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Influentials: Speeches that helped shape us

A look at some words of significance in New Zealand's history.

Samuel Marsden, Bay of Islands, Christmas Day, 1814, while delivering the first Christian service in New Zealand
“Behold I bring you good tidings of great joy.” (More info here.)

Portrait of Tamati Waka Nene, by by G F Angas. Image/
Alexander Turnbull Library

Tamati Waka Nene, at Waitangi on February 5, 1840
The Nga Puhi chief spoke strongly in favour of the Treaty of Waitangi, saying it was too late for Maori to turn their backs on the Europeans and the things they had brought with them. His intervention was crucial to the acceptance of the Treaty by other chiefs.

Governor William Hobson at the signing of the Treaty at Waitangi, February 6 1840
“He iwi tahi tatou – we are one people.”

Rewi Maniapoto (or another Maniapoto speaker), Orakau, April 1,1864, following defeat in battle against the British forces
“Ka whawhai tonu mātou, āke, āke, āke!” – we shall fight on, for ever, and ever, and ever!” (More info here.)

Samuel Parnell, the father of the eight-hour day, on Labour Day, 1890
“I feel happy today because the seed sown so many years ago is bearing such abundant fruit and the chord struck at Petone 50 years ago is vibrating round the world, and I hope I shall live to see eight hours a day as a day’s work universally acknowledged and become the law of every nation of the world.”

Kate Sheppard, on the legal position of women in the family
There is “no greater anomaly than the exaltation by men of the vocation of wife and mother on the one hand, while, on the other, the position is by law stripped of all its attractiveness and dignity, and a wife and mother is regarded not only as a ‘dependent’ on her husband’s bounty, but even the children of her own body are regarded as his legal property”.

Left to right: Winston Churchill, Bernard Freyberg and Bernard Montgomery. Photo/Harold Paton

Sir Maui Pomare at the tangi for the prophet Te Whiti, leader of Parihaka, in 1907
“The old order has changed; your ancestors said it would change. When the net is old and worn it is cast aside, the new net goes fishing. I do not want to blame the old net; it was good in its day, and many fish were caught in it. But the old net is worn with time and we must go fishing with the new net our brother has brought us. We must advance by work, for therein lies our only salvation.”

Michael Joseph Savage, September 5, 1939, when declaring war on Germany
“With gratitude for the past and confidence in the future we range ourselves without fear beside Britain. Where she goes, we go; where she stands, we stand. We are only a small and young nation, but we are one and all a band of brothers and we march forward with a union of hearts and will to a common destiny.” (More info here.)

Bernard Freyberg speaking on Empire Day, 1949
“We know that in this country are people who would like to see the British Empire fall to pieces. We must see that these people are kept in their places and are not allowed to interfere, [and] when that time comes, those who do not abide by any laws and who do not know where the belt is should not themselves be treated under Marquess of Queensberry rules.” (More info here.)


Mabel Howard.

Mabel Howard, Parliament, September 22, 1954
In a debate on the Merchandise Marks Bill, Howard – who in 1947 had become New Zealand’s first female Cabinet minister – waved two pairs of bloomers before an astonished House to make the point that some OS items were much smaller than others. (More info here.)

Germaine Greer, Auckland, 1972
Used the words “bullshit” and “fuck” in a speech and was arrested for it.

Norman Kirk, June 25, 1973, while on the waterfront as the frigate Otago left for Moruroa Atoll as part of a New Zealand Government protest against French nuclear testing in the South Pacific
“We are a small nation, but we will not abjectly surrender to injustice. We have worked against the development of nuclear weapons everywhere and anywhere.” (More info here.)

Norman Kirk, February 6, 1973, announcing the anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi as an annual holiday, to be named New Zealand Day
“This day will become New Zealand’s day and will be recognised as such.” (More info here.)

Germaine Greer. Photo/NZH

Joe Hawke, Bastion Point, 1977
“We are landless in our own land … To lose this bit of ground would be a death blow to the mana, to the honour and dignity, of the Ngati Whatua people.”

David Dobbyn, December 7, 1984, at the “Thank God it’s Over” concert
When the power went off and there was disorder in the crowd, Dobbyn allegedly said, “I wish those riot squad guys would stop wanking and put their little batons away.” When the concert was cancelled, the crowd rioted. Dobbyn was later acquitted of charges of inciting the riot. (More info here.)

David Lange, March 1985, at the Oxford Union
Debating against US evangelist Jerry Falwell on the proposition “Are nuclear weapons defensible?”, Lange was challenged by a member of the audience as to why New Zealand didn’t do the “honourable” thing and pull out of Anzus. Lange quipped, “Hold your breath, just for the moment – I can smell the uranium on it!” (Watch the moment here.)


Norman Kirk farewelling the HMNZS Otago as she sailed to the Mururoa test zone. Photo/NZH

Bishop Whakahuihui Vercoe, Waitangi, 1990, at the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi
“And I come to the waters of Waitangi to weep for what could have been a unique document in the history of the world.” (More info here.)

Ruth Richardson, Parliament, 1991
Richardson tagged her radical Budget, which slashed welfare spending, as the “mother of all Budgets.” (More info here.)

Anna Paquin, Los Angeles, 1994
Eleven-year-old Paquin took the stage to receive an Oscar for her role in The Piano, and stood gulping and speechless for 21 seconds before finding her tongue. (Watch the moment here.)

Georgina Beyer, June 25, 2003, in support of the Prostitution Reform Bill, describing her experience of a knifepoint attack
“It would have been nice to have known that instead of having to deal out the justice myself afterwards to that person I may have been able to approach the authorities – the Police in this case – and said, ‘I was raped, and yes I’m a prostitute, and no it was not right that I should have been raped because I said no.’” (More info here.)

Don Merton, quoted in the Listener, April 2005
“We don’t have this ancient architecture that we can be proud of and swoon over in wonder but what we do have is something that is far, far older. No one else has kiwi, no one else has kakapo. They have been around for millions of years, if not thousands of millions of years. And once they are gone, they are gone forever. And it’s up to us to make sure they never die out.” (Read the original article here.)

Maurice Williamson. Photo/Mark Mitchell

Michael King, his last interview, March 2004
“I see the great continuities in New Zealand history as being decency and common sense, and up until now when we’ve confronted these things, we’ve been able to talk them through.”

Maurice Williamson, April 17, 2013, in support of the gay marriage bill, which an opponent of the reform blamed for the severe drought
“In the Pakuranga electorate this morning, it’s pouring with rain, and we have this enormous big gay rainbow across my electorate. It has to be a sign, sir!”

Can you think of any speeches we should have included? Please comment below.

Click here to read more from our Influentials series.