Brain-fades, batons, and ‘Boks


Michelle A’Court wrote this piece about the 1981 Springbok tour – her personal experience of one of the defining moments of our modern (albeit short) history,


Springbok tour memories still vivid



Clearly, the Tour and surrounding events made a lasting impression on her – as it did with so many other New Zealanders. In her piece, she made this subtle reference to Key’s recent brain-fade about his own position on the Tour,

In 1981, John Key and I were both 20-year-old university students – he at Canterbury, me at Victoria.

These were the years before student loans, when we studied free and bursaries covered tuition and most of our living costs.

Without a terrifying debt waiting for us at graduation, many of us engaged with a broader education than just our prescribed courses.

Student media, drama, political activism . . . I often wonder if the shift to student loans was as much about social repercussions as fiscal concerns.

My memories of the 1981 Springbok tour are vivid.


The photo in the story is one of hundreds – thousands – that were taken of a momentous event that rocked this nation to it’s core. For many, the wounds have only just healed, as with former policeman and Red Squad leader, Ross Meurant,

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Last night, Mr Meurant told the crowd, who had permission to be on the playing field for the service, that Mandela had been an “outstanding statesman” and “one of the most precious and remarkable gifts ever bestowed to mankind”.

Mr Meurant, who hadn’t been back to the stadium since the infamous protest, said the events of the tour had changed him forever. “The greatest journey has been my personal development, from deep in the forest of police culture and distorted reality, to the ability to see where I was wrong – and where the system fails us,” he said.


For this blogger, the 1981 Tour was also a pivotal moment in my life. It marked the moment when I realised that my heretofore right-wing views were horribly wrong and that I had had a simplistic, naive, and distorted view of the world.

There had been other previous instances, such as Muldoon’s (unsuccessful) determination to fell the country’s last remaining native forests at Pureora and elsewhere. Or the United States toppling left-wing governments and supporting the installation of right-wing – often military – dictatorships. All while mouthing platitudes about being the standard bearer for democracy for the world.

The person that I was, vanished, as I watched New Zealanders being batoned and bloodied by police – something out of Roger Donaldson’s “Sleeping Dogs” movie, that had been released only four years previously. The movie  (based on C.K. Stead’s novel, “Smith Dream“) was eerily and frighteningly prophetic.

So it beggars belief that our current Prime Minister claims that he cannot recall his position on the Tour. As far back as 2008, when he was asked by a TV  journalist,

“In 1981, were you for or against the Springbok Tour?”

He answered:

“Oh, I can’t even remember … 1981, I was 20 … ah … I don’t really know. I didn’t really have a strong feeling on it at the time. Look, it’s such a long time ago.”


Which is odd, as politics was passionately discussed in the Key household, with John Key being unashamedly pro-Muldoon and pro-National,

Sue also remembers fiery debates between her mother and brother. “Mum was fiercely Labour and John was fiercely for [National leader Sir Rob] Muldoon,” says Sue. “I used to take the middle ground, they’d be on either side of the dinner table just about with knives out on each other as to who was right.” So, even at a young age, he had gravitated to National, in spite of his mother’s left leanings.

At one point in his childhood, Key gave his mother a National Party rosette for her birthday, to wind her up. She kept it until she died.


One of his fellow University students, Paul Commons, stated,

If he had political aspirations then, I don’t remember them but he was certainly very politically engaged and aware and very much a supporter of the Muldoon Government. I don’t remember him being an active member of any party and certainly was not politically active on campus.”


Had Key and his family been apolitical and utterly dis-interested in current affairs, one could accept Dear Leader’s statement that “I can’t even remember … 1981, I was 20 … ah … I don’t really know. I didn’t really have a strong feeling on it at the time”.

But not when he and his family were politically conscious and Key had already formed a strong preference for the National Party.

If Key genuinely cannot recall one of the most violent and divisive issues of the latter part of the 20th Century – then that suggests he is suffering from some form of early dementia. In which case he is not fit to be Prime Minister, much less hold office of any description. He should be seeking urgent medical intervention.

Or, as more likely, Key is simply lying. Again. Not for the first time, Key has resorted to mendacity to get out of a sticky situation he is unable to cope with.

Let’s be clear here – the Springbok Tour affected the collective psyche of the  entire country.

On a personal level, it changed my own political compass 180 degrees so utterly and so radically, that I would barely recognise myself thirtythree years ago.

But Key evidently can’t remember any of it.

Not credible.


