Wellington City Libraries

Te Matapihi Ki Te Ao Nui

Tuku Ihotanga > Te haerenga a ngā Piringa Pāka ki Aotearoa i te tau 1981 Heritage > The 1981 Springbok tour of New Zealand

"Long batons fly in Newtown as riot police block protestors in Rintoul Street from reaching Athletic Park for the second test, 29th August 1981". Footnote [1.]



"A woman show signs of battle after protesters and red squad police clashed at the Luxford Street-Rintoul Street intersection during anti Springbok tour demonstrations in Wellington, 1981." Footnote [3.]

The rivalry between the Springboks and the All Blacks is one of the longest and most enduring between two sporting nations. In the past, generations of rugby players and enthusiasts from both countries viewed a series victory over the other nation as being the pinnacle of achievement in the sport. Alongside the history of fierce competition went a tradition of hospitality towards the visiting side. In 1956 and 1965 when the South African rugby team toured New Zealand, they were showered with warmth and generosity wherever they went. Yet 25 years later, the 1981 Springbok tour became one of the most divisive events in New Zealand history. Its impact went far beyond the rugby ground as communities and families divided and tensions spilled out onto the streets and into the living rooms of the nation. What were the events that made this tour so significant? What motivated ordinary Kiwis to take such extraordinary action against one another?

Although things had been far from perfect between my parents, the Springbok tour caused such tension and stress that we could not live together in the same house and function as a family unit. An example of the increase was when we, as a family, watched the evening news. Often one side would raise their voices in abuse and offensive name calling towards public figures. Later the abuse was turned in an indirect way on individual family members. This was done by blaming the chaos and disruption to rugby games in individual family members, their friends and associations. As the tour went on and the turmoil increased, the negative feelings intensified to such as degree that feelings of dislike, anger and incomprehension dominated our home.

It's Just a Game (anon), in, The New Zealand Experience : 100 Vignettes, collected by B. Shaw & K. Broadley, 1985.


At the library

The library has many resources to help you research this topic.


The library has a sizable collection of books and other resources to help you understand how these events occurred and what made this such a significant event in New Zealand's history. The title links take you to the catalogue to check their location and availability.

Note that some of these books will be available as reference items only. You will find them within the New Zealand Reference Collection on the 2nd floor of the Central Library. Ask at the reference desk if you need help locating any of this material.

  • 56 days : A history of the anti-tour movement in Wellington / edited by Geoff Walker and Peter Beach.
    56 Days was published shortly after the 1981 Tour by C.O.S.T. as a fund raiser to pay for legal fees. C.O.S.T. (or "Citizens Opposed to the Springbok Tour") were an anti-tour protest organisation which ran parallel to but was quite separate from the main anti-tour group H.A.R.T. ("Halt All Racist Tours"). The work is an in-depth look of protest activity in Wellington cumulating in the second test match held at Athletic Park in Berhampore on August 29th 1981. The book contains many dramatic incidents and includes an interview with Alick Shaw who lead C.O.S.T.'s "Marshall Committee" - the group tasked with the planning and implementation of the organisation's protest strategy. Alick Shaw went on to become a City Councillor and Deputy Mayor of Wellington.
  • 1981 : the tour / Geoff Chapple
    322.44 CHA
    Written by Auckland-based journalist and writer Geoff Chapple, 1981 : The Tour is one of the most detailed books published about the events surrounding the Springbok's visit. The author was directly involved in the tour protests, and was arrested twice in the course of it, but his journalistic training has produced a book that clearly presents the evidences for and against the tour. The book begins by explaining the historic background which lead up to the 1981 tour including the nature of race relations in New Zealand and the African-nations boycott of the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games due to the All Black tour of South Africa the same year. It then details the nature and atmosphere of the protests in each of the centres where provincial games and test matches took place.
  • By batons and barbed wire / Tom Newnham ; editor, Frank Stark ; picture editor, captions, Tom Hutchins.
    322.44 NEW
    Written by a veteran activist and former Secretary of CARE ("Citizens Association for Racial Equality") this book tells the story of the tour from a protestor's point of view. It is also very well illustrated with many dramatic photographs.
  • Counting the cost : the 1981 Springbok tour in Wellington / student contributors, Anna Aitken ... [et al.] ; editors, David Mackay ... [et al.].
    322.44 COU
    This was printed by the Victoria University History Department in 1982 but was never formally published. It emerged as a result of the department's early recognition that the 1981 tour was going to be viewed as being historically significant in years to come. As part of a student summer project it was decided to collect interviews and data while events were still fresh in people's minds. The result was this series of essays which included a social analysis of tour protestors and the roles and attitudes of a number of different social groups such as Maori, Polynesians, Christians and women.
  • With all our strength : an account of the anti-tour movement in Christchurch 1981 / by Juliet Morris.
    322.44 MOR
    This book follows a similar format to 56 Days but concentrates on protest activity in and around Christchurch with a special emphasis on the first test which was held at Lancaster Park (today called Jade Stadium). It also has a detailed appendix which includes songs and chants which were specially written for the 1981 tour protests.
  • The Police and the 1981 tour / edited by Malcolm McKinnon, Peter McPhee & Jock Phillips.
    322.44 POL
    A follow-up to Counting the cost this second "paper" from the Victoria University History Department was released in 1985. This report turned its focus towards the police - a group which had received little analytical attention up to this point. It includes the results of a general survey of police and their attitudes towards the tour and an in-depth report by historian Rachael Barrowman which specifically looks at the infamous "Battle of Molesworth Street" of 29th July 1981.
  • The Red Squad story / by Ross Meurant
    352.2 MEU
    This book takes a different approach to the tour, explaining events from the perspective of the Red Escort Group (better known as the Red Squad) - an elite anti-riot branch of the NZ Police. The author, Ross Meurant, was second-in-command of the Red Squad and later became a National Party MP in 1987. Published only a year after the tour, the views in this book are a reflection of the pro-tour attitudes that many conservative communities held during the period.


