A Nation Divided

The Wellington Test Day Protests, 29 August 1981
This exhibition has finished

This exhibition opens at 12 noon, Saturday 29th August, 2021, at Photospace Gallery, 1st floor, 37 Courtenay Place, Wellington, and runs until Saturday 9th October August, 2021.

There will be two more Photospace-hosted Photography Aotearoa exhibitions to follow, through until January 2022. Information about those will be posted in due course (on our new website, which will replace this temporary site soon).

Note: Photospace Gallery opening hours are 10am-3pm Monday-Friday, 11am-2pm Saturday, and the gallery is closed on Sundays and public holidays. Regrettably there is no wheelchair access to the first floor gallery, but the stairs are not steep and have a handrail on both sides. Phone James Gilberd on 027 444 3899 for assistance.

Exhibition info

Coinciding with the 40th anniversary of the 1981 second All Blacks vs Springboks test match in Wellington, Photography Aotearoa is presenting an exhibition of previously unseen photographs by Brian de Montalk of the anti-tour protests that took place in Wellington on the day of the match.

If the Springboks came to New Zealand, predicted Labour Prime Minister Norman Kirk in 1973, it would unleash ‘the greatest eruption of violence this country has ever known.’ When the South African rugby team did tour the country in 1981, Kirk’s prediction proved accurate. Rugby was as much a source of national pride for the South Africans as it was for New Zealanders, but South Africa was under the sway of the racist and repressive apartheid regime and had become a pariah in the international community. New Zealand’s anti-apartheid movement was one of the most vigorous and well-co-ordinated in the world, and the Springboks’ arrival here in July 1981 marked the beginning of 56 days of ‘shame and rage’ with over 200 protests and demonstrations in 28 centres. It was the largest civil disturbance the country had experienced since the 1951 watersiders’ dispute and threatened to rip the veneer from New Zealand’s image as a land of racial tolerance and harmony.

The protests in Wellington on the day of the second test, 29 August 1981, were exceptionally disciplined and well-planned. As the New Zealand Herald reported at the time, ‘For more than seven hours between 8,000 and 10,000 protestors divided into seven squads played an intriguing cat and mouse game which had the police – by their own admission – as stretched as they have been on this Tour.’ The aim was to block spectators’ access to Athletic Park, where the game was being played, spread police resources as thinly as possible, and then, if possible to storm the park itself. Anticipating violence from the police, many protestors carried painted plywood shields and wore chest protectors improvised from cardboard tubing.

The protestors were committed to a policy of non-violent civil disobedience. One strategy was for hundreds of demonstrators to sit down at intersections along the approaches to the park. At other times they stood, arms linked in an expression of solidarity. Violence did erupt, at the corner of Rintoul and Riddiford Streets, when a police wedge drove into a mass of protestors sitting on the footpath and used boots, fists and knees in an attempt to clear the way.

A number of protestors were pushed through a shop-front plate glass window. Later, at the corner of Rintoul and Luxford Streets, the infamous Red Squad drove one group of protestors into another in an ambush and mounted a ‘viscious and brutal attack’ with their long batons. To their credit, the protest marshalls were able to restore order and prevent a riot. It was shocking for people from all walks of life – including clergy, teachers, doctors and lawyers – who thought of themselves as ordinary, law-abiding citizens exercising a democratic right to protest, to find themselves confronted, and assaulted, by police in riot gear with their identity badges concealed under dark blue greatcoats.

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A Nation Divided: Exhibition
Photography Aotearoa is presenting an exhibition of previously unseen photographs by Brian de Montalk of the anti-tour protests that took place in Wellington on the day of the match.
Sunday, August 29, 2021
Saturday, October 30, 2021
Photospace Gallery
37 Courtenay Pl, Wellington ​
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This event is finished
Photographer Biography
Brian de Montalk

Brian de Montalk is a self-taught photographer living in Petone. He developed an interest in street photography while living in London’s East End during the late 1970s, and this interest was rekindled with the 1981 Springbok Tour. Being opposed to the tour, he seized the opportunity to capture a general view of the demonstrations in Wellington, including protestors, tour supporters, police and onlookers. ‘Although many tour supporters were peaceful,’ said Brian, ‘a conspicuous number were visibly angry with the demonstrators, and some – particularly groups outside pubs – taunted demonstrators, to the extent of throwing glassware from the Caledonian Hotel in Adelaide Rd, with resulting injury.’ Unlike most professional photojournalists of the time, Brian used colour film, and this gives his images a unique point of difference from those published at the time.

His photographs have never before been exhibited or published, and with the intimacy and immediacy of direct involvement they serve as a vivid reminder of a difficult and distressing time in history. Photography Aotearoa, a charitable trust established to ‘inspire, enrich and encourage photography in Aotearoa New Zealand’, is proud to be presenting this exhibition featuring 36 of Brian’s photographs, to be opened exactly 40 years after the events they depict.

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