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Springbok Tour 1981

BY: CRYSTAL ARDERN

PUBLISHED: WAIKATO TIMES 22 JULY 2006, D7

16323.jpg25 July 1981, Hamilton's Rugby Park was the scene of the mass demonstration and protest of the Springbok Tour in New Zealand

If you type Springbok Tour, 1981 into the Waikato Museum database, you get 229 results. 229 objects that represent the tour that ripped the nation apart. Over 150,000 Kiwis took part in mass demonstrations and protests against the tour, believing that to play sport with South Africa was to condone the abhorrent practice of Apartheid. Hundreds of thousands of others were angry about this unwelcome intrusion of politics in sport, believing that the two issues were entirely separate. A potent cocktail of passionate protestors and feverish fans bubbled furiously during the 56-day tour, separated only by the thin blue line. This passion and fury, and realisation that they were a part of history, led to a lot of donations to the Waikato Museum.

Scrolling through the list you see scores of photos from the infamous Rugby Park match, which was cancelled on July 25, 1981. Photographs from Kees Sprengers, John Mercer, Geoff Short, and Peter Black record the stalwart protestors, the angry fans, the strained police. The snapshots record violence and hatred, and it is hard to believe that this was Hamilton. Jeni Palmer remembers her father turning on the TV to watch the game, and being absolutely riveted by the events at Rugby Park; I just couldn't believe that this was Hamilton.

The collection also preserves dozens of protest posters. Some are glossy numbers 'Apartheid is pronounced Apart HATE', others have been scrawled in vivid 'Assemble at Knox Street, July 3rd, 6.45 pm'. People often think that something has to be old, to be important in a museum collection. But the majority of these posters were donated or purchased only a few years after the tumultuous protests in Hamilton. There was a realisation even during the tour, that this was a defining moment in Hamilton's history. Other posters include 'Springbok, the big white lie', with a large springbok head and swastika, 'Stop the bloody tour' and 'National Days of Shame - Gisborne and Hamilton'.

Protest badges, arm bands, letters and pamphlets are also part of the Springbok collection, as is a typed song sheet with familiar tunes, such as Skip to my loo and Blowing in the wind, with new lyrics. To the tune of the Hokey Pokey: You put your batons in, you put your batons out, you put your batons in and you shake them all about. A little bit of violence, that's what you like, that's what it's all about! The chorus of course was changed to do the pokey pokey, in reference to the new long batons which were introduced during the tour. Other songs call on Maori to get up and fight for your rights. Indeed for many the protests during the tour transcended the issue of Apartheid. They were about accusations of an inherent racism in our own society, and our own unresolved colonial past.

A chest protector was one of the 229 objects that caught my eye. I expected something plastic, firm and steady. But carefully wrapped in tissue was a homemade chest protector, 8 thick cardboard rolls glued together, wrapped in cardboard with a piece of rag to tie it around the back. It would have no value in any overseas institution, but the chest protector, fashioned merely from cardboard, will remain in the Waikato Museum collection as part of our history, and the 1981 tour story.