On 8 June 1987 Nuclear-free New Zealand became law. This collection honours the principles and people behind the policy. Prime Minister Norman Kirk put it like this: "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." In the backgrounder, journalist Tim Watkin explores the twists and turns of Aotearoa's nuclear history.
This documentary comprehensively plots NZ's progress from enthusiastic supporter of the atomic bomb in the 1940s to proudly nuclear free by the late 1980s. New Zealand — the birthplace of "father of the atom" Ernest Rutherford — willingly participated in British tests at Christmas Island in the 1950s (and looked eagerly for uranium in the Buller Gorge) but as testing increased in the Pacific, Prime Ministers Holyoake, Kirk and Lange voiced opposition — and Moruroa, nuclear ship visit protests and the Rainbow Warrior bombing fuelled the anti-nuclear cause.
In this video, languid Pacific Island imagery (poi, hibiscus, tamariki, breaching whales) and gorgeous reggae pop are contrasted with images of French nuclear testing. There are punchy 'no nukes' slogans and graphics, but a great performance from Herbs does the work effortlessly in this simple, well-crafted video. 'French Letter' was originally released in 1982 and began an eleven week stay on the Kiwi singles charts — despite very little radio play. It was rereleased in 1995 to protest the resumption of nuclear testing: "Let me be more specific - get out of the Pacific!"
In 1973 Alister Barry joined the crew of a protest boat (The Fri) to Mururoa Atoll, where the French Government were testing nuclear weapons. Barry records the assembly of the crew, the long journey from Northland, and their reception in the test zone; when The Fri was boarded and impounded by French military he had to hide his camera in a barrel of oranges. The Fri was a key part of activism that was formative for environmental group Greenpeace, and anti-nuclear sentiment in NZ. Barry's debut film screened primetime on NZ TV and gained international attention.
Award-winning series Revolution examined sweeping changes in 1980s New Zealand society. This second episode argues that in its first term in office, the Labour Government promoted neoliberal reform via illusory ideas of consensus and fairness, while PM David Lange mined goodwill from its indie anti-nuclear policy (famously in an Oxford Union debate, see third clip). The interviews include key figures in politics, the public service and business: an age of easy lending and yuppie excess is recalled, while those in rural areas recount the downside of job losses.
In these never-aired commercials, comic genius Spike Milligan urges New Zealanders to sign the Campaign Half Million petition against the introduction of nuclear power. Instead he advocates wind power while standing in breezy Wellington. The ads were never shown, though they did end up in a TV news story on the decision to ban them, thus gaining prime time exposure. The petition, organised for the Campaign for a Non-Nuclear Future, eventually gained 333,087 signatures, representing 10% of New Zealand's population at the time.
In July 1985 French government agents bombed Greenpeace vessel The Rainbow Warrior while it was moored at an Auckland wharf. The boat was set to protest French nuclear testing at Mururoa; photographer Fernando Pereira was killed. This TVNZ documentary, which screened in April 1986, explores the international incident and its fallout. This excerpt, featuring dramatic reconstructions, covers the arrival of the spies in New Zealand and their movements up to and after the bombing. Witnesses and key figures, such as Prime Minister David Lange, are interviewed.
This all star cover of Mutton Birds classic ‘Anchor Me’ was made to mark the 20th anniversary of the sinking of Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior. After Hinewehi Mohi’s haunting introduction, singers including Anika Moa, Kirsten Morrell (Goldenhorse) Che Fu, and Milan Borich (Pluto) walk towards the camera across a washed out landscape. Nuclear blasts, pollution and Greenpeace vessels can all be seen, while doves pull rainbows across the screen.
Pita Turei's wide-ranging documentary explores the history of 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 compelling testimony of serious health effects from previous tests; and Turei's cameras follow a Greenpeace protest flotilla to Moruroa as the French keep watch. Interwoven throughout is the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior and its aftermath, as DGSE agents are tried and the ship finds a final resting place at Matauri Bay.
This documentary travels to nine Pacific nations, including New Zealand, to chronicle the long struggle to create a regional nuclear arms free zone. Interviews with politicians, activists, radiation victims and American and French admirals are counterpointed. When hopes of a treaty are dashed at a South Pacific Forum meet, it is pointed out that the David Lange-trumpeted independence of NZ's nuclear-free policy is evidently "not for export". Local music scores the doco, including Australia's Midnight Oil, whose lead singer (future MP Peter Garrett) is interviewed.
Like many other current affairs shows in the 70s, Tonight had a fairly brief existence, but it provided the forum for this infamous battle of wills between journalist Simon Walker and Prime Minister Robert Muldoon. It is May 1976, and Walker is daring to interrogate Muldoon about his claims of a Soviet naval presence in the Pacific, and New Zealand's vulnerability to Russian nuclear attack. Muldoon grows increasingly annoyed and bullish at being asked questions that are not on his sheet: "I will not have some smart alec interviewer changing the rules half way through."
