A tweet from Phil Goff was a reminder that today is the anniversary of the death of Norman Kirk, a much loved NZ Labour Prime Minister, who died suddenly at the age of 51 in 1974. “Big Norm” was the fifth New Zealand PM to die in office.
To quote Michael Bassett in the Dictionary of NZ Biography :
“New Zealanders awoke on the Sunday to the news that their Prime Minister was dead. There followed an outpouring of grief paralleled only by that which had followed M.J. Savage’s death in 1940. People who had been slow to embrace Kirk as a leader could not believe that he had been snatched away, seemingly in his prime. As the Labour Party slid towards defeat at the 1975 election, legends grew about the man who might have saved the country from Muldoon. Princes, prime ministers and potentates with whom Kirk had established friendships also mourned his passing; most thought him an extraordinary individual, and the “log cabin to White House” metaphor was on many lips.”
I’m old enough to remember his death, and was young enough at the time for his short tenure as PM to make a formative impact on my fledgling political views. Norman Kirk’s strong protest against French nuclear weapons testing in the Pacific Ocean, which led to the Labour Government taking France to the International Court of Justice in 1972 and his heroic act of sending two New Zealand navy frigates into the test zone area at Mururoa Atoll in 1973 to protest French testing made a big impact. Kirk also refused to allow a visit by a South African rugby team team, a decision he made because of the apartheid régime in South Africa – which was a forerunner to the 1981 Springbok Tour actions.
I strongly recall the sense that something good and promising with his election as a Labour Prime Minister had disappeared, followed soon after by the malevolent and all-pervading presence of Muldoon – which in its weird way was also transformative for my generation.
And of course, only a taste of what was to come.