Wolfgang Rosenberg

- by Murray Horton

Wolfgang Rosenberg died, in Christchurch, in February 2007, aged 92. He had lived an extraordinarily long, active, distinguished and fascinating life, but his final years were one long ordeal of poor health (in 1998 he got shingles in his eyes which substantially contributed to his subsequent blindness and left him in constant pain, requiring constant care and eventually admission to a retirement home). After nearly a decade of suffering, he was more than ready to go, and his death, although long expected, was extremely sudden. It must have been a relief for him and his family.

Regular Watchdog Writer

Wolf Rosenberg requires no introduction to Watchdog readers. He was a foundation member of CAFCINZ (now CAFCA) more than 30 years ago and an extremely regular writer for Watchdog during the past couple of decades (once he had lost the previous outlet for his copious writings, namely his much beloved creation, the former New Zealand Monthly Review). There were a number of mainstream media obituaries for Wolf but that by Bob Edlin, for the Independent business weekly paper (21/2/07), was unique in that it highlighted Wolf’s CAFCA connection, and actually quoted from the last article that he wrote for Watchdog (“A Play Of Hamlet Without The Prince”, his review of the 1999 World Investment Report by the United Nations Centre on Trade and Development, Watchdog 94, August 2000, which can be read online at As the online Watchdog only goes back as far as 1999, only two of Wolf’s articles for us are available online – the only other one being his earlier review of the 1998 World Investment Report - but there’s plenty in the hard copy sets). To quote from his review of the 1999 Report:

“I consider that the central threat arising from foreign investment in New Zealand arises through its effect on the balance of external payments. There have been years when New Zealand has had a surplus of exports over imports - but recently never enough to pay for the cost of profit and interest on foreign debt and foreign investment; the latter contracting now the entire additional loans incurred by the New Zealand economy and now exceeding $NZ100 billion by a substantial margin (as of September 2006, NZ’s total private and public foreign debt had reached $182 billion. Ed). This means that every time you buy a railway ticket, or you turn the light on or buy a loaf of bread or drink a glass of beer you increase the national debt. In the long run it is the creditors who determine how our country should be run and ‘Democracy’ is only a fig leaf which the public relations experts of the foreign controlled media, etc, use to hide from the view of New Zealand and indeed, world citizens, the power of transnational corporations - financial and non-financial - which have penetrated the world...

"’Free trade’ means, in fact, becoming part of the transnational empire of monopolists and oligopolists for the benefit of the shareholders and executive personnel who make up the ruling class of the world…In fact, the word ‘competitive’ in the journalese of today merely means low wages and supply prices to transnational corporations (TNCs) - it does not mean that in the fields of international trade there is fair competition between the small and the TNCs…”. That gives you a small reminder of Wolf’s cogent analyses that were a central feature of Watchdog during the last decade of the 20 th Century.

And Wolf’s articles wouldn’t be complete without tables (which drove our layout editor mad). In all seriousness, he told me that every article in Watchdog could be reduced to one table, so that the whole issue could be a series of tables (which led to a wag suggesting that this obituary should be written as a table). He was a nuisance to yours editorially also, because the world of computers was a step too far for this quintessential son of the typewriter age, meaning that all his articles had to be retyped into the word processor before they went into Watchdog (actually as someone who spent decades as a one finger typist before being dragged kicking and screaming into the computer age, I greatly admired Wolf’s devotion to his old typewriter). But by the time he wrote that last article for us (quoted above) his eyesight had deteriorated to such an extent that retyping it involved quite a degree of intelligent guesswork.

Wolf played various other roles of vital assistance to CAFCA and to me personally. For several years he was our auditor (until his health put paid to that as well). He was an advisor on how to structure the organisation (such as when we made it into an incorporated society in the 1980s, complete with rules, elections, an Annual General Meeting and published accounts). Even in habits as simple as clipping newspapers for reference files, he was an inspiration. He and Ann, his wife of 61 years, were 1991 foundation pledgers to the CAFCA/ABC Organiser Account, which provides my income, support that has survived his death.

