Wallace Rowling


Wallace Rowling

Norman Kirk’s death in office brought Bill Rowling to the prime ministership unexpectedly in August 1974. A member of an old Tasman Bay farming family, and a teacher by training, he had been finance minister since 1972.

Many thought that had Rowling called an election, he might have won on a wave of sympathy over Kirk’s death. New Zealand weathered the worldwide economic crisis better than some countries. But National’s Robert Muldoon labelled Rowling’s policy of borrowing to keep people and industry working ‘borrow and hope’. Muldoon also portrayed Rowling as weak. He was not, but Muldoon’s mastery of the media and energetic campaigning gave National 23-seats more than Labour in 1975, exactly reversing Labour’s 1972 majority.

Rowling rebuilt his party but luck eluded him. Despite impressive personal campaign performances, in both 1978 and 1981 Labour outpolled National but won fewer seats. In 1983 a frustrated caucus replaced him with the charismatic tyro, David Lange.

After leaving Parliament in 1984, Rowling (later knighted) served as ambassador to the United States and played a prominent role in creating Te Papa.

By Gavin McLean

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