HART plan for first test

NOT DONE AND DUSTED: All Blacks prop Gary Knight felled by a flour bomb, dropped from a Cessna piloted by Marx Jones.
NOT DONE AND DUSTED: All Blacks prop Gary Knight felled by a flour bomb, dropped from a Cessna piloted by Marx Jones.

On the eve of the 30th anniversary of the final test of the 1981 Springbok tour, documents have emerged detailing widespread police opposition to the Springbok tour and a plan – involving a future government minister – to halt the first international in Christchurch. Neil Reid reports.

Members of the 1981 Springbok touring team to New Zealand will soon be back.

But as the group – led by their on-field captain Wynand Claassen – prepare for their goodwill mission, details have come to light of a plan by anti-tour protesters to force the cancellation of the first test of the sporting tour that divided the nation.

Encouraged by the cancellation of the second match of the tour against Waikato following a pitch invasion and threats from a pilot in a stolen plane that he would crash into Hamilton's Rugby Park if the game went ahead, the HART (Halt All Racist Tours) movement members hatched a plan they hoped would see the August 15 test at Christchurch's Lancaster Park called off.

Among those involved in the plan was HART member and future Labour Party minister Marian Hobbs.

In documents written in 1982 that were sourced last week by the Sunday Star-Times, Hobbs wrote: "Aim – to get inside park – carrying 4 ropes. At 5 mins before match to run on to the ground to bring down one goalpost by using rope ... I'm not sure of exact means but it had been practised successfully."

Another "support group" was to divert police attention so the pitch could be invaded. The duties included throwing a number of projectiles, including tennis balls, on to the field. But Lancaster Park was packed with more than 50,000 fans, the plan fell apart.

Hobbs wrote: "Mongrel Mob, who had offered to provide diversion, were not allowed into Park ... on previous night they had been set up by cops in a fight – arrests made. Sixty others refused entry."

Other action planned by HART failed after "police infiltrated marshals of main march", Hobbs wrote.

Despite being unable to stop the match, her report stated that HART had succeeded overall during the Boks' stay in Christchurch.

In summary, she wrote: "Springboks late arrival in ChCh/forced to stay on stretchers in squash courts."

Hobbs also noted part of HART's strategy in Christchurch was to cause as much disruption for the Springboks as possible, pre-test.

That included a group of about 300 protesters disturbing the South Africans' sleep on match eve.

"Much noise made – woke up people 4-5 blocks away," Hobbs wrote.

Hobbs was a school teacher at the time of the tour. She went on to become an MP from 1996-2008, including holding ministerial portfolios for the environment, biosecurity and broadcasting. She is now in the UK working in the education sector.

Her memories of the 1981 Springbok tour are included in a major study that the Canterbury University's English department commissioned in 1982. The university sought written statements from New Zealanders who were both anti and pro-tour about their experiences. A full copy of the major body of work has since been given to the National Library of New Zealand.

Hobbs is not the only prominent political figure who features in the study. A letter on parliament letterhead from former Labour MP Frank O'Flynn – who was staunchly anti-tour – stated that he had "done everything I possibly could" to have the tour cancelled and then have it "stopped" once the tour began.

That included moves to block Wellington's road network when South Africa played the All Blacks in the capital on August 29.

"I still think there was a substantial chance that if that had been done the Rugby Union would have been compelled either to cancel the game or move it to some venue in the Hutt Valley despite obvious difficulties," the former defence minister wrote.

The vast file also includes several submissions from police officers who worked on the front-line at anti-tour protests around New Zealand. Names of the officers who took part in the study were withheld but their views show a split over the merits of the tour.

One officer wrote: "A survey made within the police department prior to the tour showed that 100% of police staff were anti-apartheid and that 73% were against the Springboks making the tour of New Zealand, for varying reasons.

"The majority of the police thought it was morally wrong that the team should have been invited and that the NZ Rugby Union was extremely selfish and dogmatic in issuing the invitation."

INTENSE 1981 TOUR STILL DIVIDES OPINION

Drama was in abundance for the 49,000 who crammed into Eden Park for the deciding test of the 1981 test series against the Springboks.

They had dodged a wave of protests and forced road closures to get into the suburban Auckland sporting arena.

The action on the field was intense, with the All Blacks ultimately winning the test and the series thanks to a dramatic penalty goal from fullback Allan Hewson.

For the price of match admission, they were also treated to an impromptu aerial assault, with renegade pilot Marx Jones buzzing the ground in a light aircraft, dropping a number of flour bombs onto the field, including one which struck All Blacks prop Gary Knight.

On the eve of the 30th anniversary of the test, members of the sellout crowd shared their memories with the Sunday Star-Times.

Wellington-based Dan O'Dea was also among the sold-out crowd. He said while he was pro-tour in 1981, time had since changed his stance.

"I changed my views later on ... I must have been young and foolish then and think the system they had in South Africa was wrong," O'Dea said.

"In 1981 I was pretty staunch about the rugby. I was of the mind that I should try to go to the games. I was anti-protester I suppose, so I made a point of going to two tests."

As well as attending the series-decider at Eden Park, O'Dea also went to Wellington's Athletic Park for the second test of the series. He said of the Eden Park encounter: "When the flour-bombing and all of that stuff happened, we were in the grandstand.

"But nothing ever came towards us ... we thought it was a great show until Gary Knight got hit on the head."

Aucklander David Howard, who had previously spent 10 years living in Rhodesia and South Africa, said he remained pro-tour.

While understanding of the anti-tour movement's stance, he said he didn't want to see politics being mixed with New Zealand sport.

"I could see why people were protesting. But I was supportive of the tour," he said.

"I would rather keep politics out of sport. I was not against the protests as a means of democratic expression, but I was against the protesters' aims. I felt that New Zealanders who wanted to play rugby with South Africa had the right to do so and that politics should be kept out of sport ... in New Zealand, if not in South Africa."

Howard said he remembered the test – won by the All Blacks 25-22 – as an enthralling game of rugby.

He said the actions of the protesters – including Jones – made it "that much more entertaining".

"After the game, we passed groups of police who looked pretty much the worse for wear and we clapped them. Most of the pro-rugby crowd did.

"The scale and violence of the Eden Park protest only became apparent later when we saw it on television."

Sunday Star Times