Taking different roads

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Police and anti-tour demonstrators outside Parliament in what became known as the Battle of Molesworth St in July 1981. Image: Ian Mackley. From ’81 Springbok protests galvanises a nation divided — Stuff 17 Oct 2015

During the winter of 1981, New Zealand experienced civil unrest on a massive scale, as the nation became polarized around a tour by the South African rugby team — the Springboks.

In protest against South Africa’s deeply racist apartheid policies, the United Nations had, in 1968, called on countries to boycott sporting contact with the African nation. In 1973, the Labour government of Norman Kirk had intervened to prevent the all-white Springboks touring NZ, a decision which probably contributed to the party’s loss of power in 1975.

But in 1981, the National-led government of Rob Muldoon refused to heed either the boycott or the growing opposition amongst New Zealanders. Protest marches had been taking place around the country for several months, but nothing had prepared this little nation of (then) three million souls for the violence and hatred that was unleashed during the tour itself.

Families found themselves torn apart as some members insisted that politics had no place in sport, while others donned thick clothes and (increasingly) crash helmets to go out and face baton-wielding police battalions.

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A protester placing an olive branch onto a policeman’s baton during protests at the All Blacks test against South Africa. File Photo / NZ Herald

My parents — neither particular rugby-loving nor overly political — repeated the “keep politics out of sport” mantra even as my brother and I marched and chanted until we were hoarse. It made for tense mealtimes, but no-one lost their temper over it. My friend Robyn wasn’t so fortunate; her father practically banned her from the house and she broke up with her boyfriend over the tour.

In June 1981, as it became ever clearer that the tour really would go ahead, Joy Division’s Love will Tear Us Apart reached No. 1 in the NZ charts.

… And resentment rides high
But emotions won’t grow
And we’re changing our ways
Taking different roads
Love, love will tear us apart again
Love, love will tear us apart again

(Ian Curtis, Love will Tear us Apart)

We knew that Ian Curtis had been writing about his marriage and mental state, but somehow the refrain “Love will tear us apart again” seemed to get into my head and I can remember sitting in the car en route to a protest with my brother and boyfriend of the time, singing it again and again.

Sarah at Art Expedition is hosting 30 Days, 30 Songs for the month of June. You can see her latest post here.

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You can read more about the tour at New Zealand History — the 1981 Springbok Tour