth. The real action that day occurred on Molesworth Street, outside Parliament in Wellington.

Around 5 p.m. nearly 2000 anti-tour protestors gathered near Parliament grounds intending to march up Molesworth Street on their way to the home of South Africa's consul to New Zealand. The police had established a position in Molesworth Street and declared that protestors were not to proceed up the street.

The protestors started marching and were stopped by police using short batons. While some of those marching later argued that the momentum of numbers forced them forward, the police viewed this as a blatant refusal to obey the order to stop.

Meanwhile in London ...

While violence erupted outside the New Zealand Parliament, Prime Minister Robert Muldoon was in London about to attend the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. That evening, many New Zealanders were glued to their TV screens to watch the happy couple say their vows, oblivious of events unfolding in the capital.

Stunned protestors – some covered in blood – wheeled away in horror and confusion. Chants of 'Shame, shame, shame' broke out and a group of the protestors swung back into the city, heading for the central police station to lay assault charges. The nature of protest action and the policing of the tour had taken an irrevocable turn for the worse.

Critics argued that Molesworth Street was about the police reasserting their authority in the aftermath of the cancelled game in Hamilton a few days earlier. The police stated that batons had been used as a last resort and talked of the fears they had for their own safety when confronted by lines of protestors. The 'rule of law' and 'public safety' had to be maintained and at some point no had to mean no.

After this incident the police made greater use of long batons, which could be thrust at protestors to force them back.


Extract from 1981 tour special on Close up, 4 July 2006

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Film: clash on Molesworth St - 1981 Springbok tour, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated