Queen Elizabeth II

Page 5 – Changing attitudes to monarchy

The ‘royal summer’ of 1953–54 was the high point of public enthusiasm for the monarchy, for several reasons.

Thanks to high commodity prices, New Zealanders were emerging from the austerity of the Depression, wartime rationing and the divisions of the 1951 waterfront dispute. They were looking for things to celebrate. The war and then the late King’s health had torpedoed royal tours planned for 1940, 1949 and 1952. By 1953 Kiwis were very keen to see the young Queen and her handsome consort, both of whom projected movie-star glamour. Relatively few celebrities visited New Zealand in the pre-jet era, so Kiwis made the most of seeing their exotic visitors – and in many cases, made a bit of a sartorial splash themselves. Commentators spoke of a ‘New Elizabethan Age’.

Jock Phillips has noted that ‘organised opposition or criticism was conspicuously lacking.’ The Communist Party newspaper People’s Voice criticised the amount of money spent on decorations, but not the Queen herself. Most controversy was about towns being left off the tour schedule.

More frequent visits by the Queen and other members of her family from the 1960s reduced some of royalty’s mystique. At the same time the media – from the early 1960s, television as well as print – also made the formerly exotic more familiar. The Queen continued to appear on coins and – less frequently – on postage stamps, but people turned out in smaller numbers to see royalty and its vice-regal proxies.

The Queen’s Silver (25th) Jubilee in 1977 was marked in New Zealand by an official publication, Thirteen facets (published in 1978). Prime Minister Rob Muldoon wrote in the preface: ‘At an earlier period, perhaps a century ago, my predecessor in office would have sought to lay this volume humbly at the foot of the Throne as an expression of loyalty and devotion of a fragment of Empire. Today we do not use quite the same language … but I believe we are just as loyal.’

Despite that loyalty, social tensions increased from the 1960s: young people protested about the Vietnam War and other issues, and Māori re-evaluated their attitudes to te Tiriti o Waitangi. In 1983 Te Ringa Mangu (Dun) Mihaka (Ngāti Hineira, Ngāti Torehina) performed a whakapohane (a traditional insult involving baring one’s buttocks) to the Prince and Princess of Wales; three years later, eggs were thrown at the Queen. In 1990 a protester threw a T-shirt at the Queen as she arrived at Waitangi.

Shortly before the Queen arrived for her Golden (50th) Jubilee tour in 2002, a public opinion poll showed that 58% of Kiwis felt that the monarchy had little or no relevance to their daily lives. Yet the intense public interest in Princes William and Harry’s visits to New Zealand and their respective marriages to Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle suggested that royalty retained its allure.

The Queen still enjoyed warm and wide respect, and support for the monarchy and the Queen as New Zealand’s head of state remained steady. A 2008 poll was evenly split between those who thought New Zealand should consider becoming a republic (42%) and those who didn’t (48%). In a 2021 poll, one-third of respondents thought New Zealand should become a republic following the Queen’s death or abdication, while 47% favoured keeping the monarchy.

How to cite this page

'Changing attitudes to monarchy', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/politics/queen-elizabeth/changing-attitudes-to-monarchy, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 5-May-2023