Exhibition looks back at anger in the Waikato

MIKE MATHER
Last updated 14:19 27/03/2014

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Were the good old days in the Waikato really the good old days? It depends who you ask. If you happen to be gay, lesbian, Maori or any other ethnic minority, the answer is possibly not.

A new exhibition of photographs and memorabilia opening on Saturday at Waikato Museum examines how that began to change, thanks to the power of activism and protest movements that swept the country - and Waikato in particular - during the 1970s and '80s.

In the late 1960s, the optimism and prosperity New Zealand society had enjoyed during the post-World War II period had begun to fray.

Change was in the air and new, dissatisfied voices were beginning to ring out in the streets and classrooms, drawing inspiration from international struggles for civil rights and opposition to imperialism and militarism.

Fight the Power: Protest and Change 1970-1990 examines the social campaigns of the period.

These included the Women's Liberation Movement, the 1979 United Women's Conference, the Raglan Golf Course Maori land rights dispute and opposition to the Hamilton game of the 1981 Springbok rugby tour.

Another theme of the exhibition is Maori urbanisation and protest. A rurally based people in 1945, 62 per cent of Maaori lived in urban areas by 1966. From the 1970s, young, mostly urban Maori and Polynesians formed activist groups such as Ngaa Tamatoa (The Warriors). Their focus included economic advancement, breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi and a quest for recognition of Maori autonomy, or control of their own land and affairs.

The Raglan Golf Course Dispute was one of the earliest post-1970 campaigns for the return of unjustly appropriated land to tangata whenua. The quarrel concerned 88 acres surrounding the Miria Te Kakara meeting house at Te Kopua, Whaingaroa (Raglan). The site housed urupa, a kumara garden and the papakainga of the Raglan hapu of Tainui. In 1941, the government, with the Raglan County Council, compulsorily acquired the land to use for an aerodrome and an emergency airstrip. The papakainga was razed and the kumara garden destroyed.

When peace resumed, the government failed to give the land back to the community as promised. It was instead leased to the Raglan Golf Club, which established a course on the site. In the mid-1970s, Maori, led by local woman Tuaiwi (Eva) Rickard, campaigned to have it returned. Rickard and others occupied the Golf Course in 1976 and 1978. The government returned the land in 1983.

The six-week 1981 Springbok tour looms large in New Zealand memory for the battles it provoked, not just on rugby pitches but within families, schools, churches and workplaces.

The Springbok game against Waikato on July 25 attracted some of the most intense clashes of the tour. Reports that a plane stolen from Taupo was headed toward the match eventually convinced authorities to abandon the game. News of the cancellation made international headlines and reached incarcerated anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandella.

Women's Liberation groups formed in Auckland and Wellington in 1970 and the women's movement, inspired both by local conditions and international feminist thought, quickly spread to smaller centres, including Hamilton. Groups such as the Women's Electoral Lobby and Women in Education were active in the Waikato during the mid-1970s. The first United Women's Convention took place in Auckland in 1973. The idea to stage the 1979 convention in Hamilton emerged from a discussion by three Waikato-based feminists - Jane Ritchie, Morgan Boudrou and Antoinette Person..

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About 2500 women converged on Hamilton during Easter weekend. They took part in workshops, heard speeches and discussed issues from abortion to discrimination in the workplace, women's experiences in organised religion, and division of household responsibilities. Some sessions were disturbed by radical lesbians and Maori activists dissatisfied with the absence of a Maori speaker.

During the 1980s, New Zealanders rallied around many social causes including the anti-nuclear movement, female equality in the workplace, paid parental leave and recognition of the civil rights of gay and lesbian people.

By the end of the 1980s, mass protests were becoming less frequent in New Zealand, although many voiced resistance to economic reforms installed by the fourth Labour government (1984-1990).

While the reasons for the decline of public demonstration are difficult to pin down, one thing is clear: The protest decades had profoundly altered New Zealand.

- Waikato

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