A novel study by William Nand (Year 9, Major)
About the 1981 Springbok tour:
The 1981 Springbok tour was a turning point in New Zealand’s history that would pit Kiwi against Kiwi. At this time, New Zealand was a rugby nation and there was a huge rivalry between us and South Africa. However, at the same time, apartheid was in place in South Africa that stripped black South Africans and others of basic human rights. There were pro-tour supporters who argued that politics should not be involved in sport. But there were also anti-tour protestors, who thought that the tour was supporting apartheid on a world stage and dishonouring the 1977 Gleneagles Agreement - an agreement between commonwealth nations to boycott South Africa. The tour would be a fierce standoff between these two beliefs, that would show what kind of nation we truly were.
This term 9.ELL have been reading ‘In Our Own Backyard’, by New Zealand author Anne Kayes. This novel explores how the main character, Liza Newland, a fifteen-year-old girl living in New Zealand during the 1981 Springbok tour, questions the dynamics of her own relationships and racism within ‘our own backyard’ through the micro and macro lenses. These perspectives in turn represent the heart of what the Springbok tour represents; the theme of power and control. After all, the tour went ahead because the New Zealand government ignored our power after signing the Gleneagles agreement, in order to play a team that had racism written on its face and gain pro-tour votes in the upcoming election which they won.
The class studied this theme, working towards our end of term closed reading assessment and essay. Along the way however, we were privileged to hear from four speakers and their different perspectives:
- Ms Anne Kayes: The author of the novel who spoke to our class in Literacy week
- Mr Naidoo, Accounting teacher at King’s: Someone who experienced the apartheid regime in South Africa
- Mr Bentley, our teacher’s father: Who organised an anti-tour protest in his local town, Pahiatua, in Northern Wairarapa
- Mr Syms, Head of Admissions at King’s: Who was pro-tour as a university student playing rugby in 1981.
From these speakers we really got a deeper understanding of the novel, apartheid, and the mood in New Zealand during the tour.
A highlight of Ms Kayes’ visit was her reading of the first chapter, labeled ‘The Social’, where Liza is at a party that ends up in a tense front off between a Polynesian and Pakeha group. Ultimately, the class was introduced to the idea of racism in 1980s New Zealand and Liza questioned this, by her reflections on how wrong the event was. Seeing the author’s perspective on the book through the way she read it, really highlighted this mood.
Mr Naidoo really helped the class visualise how unequal life was like in South Africa. There were four main racial groups, each with its own area, with white people getting the central area with the best infrastructure and opportunities. It would be as if the Ministry of Education building in Wellington was split into four levels, the highest level and best views for Pakeha and the worst for other racial groups. People just toed the line, because they didn’t want trouble, which was ultimately a sign of power and control just as the theme of Kayes’ book looks to demonstrate what the tour represents for many people about the Springbok tour.
Mr Bentley, showed us a fine display of an anti-tour perspective, and the courage to stand up for what he thought was right. In 1981, he was a history teacher at Tararua college, coaching the first fifteen rugby team and working alongside both Māori and Pakeha. So, when he heard of the Springbok tour and their all-white team, he decided to organise a protest in his conservative area, Pahiatua. He got permission from police and during a lunch break, with just one other teacher marched to the post office where the protest would start. However, once he arrived he found he had supporters of over one hundred, including Ranfurly Jacob, an ex-Māori All Black. But still there was no safety in numbers, even receiving a phone call that his house would be burnt down. He was not protesting against rugby, as he was a coach for goodness sake, but he was protesting against racism. It was very powerful for the class to see how strongly the tour made Kiwis feel.
Mr Syms, demonstrated how divisive the tour was, as if there was a harbour bridge between people. In 1981, New Zealand was a rugby nation and South Africa was one of our biggest rivals. Mr Syms was a twenty one year old playing rugby for university, his brother played for the Auckland team, and his Father ran Eden Park. So, he saved up his university fees to see a good game of rugby. He admitted, that pro-tour supporters were self-centered in how they did not care what other people thought and excused it through the fact that rugby should not be involved in politics. However, it must also be understood that New Zealand did not know what it was getting itself into. Friendships would come to be ruined, it dominated media and conversation, and the country was divided. He described a friend who was pro-tour and whose wife was anti-tour. They would not speak to each other for weeks. The tour was not just a battlefield, it was a civil-war of polar beliefs.
This was an outstanding unit highlighted by the personal experiences we were able to visualise through these four interviews. All in all, they highlight the theme of power and control, that was at the heart of apartheid, of the Springbok tour and of the novel.
Government officials based their actions on what would get them the most power, and with no heart at all they carried this out, as bystanders to racism in South Africa and in New Zealand to play rugby. Before the tour, New Zealand prided itself on having some of the finest race relations in the world, but the tour made New Zealanders ask a key question: “If you campaign about race in South Africa, what about at home?.” This is what this novel highlights; a turning point in New Zealand’s history that looked to better acknowledge the place of Māori in New Zealand, in our own backyard.