The capture and release of the French agents who bombed the Greenpeace ship, Rainbow Warrior was not the end of the affair. This film documents the circumstances of the crime, but is focused on efforts by Greenpeace, and artist Chris Booth to create a sense of emotional closure. Booth worked with the Ngati Kura people of Matauri Bay to create a sculpture marking the Warrior's last resting place. The film interweaves the back story of the bombing with sequences showing the efforts to finish the sculpture in time for commemorations.
New Zealand politics was a gentler art in the pre-Muldoon early 1970s, when superstar English TV interviewer David Frost made the first of two series downunder. Here he talks to Prime Minister Norman Kirk, and opposition leader Jack Marshall. Kirk is assured and statesmanlike (an act that proves hard for Marshall to follow) as he discusses topics ranging from supporting beneficiaries, to opposing French nuclear testing. ‘Big Norm’ purposefully talks about being in the job for another 25 years. Tragically, he died in office 13 months later.
Pacific 3-2-1-Zero is a record of a performance of the eponymous work by renowned percussion group From Scratch. The work was devised in 1981 as a protest against nuclear testing and waste dumping in the Pacific. Ring-leader Phil Dadson, his players and their instruments — from whirling PVC pipes to biscuit tin lids — are arranged in the shape of the peace symbol. From Scratch's rhythms are cut with footage and facts of nuclear testing by director Gregor Nicholas to make for a resonant statement. The film won the Grand Prix at Midem’s 1994 Visual Music Awards.
This short film, made by Alister Barry and Rod Prosser, draws together real and satirically imagined elements of the mid-70s anti-nuclear debate as preparations are made for the USS Truxtun’s visit to Wellington. The new National government has reversed Norman Kirk's nuclear-free policies and the whiff of duplicity hangs heavy in the air as politicians, unionists and protestors jibe for position on land and at sea. Made with assistance of unions and members of the screen industry, the film features embedded footage shot from the Truxtun’s ‘unwelcoming’ flotilla.
Six days out from the 1984 snap election, PM Sir Robert Muldoon and Leader of the Opposition David Lange face off across a table in a TVNZ leaders’ debate chaired by Ian Johnstone. A tired Muldoon, on the back foot since calling the election two weeks earlier, attempts to claim the high ground of experience in office and on the international stage; but he is no match for Lange’s deftness and gravitas — his parting shot of "I love you, Mr Lange" is one of the more remarkable moments in NZ political history.
Billy T’s unique brand of humour is captured at its affable, non-PC best in this compilation of skits from his popular 1980s TV shows. There’s Te News (“somebody pinched all the toilet seats out of the Kaikohe Police Station...now the cops got nothing to go on!”) with Billy in iconic black singlet and yellow towel; a bro’s guide to home improvement; skits about first contact, and a take off of Miami Vice. No target is sacred (God, the IRA, the talking Japanese sketch) and there are classic advertising spoofs for Pixie Caramel’s “last requests” and Lands For Bags’ “where’d you get your bag”.
Written by Tom Scott and Greg McGee, South Pacific Pictures-produced Fallout was an award-winning two-part mini-series dramatising events leading up to NZ’s 80s anti-nuclear stand. PM Robert Muldoon (Ian Mune) calls a snap election when his MP Marilyn Waring crosses the floor on the ‘no nukes’ bill, but his gamble fails, and David Lange's Labour Party is elected. Lange (played by Australian actor Mark Mitchell) is pressured from all sides (including a bullish US administration) to take a firm stance on his anti-nuclear platform. He finally accepts there is no middle ground.
In this short Gallery interview — broadcast in June 1973 — Peace Media representative (and future TVNZ news boss) Bill Ralston talks about dwindling supplies for two private vessels that had left Aotearoa, to protest upcoming French nuclear testing at Mururoa Atoll. Ralston accuses Prime Minister Norman Kirk of being “a little bit heartless” for not assisting. Actually Kirk was realising plans for the HMNZS Otago to join the vigil. Protest yacht Fri was later stormed by French commandos, and the protests made world news. French nuclear testing in the Pacific finally ceased in 1996.
In this children's sci-fi caper, an all-singing all-dancing gang of cronies led by 'evil Eva' (Nevan Rowe) holds Auckland to ransom for $5,000,000. As in Under the Mountain Auckland's volcanoes play a starring role, with Eva threatening to drop a nuclear bomb into the crater of Rangitoto. Who will save the city? A trio of intrepid kids and their DIY anti-gravity machine are on the case. Writers Ian Mune and Keith Aberdein give director Roger Donaldson (and a bevy of industry talent) plenty of goofy 70s fun to play with. Donaldson would shortly helm the acclaimed Smash Palace.
‘Beings Rest Finally’ was the A side of the first of three singles released by Wellington post-punk outfit Beat Rhythm Fashion (the single shared its initials with the band’s name, as did the flip side ‘Bring Real Freedom’). A product of early 80s nuclear dread — the “disaster day” in the lyrics might refer to the death of millions — the band nevertheless saw it as a “happy sort of lullaby” rather than a sad song. The TVNZ video captures this combination of innocence and terror as children paint a colourful mural over news footage of war, unrest and a mushroom cloud.