Saturday, August 10, 2013

Molesworth Street revisited

(First published in The Dominion Post, August 9.)

IT’S NO exaggeration to say that for some of my generation, the 1981 Springbok tour was as much the defining event of their lives as the 1939-45 war had been for their parents.

Over 56 days, they rose up in a cathartic rebellion that gathered momentum as the tour progressed.

The anti-tour protests brought to a head all the frustrations and resentments of a baby-boomer generation that had chafed through two decades of conservatism and conformity, topped off by the snarling authoritarianism of Robert Muldoon.

It was more than just a protest against apartheid. It was an emphatic rejection of the values of the old New Zealand – values associated with the short-back-and-sides generation that ran the rugby union and the RSA.

For many of the protesters, raised in middle-class comfort in the suburbs, confronting police skirmish lines was the closest they had come, or were ever likely to come, to real danger. It could be hazardous, but it was exhilarating.

It's no surprise, then, that aspects of the tour have entered the realms of cultural mythology. It's widely thought, for example, that the police responsible for batoning protesters in Wellington's Molesworth St were members of the famous (infamous?) Red Squad, the elite police team specially formed for the tour. In fact, the Red Squad was nowhere near Wellington that night.

But there's another aspect of the so-called Battle of Molesworth St that needs to be clarified.
It's often presented as a brutal, gratuitous attack that came out of the blue. An article in this paper last Saturday perhaps unwittingly reinforced that impression. But the truth is that Blind Freddy and his dog could have seen the confrontation coming, even if the protesters didn't.

I had taken part in the protest rally that preceded the march up Molesworth St that night. The police had co-operated fully, but then the protest leaders announced a previously undisclosed plan to march on the South African consulate. That wasn't part of the deal with the police.

Inspector Bert Hill gave a clear warning of the likely consequences. "I am sorry, we cannot let you walk on Molesworth St," he said through a megaphone. "Please do not go onto Molesworth St and block the street."

The protest leaders ignored him. Only four days before, protesters had succeeded in forcing the abandonment of the Springbok match against Waikato. They probably thought they were unstoppable.

But police pride had been seriously hurt at Hamilton and it should have been obvious that they weren't about to be humiliated again. Their credibility was at stake.

Small wonder that the night air was soon filled with the sound of batons striking protesters' heads. Despite opposing the tour, I thought my fellow demonstrators brought the battering on themselves that night.
* * *

HAYDN JONES, who writes an entertaining column in this paper's Your Weekend magazine, devoted his most recent piece to the subject of single-income families.

He's the sole earner for his young family and says their one luxury is that his wife stays at home and looks after the children. They can afford to do this, because they live in a relatively cheap provincial city.

His Auckland friends put their children into daycare and spend so many hours at work that they have little energy left at weekends.

Jones laments that often both parents have to work to put food on the table. He adds: "That's the great New Zealand tragedy."

But is it? I agree that it's sad, but I don't believe parents have no option.

That may sometimes be the case, but more often it comes down to choice. It's a tradeoff: Either they have a good car, a flash house, expensive holidays and modern appliances, or they accept a lower standard of living in return for the benefits of spending precious time with their children – something they will never get a second crack at.

Jones and his wife have chosen the latter, and good on them. Plenty of other young parents could do the same; it's all a matter of expectations.

* * *

WAS THERE ever a sillier euphemism than the expression "to sleep with" someone, meaning to have sex with them?

I recall reading an interview with Bill Wyman, the most carnally active member of the Rolling Stones, which referred to him sleeping with 265 women in three months.
Good grief. They must have been short naps.

Recently, this nonsensical term cropped up again. A columnist in the British Spectator wrote that the racing driver James Hunt was alleged to have "slept with" 33 British Airways stewardesses in two weeks.

This coy phrase dates back to a time when polite people couldn't quite bring themselves to mention sex explicitly. How it survives in an era when we insist on being shamelessly blunt about most other things is a mystery.


1 comment:

Jigsaw said...

You are certainly correct about the 1981 Springbok tour but this nostalgia for the largely invented past seems a pecular pastime of the left. Chris Trotter writes well but every event like the tour is viewed through very rose(red) tinted glasses and the embelishments turn quite easily into 'facts' about the event.
As one who isn't even slightly interestied in sport and has a long held very negative attitude to rugby I wasn't in a geographical not a family position to do anything at the time and although I detested Muldoon I could see both sides. The cry of 'lets leave sport out of politics'or was it the other way around really was pathetic I thought. Politics was part of education, health and any number of areas one could wish that it wasn't,but it was and is.Why should sport escape. Now we see the very public aspect of racism with the preferencial treatment of Maori and where is the hue and cry?