I knew Wolf in many contexts, not simply that of CAFCA and Watchdog. I’ve known the Rosenberg family since the end of the 1960s, first meeting the eldest son, George, who was a leading member of the Wellington Progressive Youth Movement (I was in the Christchurch PYM). Bill and I go back to the 1972 anti-bases campaign to protest at the former US Air Force installation on University of Canterbury land atop the Mackenzie Country’s Mount John, several years before the creation of CAFCINZ (of which Bill was a founder and remains a driving force today). I didn’t do Economics, so I was never a student of Wolf’s at Canterbury (and I never used his professional services during his post-retirement career as a lawyer). I didn’t know him as a young man or even a middle aged one, so it was a revelation, at his funeral, to see photos of him taken decades before. When I first met him, he was 57, a year older than I am now (a sobering thought) – I interviewed him for Canta, the student paper, about his recent sabbatical trip through the former Second World (what the media of the time called “the Communist bloc”), in both Europe and Asia.

Of course, I had previously known of him, as he was Christchurch’s most famous “Old Left” figure and the veteran spokesman for the Canterbury Council for Civil Liberties. In that capacity he was a regular attendee at the protests that came thick and fast in those turbulent years. I have an enduring memory of him from one such early 70s’ demo, when PYM marched to the Christchurch beach where a surf lifesaving team from apartheid South Africa was competing against New Zealand, in defiance of world opinion. We encountered a very hostile reception from the crowd of several thousand spectators, who bombarded us with driftwood and pies and anything else they could lay their hands on. We promptly fled, abandoning our plan to burn a large cross a la the Ku Klux Klan (a US white racist terrorist group). My old political mentor, the late Keith Duffield (see my obituary of Keith in Watchdog, March 1979. MH), was made of sterner stuff and proceeded to parade the unburnt cross (ironic really, as he was a Communist atheist) up and down the beach, oblivious to the baying mob. He was accompanied by two others, of whom Wolf was one. That took guts by all three of them.

Wolf was a consummate committee man, but I only ever served on one with him. In 1974 I attended a public meeting to found the New Zealand Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Society and was startled from my torpor when Wolf publicly invited me to join the committee. I did so, with no great enthusiasm I must confess, and remained on that committee for the best part of a decade until the misgivings that I had always had (and continue to have) about North Korea led me to resign. I never did get a trip to Pyongyang out of it, but I did score a packet of ginseng tea (sent registered from North Korea) and a pair of fairly lethal looking steel chopsticks. The Society is still going today (so it’s even older than CAFCA) and is needed more than ever. To his dying day Wolf was a great fan of North Korea, despite criticisms of it from both Left and Right.

He Saved Me From Prison & He Showed Me Berlin

Wolfgang Rosenberg was, indirectly, responsible for my working for the Railways for 14 years. In 1976, I returned to Christchurch after more than a year living in Sydney and was promptly arrested at a demo in the Square for refusing to paying court costs in a private prosecution I had unsuccessfully brought against a cop the previous year (it’s a long story, which somebody else can write up in my obituary). I was staring down the barrel of several months, at $2 per day, in the old Addington Prison (now a boutique backpackers’ hotel in my suburb). But within a couple of hours Wolf turned up at Christchurch Police Station and paid the $100 – a substantial sum in those days. I felt honour bound to get a job and pay him back. Jobs still grew on trees in those days and the Railways was one of the biggest trees, so I got one there, intending to pay him back (which I did as my first priority) and stay six months. One thing led to another and I stayed more than 14 years. In 1978, on several months leave from the Railways, I went around the world on my Big OE and was bemused to receive a Reply Paid telegram from him (no e-mail, Skype, online chatting, fax or mobiles in those days) at my London address inviting me to become the Editor of Monthly Review. I declined, because it didn’t pay, and I couldn’t afford to do that while living on the smell of an oily rag.

In 1984, whilst on another European expedition, I was privileged to gain an insight into Wolf’s background. We had established that we were both going to be in the former West Berlin at the same time, so we arranged to meet and he spent an evening showing me the Berlin of his childhood and youth. It was a fascinating night as we toured that most interesting of cities (he was crossing the next day into his much preferred East Berlin). He could remember Zeppelins passing overhead, and told a wonderful story about his mother, who was so impressed by the fact that the first crowned head to visit the 1920s’ Weimar Republic (which briefly existed between the Kaiser and the Fuehrer) was the progressive King of Afghanistan, that she insisted that Wolf should learn Farsi as his preferred foreign language (funnily enough, he didn’t). His family expressed astonishment when I told them that he had shouted me beer and sausages, as they had not previously associated him with such largesse.

