“In any discussion of violence,” Jane Ritchie and James Ritchie write, “we must consider the world-wide phenomena of racial hatred and violence in holy or nationalistic crusades, rioting, terrorism, and political violence.
Prior to the 1981 Springbok tour, New Zealanders liked to think they had a riot-free history. But riot conditions were approached many times during the 1951 waterfront strike, and there were actual riots in Waihi in 1912 over industrial relations, in 1931 by the unemployed in Auckland, and in 1943 between US and New Zealand servicemen in the so-called battle of Manners Street. However, it was the Springbok tour that finally demonstrated that riotous violence is just an issue away from ordinary daily life.
Once the colonial wars destroyed Maori resistance in the 1870s, civil disobedience was rare. The extent and violence of the 1981 Springbok tour demonstrations are, therefore, very instructive. How was it that so many ordinary, peaceable citizens from all walks of life donned their own makeshift protective gear, linked arms, and advanced against trained squads of anti-riot police in such an unprecedented manner? Naturally, the media blamed the organisers and overseas influences, and the organisers, accepting that blame as tribute, blamed the police for the violence and the politicians for allowing the situation to arise in the first place.
[-p.57] Near riotous behaviour occurred on many occasions at this time, but there were incidents where the police lost their cool and such occasions became an opportunity for violent freeloaders to declare the kind of moral holiday which characterises a riot. The significant thing about the Springbok tour confrontations was that the protest was not organised by rabid lovers of violence, but by your friendly neighbourhood parish priests, the Boy Scout leader, the dean of the faculty, the secretary of the Christian Fellowship – indeed, by the very people who are the best organisers in society and do it all the time. It was the police, not the protestors, who looked to overseas models to find appropriate tactics and riot control gear.
There were several long-term consequences to the tour and its protests and confrontations. The police lost for ever their friendly neighbourhood ‘bobby on the beat’ image. In this generation they will never get it back. A new set of visual images of the police with armoured plastic defensive face-masks and headgear, long heavy woollen military-style protective coats, riot shields, and long batons is now part of many people’s memory and perception of the police ‘in action’. These images were a rude awakening; they connected what was going on here with images of Nazi shock troops, of race riots in Britain, the religious war in Northern Ireland, and political oppression in many parts of the world.
Perhaps we thought we lost an innocence we never really had, but what we gained was a new cynicism, a new dark dimension to our image of the police force. …There is now a new image of the police in crowd control and for many it is a symbol of fear not ot trust.” (56-57)
Ref: Jane Ritchie and James Ritchie (1993) Violence in New Zealand. Huia Publishers and Daphne Brasell Associates: Wellington