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Nuclear-free New Zealand

By NZ On Screen team
5th June 2012

 Nuclear-free New Zealand

Nuclear-free New Zealand

 NZ On Screen team

By NZ On Screen team


Nuclear-free New Zealand

On 8 June 1987 Nuclear-free NZ became law. This collection honours the principles and people behind the policy. Norman Kirk: "Should I take the view that because they'll react against us that we shouldn't stand up for ourselves? I don't think New Zealand's a doormat. I think we've got rights — we're a small country but we've got equal rights, and we're going to assert them."


'No nukes' on screen

 French Letter '95

In this video images of French nuclear testing contrast with languid Pacific imagery (poi, hibiscus, tamariki, whales) and gorgeous reggae pop. There are punchy ‘no nukes’ slogans but a great performance from the band does the work effortlessly: "Let me be more specific: get out of the Pacific!"

 Mururoa 1973

In 1973 Alister Barry joined the crew of The Fri, bound for Mururoa Atoll to protest French testing of nuclear weapons (the Fri was a key part of activism that was formative for Greenpeace). Barry's record of the trip — his debut film — screened primetime on NZ TV and gained international attention.

 Nuclear Reaction

In this documentary “50 years of the bomb” in NZ is comprehensively plotted: from enthusiastic supporter of the atomic bomb in the 1940s and participation in 1950s British tests at Christmas Island (and looking for uranium in the Buller Gorge), to staunchly 'no nukes' by the mid-1980s.

 Spike Milligan - Nuclear-free public service announcements

In these never-aired commercials (they were banned at the time), comic genius Spike Milligan urges Kiwis to sign the Campaign Half Million petition against the introduction of nuclear power. He instead advocates wind power while standing in breezy Wellington: "Just put up a windmill daddy!"

 Revolution (part two) - The Grand Illusion

Revolution examined sweeping changes in 1980s NZ society. Amidst the changes and in the Rainbow Warrior bombing's fallout, David Lange mined goodwill from his Government's 'no nukes' policy, most famously in a halitotic Oxford Union debate (third clip): "nuclear weapons are morally indefensible".

 Frost Over New Zealand - The Leaders

In this 1973 chat with Prime Minister Norman Kirk by English TV interviewer David Frost, 'Big Norm' is statesmanlike in opposing French nuclear testing: "It's purpose [sending a protest frigate to Muruora] was to establish a silent witness on the spot, and to draw the eyes of other countries to it."

 The Quiet Earth

While the event that leads to The Quiet Earth and Bruno as a man alone scientist isn’t explicitly nuclear, as co-writer and nuke ship visit protester Sam Pillsbury says: “The metaphor is clearly apocalyptic ... I think [amidst nuclear fallout fears] the broader concern was global responsibility.”


 Pacific 3-2-1-Zero

Directed by Gregor Nicholas, Pacific 3-2-1-Zero is an award-winning record of a performance by legendary percussion group From Scratch. With players arranged in a peace symbol shape, ring-leader Phil Dadson leads the rhythmic protest against nuclear testing and waste dumping in the Pacific.

 The Best of The Billy T James Collection

Billy T's unique brand of humour is captured here at its affable, non-PC best in this compilation of skits from his 80s TV shows. The second clip ends with one of the classic 'first contact' skits, where customs officer Billy meets Captain Cook on the beach and shows him a nuclear-free ... taiaha.

 Our Nuclear Defence

This film mixes real and satirically imagined elements of the mid-70s anti-nuclear debate as preparations take place for the USS Truxtun’s Wellington visit. Made by Alister Barry and Rod Prosser, the film features embedded footage shot from the Truxtun’s 'unwelcoming' flotilla at the harbour mouth.

 The 1984 Leaders' Debate

Six days out from the ‘84 election, Robert Muldoon and David Lange face off in a memorable TVNZ leaders’ debate. The morals and pragmatics of their respective nuclear stances are examined. Muldoon asks Lange to confirm or deny his personal view, but the Leader of the Opposition is slick in defence.


Written by Tom Scott and Greg McGee, Fallout was an award-winning mini-series dramatising events leading up to NZ's 80s anti-nuclear stand, from the 'no nukes' bill prompting a snap election, to Lange under pressure from a bullish US administration to take a stance on his anti-nuclear platform.


In this kid’s sci-fi caper, an all-singing all-dancing gang of cronies led by ‘evil Eva’ holds Auckland to ransom by threatening to drop a nuclear bomb ... into the crater of Rangitoto! Who will save the city? Roger Donaldson directs the goofy late-70s fun, just prior to his acclaimed Smash Palace.


Amidst a personal tale of despair in the city a staunch 'no nukes' message is delivered with aplomb by Che Fu: "Come test me like a bomb straight from Murda-roa / How comes I got cyclops fish in my water / A Nation of Pacific lambs to the slaughter / Three eyes for my son and an extra foot for my daughter".

 A Nuclear Free Pacific (Niuklia Fri Pasifik)

This documentary travels to nine Pacific nations to chronicle the struggle to create a regional nuclear arms free zone. Interviews with politicians, activists, radiation victims and US and French admirals are counterpointed, including David Lange’s apparently "not for export" nuclear-free policy.

 Hotu Painu

Peter Turei's wide-ranging doco explores nuclear testing in the Pacific — and its relationship with French colonialism in Tahiti (which locals claim has made them strangers or "Hotu Painu" in their own land). There is disturbing testimony of the ill-effects of tests on indigenous peoples' health.

 Anchor Me

Made to mark the 20th anniversary of the sinking of the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior, this clip is a Kiwi musician all-star cover of 'Anchor Me' (written by Don McGlashan and recorded by The Mutton Birds) with rainbows bursting through the pollution and terrorism-defying doves flying high.

 Tonight - Robert Muldoon interview

In this infamous May 1976 battle of wills between journalist Simon Walker (later the Queen's PR man) and Prime Minister Robert Muldoon, Walker interrogates Muldoon about his assertions regarding the Soviet naval presence in the Pacific, and NZ vulnerability to Russian nuclear attack.

 When a Warrior Dies

This film focuses on the efforts by Greenpeace and artist Chris Booth to create a sense of emotional closure to the Rainbow Warrior bombing — via the creation of sculpture to mark her resting place. Details of the affair are interwoven with Booth working with the Ngati Kura to finish the work.

 Beings Rest Finally

'Beings Rest Finally' was a single released by Wellington post-punk outfit Beat Rhythm Fashion. A product of early 80s nuclear dread the TVNZ-made video captures this combination of innocence and terror as children paint a colourful mural over news footage of war, unrest and a mushroom cloud.

"For now at least we are on the right side of history ..."

Tim Watkin (Guardian, Listener, on how New Zealand learned to start worrying and loathe the bomb. Read more >

"There's a suicidal urge to stockpile nuclear weapons."

So said Norm Kirk about the nuclear arms race. See for more context behind Nuclear-free New Zealand. Read more >

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