Graeme Clarke, Henry Stubbs and Graham Kelly were among a small group of unionists who walked past a bomb at Wellington Trades Hall 20 minutes before it went off at 5:19pm on March 27, 1984, killing caretaker Ernie Abbott.
The three men attended the 30th anniversary memorial service for Mr Abbott in the foyer of Trades Hall in Vivian St last night.
Immediately before the bombing they had attended the regular monthly meeting of the management committee of the Federation of Labour's Wellington District Trades Council.
The meeting was chaired by the late Pat Kelly and Mr Clarke, then the secretary of the Wellington District Council of the Federation of Labour, recalled last night how he and President Mr Pat Kelly had walked past the suitcase bomb when they left the building before going on to attend another union meeting at Fraser House in Willis St.
"While we sat in the room [at the Trades Hall meeting] a bomb was sitting outside. If it had gone off earlier it could have taken away the whole of the management committee of the Wellington Trades Council.
"It is with some good fortune that I am here today because when we left, I left with Pat Kelly, we walked out the door with arms full of leaflets.
"Pat saw the suitcase but our arms were too full to pick up the suitcase, which had nothing to do with us," Mr Clarke said.
At the meeting the three men had planned a campaign against Prime Minister Rob Muldoon's wage freeze.
Mr Clarke recalled Mr Abbott as an ordinary man who loved nothing better than to stir up "the poms and Scotsmen" working in the hall in the morning.
"By 7:45 Ernie had them all fighting with each other. It was like World War III. He was a bit of a provocateur and was an opinionated guy who would get the people in my office [the Coachworkers Union] going.
"It was my job to try and calm them all down ... for the rest of the morning," Mr Clarke said.
The man who took over from Mr Abbott as vice-president of the Wellington Cleaners and Caretakers Union, Peter Cranney, recalled how many people over the years had told him Mr Abbott was a "grumpy old bastard".
"I can tell you now he was not grumpy to me. He was very nice to me. I came in to this place in and out from late 1977 until he was killed in 1984.
"There was nothing he liked better than stopping his mopping. On the day he died he was mopping the foyer and that is why he was killed.
"He was always in the same place at the same time. He always mopped this floor after 5pm. What he loved to do was to stop, lean on his mop and have some discussion.
"This place was not so salubrious in those days, for those were the days before the building materials were inadvertently donated by the building firms of New Zealand after the bombing.
"Ernie loved nothing better than to stop and talk. And although some people said he was grumpy and caused divisions and so on, my perception of him was he was a very good and active worker, conscious and aware of his situation and his life.
"He was not exceptional ... he was one of us. If someone had told me in 1977 that I would be addressing a room 30 years later and his name would be written in to the history of New Zealand I would have said that they were all nuts.
"You and I will be shortly forgotten but Ernie's name will not be forgotten."
Mr Cranney, now a lawyer, also recalled how Mr Abbott had owned two different dogs, both known as Patch.
"The first Patch became famous because he jumped [off the roof] of the Trades Hall building chasing a seagull. He fell down and broke one of his legs and limped around Trades Hall for years after that incident.
"The second Patch was injured in the bombing. He survived. The violence that was done in this room, the whole place blackened and destroyed by a bomb of enormous force was a deeply felt event by 100s of 1000s of workers in New Zealand."
"The name of Ernie Abbott must never be forgotten," Mr Cranney said.
About 100 people observed three minutes silence between 5:16pm and 5:19pm in the foyer of Trades Hall last night in memory of Mr Abbott.
No-one was brought to justice for Mr Abbott's murder.
- The Dominion Post
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