The article by Ms A’Court also featured an associated  poll which asked people which side of the issue they were on,


Do you remember ther Springbok tour


It is interesting to note the the Pro-Tour and Anti-Tour response is roughly equal – reflecting the same situation which existed back in 1981.

History, repeats.





Fairfax media: John Key briefed on Dotcom spying in February

Fairfax media: Springbok tour memories still vivid

NZ Herald: Nelson Mandela funeral: Minto and Meurant recall pitch protest

NZ Herald: In search of John Key

Previous related blogposts

Politicians never tell fibs

Dear Leader, GCSB, and Kiwis in Wonderland (Part Rua)



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  1. Agree totally, the man is lying, and yet the media back in 2008 instead of undertaking the analysis you have just done Frank, from memory attacked the journalist that asked the question and concentrated on whether Key’s opinion on the 1981 Springbok Tour was a relevant question – a worrying stand by the media and reflected the strong pro John Key bias which still exists today (worrying trend). And here he was at University, a hotbed of radicalism and ideas, demonstrations Student Association meetings on all sorts of issues large and small, debates in his family – and we are lead to believe that such an “insightful” and “intelligent” man (as some media people would have has believe, the most popular Prime Minister in our history – would not have an opinion one way or the other on such a divisive issue which dominated our headline news radio and tv for months on end – come on now surely people are not that stupid – you are right Frank not fit to be Prime Minister

  2. I do find John Key’s admiration for Rob Muldoon somewhat fascinating.
    Under Rob the top tax rate was 66%, there was a wage freeze for 2 years, tariff and trade barriers on many goods to protect (some would say subsidise) the manufacturing industry and a massive “think big” program to build assets to make NZ more self sufficient (especially post oil shocks)
    This “state managed economy” seems completely at odds with John Key’s beliefs in free market econoomics which were more in line with Muldoon’s successor as finance minister, Rodger Douglas in the 4th Labour Government. Don’t get me wrong I am not a Muldoon fan by any measure (I was only two years old when he called the 1984 “snapps” election) but it is interesting that John Key would admire a Prime Minister who’s politics seem so estranged from his own (despite both being Prime Ministers of the same party)
    As for the brain fade over the 1981 Springbok tour, of course John Key would have had an opinion, it is disingenuous of him to suggest otherwise. However he realizes that even over 30 years later it is still a political hot potato and the best policy for him is to conveniently loose his memory as he seems to do with other contentious issues.

    • However he realizes that even over 30 years later it is still a political hot potato and the best policy for him is to conveniently loose his memory as he seems to do with other contentious issues.


    • I think Key admires Piggy’s contempt for democracy and legal process. He may even be thankful for Think Big, because it built things that he can now give to his mates. Basically, the way I see it, Muldoon was the last gasp of a capitalism that still wanted to build things and expand production. He therefore supported businesses, and the state, when they did that. Key is a fan of capitalism as a casino which destroys production, which was made possible by Roger Douglas. He supports finance capital and speculation. In many cases the actual people doing well will be the same families that Muldoon supported. Key is just a barbarian who appreciates the work people put into the things he destroys.

  3. You know what? In 1981 I was 21 and had at that time been living in London for three years so was not personally affected by all the drama that was unfolding in NZ. BUT I still remember it well, still remember what my opinion was (even though I felt it was rather uninformed due to being so far away from it) and I still remember the pride, yes HUGE PRIDE, watching the plane flour bomb Eden Park on the news in the UK. So I don’t buy into JK not remembering – especially with him being right in the middle of it all back here…I say he is LYING! AGAIN!!!!

    • Indeed, Kelasha. And what Key and his minions don’t seem to comprehend is that his constant brain fades and lying build up over time until the public perceive him with even more distrust than they did in 2011;

      ” Prime Minister John Key is considered a safe pair of hands in a crisis, but more voters believe he is more likely to lie than Labour leader Phil Goff.

      The latest Fairfax Media-Research International Poll asked voters what sort of people they thought the National and Labour leaders were. It found 34.9 per cent believed Mr Key was most likely to bend the truth, while 26 per cent thought Mr Goff was.”

      I would hazard a guess that that perception has increased markedly since then. It will be interesting to see how this plays out at the upcoming election this year.

  4. I was against the tour on balance, but it wasn’t a big deal to me. I didn’t protest. In 1981 I had almost no interest in politics, but I can remember my position. That Key expects us to believe that he can’t beggars the imagination.

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