Strikingly Different

Throughout the three and a half decades that I knew Wolf, he was always strikingly different from everyone else that I knew. Part of that, of course, was because he was a foreigner with a German accent and had a very European air about him. He was impeccably Old World in his manners; the worst thing he would ever say about Sir Robert Muldoon, his old adversary, was that he was “such a rude man” (so I knew that he was on the brink of spontaneous self-combustion when he referred to Sir Roger Douglas as “fucking Douglas”).

Everything about Wolf had its own style – he dressed in a combination of beret, duffel coat and pinstripe jacket. He rode – hardly ever turning on the motor – a moped, which caused quite spectacular rush hour traffic jams in central Christchurch. My central city dentist told me that he was often tempted to stick his head out of his surgery window and shout: “Turn the motor on, you silly old bugger”. Wolf’s moped riding made such an impression in itself that, on the day of his funeral, the Manager of the NZ Postshop that had issued him with his licence plate, nearly a decade earlier, could still recite its number to me. I knew that it must be serious when he left the table during one family dinner party only a few years ago, and it was explained that a man had arrived who was going to swap one good moped for the several dysfunctional ones that Wolf owned.

Those dinner parties were a memorable constant feature of those decades – I went there by myself, with Bill and Dianne and their kids, with my former partner, with my wife Becky (and her Filipino family on one occasion), and with various friends. Wolf was a wonderful host (I remember his astonishment that I was a New Zealander who didn’t like oysters, which he had taken to with gusto since living here, having previously seen them as being only affordable by millionaires).

For 50 years he and Ann lived in their beautiful home on the Cashmere Hills (their health forced them to come down onto the flat a few years ago), a house full of books, art and music, and wonderful exotica (such as a preserved snake in a bottle next to a photo of an in-law shaking hands with Chairman Mao). He loved riding his moped down that terrifyingly steep road (his inner hoon led to him doing it sometimes without brakes, which led to at least one spectacular crash and the worst possible outcome – injured hands, which meant that he couldn’t type for a while). We regularly used to run into them at cinemas and art galleries. He was always very helpful – when Becky agonised over having to swear allegiance to the Queen (a very odd concept to someone from a republic) in order to become a citizen, Wolf reassured her that he had done so with alacrity, having seen this country and its peculiar ties to a foreign monarchy as a literally lifesaving haven when he had arrived as a 22 year old refugee from Naziism. And he had the most keenly inquiring mind of anyone I’ve met. Until he was stricken by shingles, aged 83, he was the oldest practicing lawyer in Christchurch. He turned up at our place one day in the 90s, on his moped, to tell us that he’d spent a fascinating day listening to a very expensive London hairdresser give evidence as a Crown witness in one of Christchurch’s most high profile criminal trials of recent history (the Poisoned Professor case, which would have whetted Wolf’s love of both academia and the law). He regaled us with the details from the evidence given of how poison can be detected in hair. To use his own favourite phrase: “How very interesting”.

High Profile Economist For Decades

Wolf was best known as an extremely influential economist for several decades. To quote the eulogy by Bill Willmott, his old friend and colleague: ‘As an economist, Wolf was known as a nationalist, advocating border controls that would assure full employment – at a time when mainstream economic thought was already besotted with so-called free trade and unfettered market mechanisms. Wolf argued that the whole purpose of economic activity ‘is to provide the opportunity for creative and active participation for every New Zealander in a growing economy’”. There was never any doubt about what he advocated – for example, a 1972 booklet was titled” Import Controls And Full Employment…or Else”. In 1986, he wrote “The Magic Square: What Every New Zealander Should Know About Rogernomics And The Alternatives”. The four sides of his magic square were: full employment, economic growth, price stability and external balance. To achieve the balance needed to make it all work, Wolf argued for an active State intervention in the economy, with import controls the key. The well known economist, Brian Easton (who credited Wolf with his becoming an economist, and was a friend and colleague for decades) devoted one of his Economy columns in the Listener (15/1/94, “A Wolf In Lion’s Clothing”) to summarising Wolf’s “basic thesis”, as spelled out in his early 90s’ book “New Zealand Can Be Different And Better”.

