1981 Springbok Tour: Tom and my ‘cold war’

This post is part of a series remembering the 1981 Springbok Tour.

I watched Tom Scott’s drama Rage about the 1981 Springbok Tour on the tele last Sunday night. Though I didn’t think much of the femme fatale storyline – it centred on a Māori police graduate who infiltrated an anti-tour protest group, hopped into bed with a Pākehā protest leader and then fed the pillow talk back to her bosses – the premise that the tour was profoundly personal rang true.

The tour divided families, friends and fraternities. In my case, the tour strained the closest relationship I had at the time: with my twin brother Tom. As kids we were best friends. We shared the same room, played the same games and were in the same classes at school. By the 6th form (year 11) we had begun to find our own identities. He started wearing rugby jerseys and threw himself into the first-15 culture; I bought a Clash T-shirt and drifted towards the art-room gang of politicos and punks.

In the lead up Tom and I had a few talks about the forthcoming tour. He spouted the rugby boofhead line that the sports and politics should not be mixed and all he was interested in was the rugby. I retorted that such an ideal was absurd and had been since Hitler staged the 1936 Olympics – but he hadn’t done 5th form history so didn’t get the allusion. We decided we wouldn’t change each other’s view, so we formed a kind of détente where we agreed we would try and get along for the length of the tour. At that stage I was still hoping Muldoon would come to his senses and pull the plug before the Springboks arrived. But of course he didn’t and the team arrived on 19 July – which was also Tom’s and my 17th birthday.

The pitch invasion at the Hamilton game

The pitch invasion at the Hamilton game

After the pitch invasion that stopped the Hamilton game I shouted in triumph and Tom got surly. Following the batoning of anti-tour protesters in Molesworth Street, he bluntly told me they got what they deserved. The détente was cracking. When the Wellington test came I joined a protest march trying to invade Athletic Park; he went to a friend’s place to drink beer and watch the game on the tele. In the following weeks the curtain that hung down the middle of our room to prevent disturbance from reading lamps became permanently drawn: our ‘iron curtain’. And the conversations that we used to have about our days before going to sleep ceased. Sneers replaced smiles.

In retrospect, Tom had it harder than I did. We were a family of woolly liberals. Dad had been involved in the 1960 ‘No Maoris, No Tour’ campaign and had recounted tales of joining a moving picket around the Square in Palmerston North and being pelted with abuse. Tom no doubt felt isolated from the rest of us and clammed up. But I think we did all watch the final Eden Park (flour bomb) test together and cheered when Allan Hewson kicked the series-winning penalty. For Tom I imagine it a great All Black rugby moment; for me it was relief that it wasn’t a propaganda victory for the apartheid regime. Not long after the tour our older brother left home and Tom moved into the vacated room. We were soon speaking again but, since then, have never mentioned our ‘cold war’. Perhaps, like many other battle-weary New Zealanders, we just wanted to forget that the tour’s 56 surreal days had ever happened and get on with living.

It seems to me that the only winner out of the fiasco was Muldoon. The pro-tour rural vote saw him narrowly win the 1981 election. One of the things Rage depicted was the extent (unknown to me) to which his officials tried to get him to call off the tour even as it was proceeding. That he ignored this advice and was prepared to let his country rip its own guts out for political gain highlights the deep cynicism of the man. So this Monday – 12 September and the 30th anniversary of the end of the tour – I’ll celebrate that we’ve never had another leader like him. I’ll also give Tom a ring.

One comment added so far

  1. Comment made by Brian Johnston || August 16th, 2018

    I read your story with sadness. You have no idea of the dark forces behind the anti tour movement.

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