This collection celebrates rugby in New Zealand as it has been seen onscreen: from classic bios and tour docos, to social history, dramas and protest. In the accompanying backgrounders, broadcaster Keith Quinn looks at the on air history of rugby in NZ; and playwright David Geary asks if rugby is a religion, and argues it is a good test of character.
In 1976 Ian Johnstone became the first NZ TV journalist to visit apartheid South Africa. For this Feltex Award-winning report (one of three for Seven Days) he and a small crew strove — under the regime's close eye — to show apartheid's impact on blacks. Shots of Soweto, human rights meetings, and interviews (Bishop Tutu, students, campaigner Hector Ncokazi), undercut PM Johannes Vorster's case for separatism. Seeing Johnstone being denied service at a burger bar (he was with a black) unsettled Kiwi viewers, weeks before the All Blacks left for South Africa in mid-1976.
This final edition of the 1992 celebration of New Zealand Rugby runs from grand slam success to the cusp of the professional era. But in-between, rugby and politics combusted. When the Springboks, representing apartheid South Africa, toured NZ in 1981, barbed wire, flour bombs and riot police were match fixtures. Kiwis were either for or against. The tour’s aftermath and public disillusionment with the sport found relief in 1987, when the All Blacks won the first Rugby World Cup; three undefeated years followed. Three NZRFU centennial tests close the series.
'My Old Man’s an All Black' was a big hit for the Howard Morrison Quartet in 1960. The song subverted 'My Old Man's a Dustman' to mock an apartheid South African decree banning Māori players from the touring All Blacks. In this 1990 performance, Morrison and Billy T James (months after heart surgery) update the song’s lyrics for a more recent controversy: the dropping of popular All Black captain Wayne 'Buck' Shelford. Howard ribs rugby’s supposed amateurism, and Billy T explains why Buck isn’t packing down in the scrum. The final haka includes an unexpected guest...
Merata Mita’s Patu! is a startling record of the mass civil disobedience that took place throughout New Zealand during the winter of 1981, in protest against a South African rugby tour. Testament to the courage and faith of both the marchers and a large team of filmmakers, the feature-length documentary is a landmark in Aotearoa's film history. It staunchly contradicts claims by author Gordon McLauchlan a couple of years earlier that New Zealanders were "a passionless people".
This episode of rugby series The Game Of Our Lives looks at the impact the sport has had on race relations in New Zealand. The country's history of rugby forging bonds between Māori and Pākehā is a stark contrast to South Africa's apartheid policy. Tries and Penalties focuses on the troubles between Aotearoa and South Africa — from coloured players George Nepia and Ranji Wilson being excluded from All Blacks tours to South Africa, to the infamous 1981 Springboks tour, and Nelson Mandela opening the 1995 Rugby World Cup final between the two teams.
For this lauded Seven Days assignment Ian Johnstone was the first NZ television reporter to travel to apartheid-era South Africa. In this episode (one of three) he finds a white minority clinging to power in the face of mounting violence and a sense of looming change. The limbo-like status of the mixed-race Coloureds stresses how untenable the regime’s policies have become; and demand for equality from black students is palpable. Interviewees include a defiant Prime Minister Vorster, author Alan Paton (Cry, the Beloved Country), journalist Donald Woods and activist Helen Suzman.
This 1992 TV One documentary follows the All Blacks on their first post-apartheid visit to South Africa. The footy tour tomfoolery of producer Ric Salizzo’s earlier All Blacks docos is subbed off for reflections on politics and sport from players — including ex-All Black Ken Gray, who refused to tour the republic in 1970 and joined protesters in 1981. Not all goes to script for a “new South Africa”: the Afrikaans anthem is played before the Ellis Park test, and the All Blacks win. Future South Africa cricket star Herschelle Gibbs is a young coloured player mentored by the ABs.
The day after attending a fiery public debate (see video above) over Africa's threatened boycotts of the 1976 Montreal Olympics, Abraham Ordia, then-president of the African Council of Sport, sat down for a more subdued interview with Gordon Dryden. Ordia had arrived in New Zealand that week, hoping to convince Robert Muldoon to limit sporting contacts with apartheid South Africa. The PM refused to see him. Ordia recalls his Nigerian childhood, studying psychiatry in Zurich under Carl Jung, and makes a final plea to the viewer’s conscience on the issue at hand.
On June 4 1976, Gordon Dryden hosted Abraham Ordia — president of the African Supreme Council of Sport — for a public forum on New Zealand’s sporting ties with apartheid South Africa, which would result in an Olympic boycott by African countries the following month. The debate erupted into what the Auckland Star called “a diabolic confrontation between Māori and Pākeha”, with Dryden frequently pleading for civility. Weightlifter Precious McKenzie, MP Richard Prebble, activist Syd Jackson and Donna Awatere-Huata are among those in the audience, making their feelings known.