Police baton anti-tour protesters near Parliament

29 July 1981

Police and anti-tour protesters clash, Wellington (Alexander Turnbull Library, EP/1981/2622/13A-F)

Up to 2000 anti-Springbok tour protesters were confronted by police who used batons to stop them marching up Molesworth St to the home of South Africa’s Consul (ambassador) to New Zealand.

Earlier that day the Springboks had defeated Taranaki in New Plymouth. But the real action occurred in Wellington, outside Parliament on Molesworth St, with police using batons on New Zealand anti-tour protesters for the first time. Former Prime Minister Norman Kirk’s prediction almost a decade earlier that a Springbok tour would result in the ‘greatest eruption of violence this country has ever known’ now seemed prophetic.

While some of the marchers later claimed that the momentum of those behind had forced them forward, the police viewed this movement as a blatant refusal to obey orders to halt. Stunned protesters – some covered in blood – reeled away in horror and confusion. Chants of ‘Shame, shame, shame’ broke out and a group of protesters 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 in Molesworth St the police reasserted their authority following the cancelled game in Hamilton a few days earlier. The police maintained that batons had been used as a last resort because of genuine fears for the safety of officers confronted by lines of protesters. After this incident the police made greater use of long batons, which could be thrust at protesters to force them back.

As violence erupted outside New Zealand’s Parliament, Prime Minister Robert Muldoon was in London 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 couple take their vows, oblivious to the violent events in their capital city.

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