  • “Economic policies must be formulated within the nation. Internationalism is desirable. It is cooperation between healthy nations. Transnationalism ignores national sovereignty and renders economic policies, which look towards the welfare of a nation, impossible.
  • “Without being able to pay its way internationally, a nation’s independent existence becomes threatened.
  • “There is no automatic mechanism in existence that keeps a nation’s imports within the limits of its exchange earning capacity.
  • “For that reason, without foreign trade and exchange controls, a nation cannot maintain external balance and full employment simultaneously.
  • “Protection and import controls are a necessary but not sufficient condition for the success of full employment policies.
  • “Planned policies of using internal resources for investment and qualitative improvement of the people and resources of New Zealand can only be successful if they do not cause foreign exchange crises. Import substitution, export promotion, social improvement of health and education, greater Maori self-determination and nature’s conservation and enhancement are essential conditions for full employment.
  • “What is needed for full employment in an environment of pervasive high-tech developments is a two-tier economy. On one tier, there must be support of advanced techniques for export production through Government-supported and intensified research and development, plus an expanding basis of universally accessible education. On the other tier, there must be availability of low-tech employment. Examples are developments such as scenic walkways, road maintenance and improvement, expansion of residential and public building programmes, educational and health developments”.

That same article by Brian Easton made it clear that Wolf was also very well versed in the writings of the 18 th Century father of capitalist economics. “Recently he took a copy of Adam Smith’s ‘Wealth Of Nations’ from the bookshelf in his living room, insisting I read a section on the international mobility of capital. It argues, he points out, the need for trade and exchange controls (how many economists have a copy of Adam Smith kept in their living room, or even read it?)”.

Influenced Political Leaders From Kirk To Anderton

Wolf’s economic ideas were not confined to the ivory towers of the University of Canterbury. Bill Willmott’s eulogy quotes a senior member of the 1972-75 Labour government as remembering that “in 1972 Norman Kirk (Prime Minister, 1972-74. Ed.) told his Labour MPs that Wolfie’s book on full employment was required reading”. The late Bill Rowling, who succeeded Kirk as Prime Minister (see my obituary of Rowling in Watchdog 81, April 1996. MH.), wrote the Foreword to “New Zealand And The World: Essays In Honour Of Wolfgang Rosenberg”, published to mark Wolf’s retirement from Canterbury in 1980. Rowling wrote:

“Wolfgang Rosenberg has had a singular influence on the development of New Zealand economic policy. His contribution has always been vigorous, independent, and above all, related to his personal concern for the wellbeing of people. From the time I was an Economics student at Canterbury University, I have never ceased to be impressed with the dedication and sincerity which Wolfgang has applied to his work and his beliefs. Over the years he has offered me a great deal of friendly advice and, when he thought the occasion demanded, criticism of my own contributions to economic policy.

“Wolfgang is an individual who has consistently refused to bend to the will of the Establishment. He has never accepted, or been part of, what we might call the ‘conventional wisdom’ of market economics. Unlike so many of his profession, he has never been prepared to agree that a pool of unemployment is either necessary or acceptable in New Zealand. On the contrary, he has worked to build an economic framework that removes the ‘need’ for unemployment.

“There are many nowadays who see a rather facile solution to our economic problems in opening up the New Zealand economy to foreign investors. Almost alone among economists, Wolfgang has warned of both the dangers and the hidden costs of such a path. All New Zealanders who value their independence owe him a debt. He has always been proud to call himself a socialist, and he has a very clear philosophy to back that up…” (not that he came up to the standards of the several past and present varieties of “real” socialists in New Zealand, who were given to declaring him, and CAFCA, “bourgeois nationalists”. Oh dear.).

Of course, Wolf and Labour went in opposite directions from the 1980s onwards and his advice was neither sought nor heeded by any subsequent Labour Prime Minister or Minister of Finance. “The Act government (his name for it) from 1984 to 1990 destroyed full employment. That was terrible. New Zealand was the only country in the capitalist world that had continuous full employment for 40 years. That meant such a feeling of security. Security is the most wonderful thing there is. Governments since that damn Douglas have had a quest for insecurity. They want people to be relieved they are not sacked” (Listener, 21/10/00; “ Rosenberg’s law: Security above all else should be our national goal, says a father of New Zealand economics”; Bruce Ansley).

Wolf became a supporter of Jim Anderton, when Jim fought a lonely battle within that treacherous Labour government and then walked out of it to found firstly New Labour and then head the Alliance. Wolf’s “New Zealand Can Be Different And Better” came with a back cover tribute from Bill Rowling and the Introduction by Jim Anderton. I well remember the launch of that book – Jim spoke for so long (before Wolf got a chance to have his say) that people could have been forgiven for thinking that he’d written it. It was Jim who was “very proud” to stand in for the Governor-General when Wolf (who was by then too sick to travel to Wellington) was presented at his Cashmere home, in 2000, with the Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit award. Wolf told the Press that, despite his failing eyesight, he continued to regularly correspond with Jim about policy and encouraged him to stick to his principles (21/8/00, “Award, advice exchanged”, Bryn Somerville). Wolf remained loyal to Jim throughout the traumatic Alliance split, which saw it disappear from Parliament at the 2002 election, and Jim resurface as the head (and current sole MP) of the Progressives. Wolf was a Jim supporter up until his death. Jim and Carole Anderton attended the funeral – no Labour MPs or Ministers were to be seen.