The Central branch library has a considerable collection of newspapers and magazines from 1981 which can help you to place the tour in its historical context. Here are some dates of key events surrounding the Springbok tour. Many of the rugby games below took place in an atmosphere of fierce protest activity. Ask the 2nd floor Reference Desk staff for assistance in tracking down and viewing this material. Remember that many reports will not appear in newspapers until the following day.

Date: Event:
12th September 1980 New Zealand Rugby Football Union (N.Z.R.F.U.) formally invites the South African rugby team to tour New Zealand.
1st May 1981 First organised mass protests take place throughout the country.
14th May 1981 he Prime Minister Robert Muldoon is presented with an ultimatum by the Commonwealth to cancel the tour or lose hosting rights to Commonwealth Finance Ministers Conference due to take place in Auckland.
10th July 1981 The NZRFU meet for the last time to decide whether the tour should proceed or be cancelled.
19th July 1981 The Springboks arrive in New Zealand landing at Auckland airport.
22nd July 1981 First game played - Springboks vs Poverty Bay in Gisborne.
25th July 1981 Springboks vs Waikato game in Hamilton called off following a pitch invasion by protestors.
27th July 1981 The government says it won't back down in the face of violent protests and promises the police the assistance of the NZ army if required.
29th July 1981 Anti-tour protests outside Parliament reach a new level of violence in an event which becomes known as the "Battle of Molesworth Street"
31st July 1981 The Prime Minister threatens to call a snap election if anti-tour violence continues to escalate.
1st August 1981 Springboks vs. Manawatu in Palmerston North
2nd August 1981 In his speech at the annual National Party Conference, Robert Muldoon claims that the extreme-left wing agitators have taken over the anti-tour protest movement.
11th August 1981 Springboks vs. Otago in Dunedin.
13th August 1981 The grandstand at Rugby Park in Christchurch is destroyed by fire in a suspected arson attack after a Springboks training session at the ground.
15th August 1981 First test played in Christchurch
29th August 1981 Second test played in Wellington
12th September 1981 Third test played in Auckland.
13th September 1981 Springboks depart New Zealand

There are also some excellent retrospective articles that were published for the 20th anniversary of the Tour - check out copies of the Evening Post from 14th - 18th July 2001.

Electronic and Online Resources:

Our online databases

Our mygateway.info databases can be used to access a large number of articles about the tour which have previously been published in newspapers and magazines. Though the databases do not go back as far as 1981, they do contain many retrospective articles written since then. Search using combined keywords such as "1981 Springbok Tour" from mygateway.info.



  1. Copyright to The Dominion Post. This photograph may not be reproduced, copied or published in any printed or digital form without permission. back
  2. Copyright to The Dominion Post. This photograph may not be reproduced, copied or published in any printed or digital form without permission. back
  3. Copyright to The Dominion Post. This photograph may not be reproduced, copied or published in any printed or digital form without permission. back

Heritage Links (Local History)