“To people like the present Minister of Agriculture and Progressive Party leader, Jim Anderton, Rosenberg remained one of the country’s unsung heroes. He was ‘not afraid to go against the orthodox or the powerful’ and crossed swords with Rob Muldoon. ‘During the 1980s and 1990s in particular, when many of his colleagues were enthusiastic for, or muted their criticism of, the prevailing belief in the market as the cure-all of New Zealand’s problems, he was not afraid to speak and publish against the prevailing current’, Mr Anderton said…” (Christchurch Star, Obituary, 28/2/07, “Free-market forces alarmed economist”, Arnold Pickmere).

He Made Enemies In Both National And Labour

Of course, in an academic career at Canterbury that spanned from 1946 to 1980, Wolf didn’t only lecture and influence fledgling social democrats. One of his star students was a young Don Brash (Wolf lived just long enough to see his spectacular fall from the leadership of the National Party in late 2006. See Jeremy Agar’s review of Nicky Hager’s The Hollow Men elsewhere in this issue). Wolf later described Brash as “a good man fallen among economists” (“Reed Book Of New Zealand Quotations”, quoting the Listener, 13/5/91). In the mid 1990s I watched Brash in a TVNZ current affairs documentary about foreign investment (remember when TVNZ current affairs programmes used to be about issues?) saying that he was the only man in NZ to have written two theses on that subject. The first, at Canterbury, under Wolf’s influence, opposed it; the second, at an overseas university, came to the opposite conclusion, the one that he has promulgated ever since.

And it goes without saying that Wolf’s very high profile and frequent pronouncements on economic policy did not go unchallenged by the other side of the argument. Tom Shand, a senior Minister in the 1960-72 National government, scraped the bottom of the barrels of both anti-Communism and anti-Semitism, when he called Wolf something like “an ungrateful Leftwing German Jew” (the implication being that he had abused the hospitality of the country which saved him from the Nazis and gave him a new life) in response to Wolf’s highly critical 1961 pamphlet opposing NZ’s application to join the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The resulting uproar made Wolf a household name. “It seemed to get under Shand’s skin. He made several nasty remarks about me for which he later had to apologise. We later met and became quite good friends” ( Press, Features, 15/4/94; “A Wolf who eats dogma for breakfast”, Christopher Moore). He was a very high profile critic of Muldoon throughout the latter’s reign as, firstly, National’s Minister of Finance and then Prime Minister and Minister of Finance (see my obituary of him in Watchdog 81, April 1996. MH.).

“Among other accomplishments, Rosenberg is credited with having asked the longest ever question on radio. Radio New Zealand archives record his achievement this way: ‘Wolfgang Rosenberg, economist, asks a question of Finance Minister, Robert Muldoon, which at two minutes and 15 seconds is the longest yet (1988) asked on New Zealand radio. Mr Muldoon replies: ‘Well, Mr Rosenberg, I don’t know how many of your listeners followed your figures, but I certainly wasn’t one of them’” (Independent, 21/2/07, Obituary, Bob Edlin). “Muldoon was the last of the old regime. He was trying to abandon import controls, although not altogether. But Think Big was a sensible way of dealing with borrowing. He did borrow overseas, but it would have led to improved import substitution and export capacity. At the time I was very much opposed to Muldoon, because he was such a rude man. But he was economically much more correct than his successor ( Douglas) who was an out-and-out liberaliser. I’ve revised my opinion of him over the years, from very bad to quite good” (Listener, 21/10/00; “ Rosenberg’s law: Security above all else should be our national goal, says a father of New Zealand economics”; Bruce Ansley).

Nor was this opposition confined to National governments. At least the Tories stabbed Wolf in the front; Labour, as is its wont, stabbed him in the back. Starting in the 1940s, during Labour’s longest term in office (1935-49), Wolf was a regular columnist (as Criticus, the pen name that he later used throughout his long writing career with the Monthly Review) for the Labour Party weekly newspaper, the Standard. These columns led the Prime Minister, Peter Fraser, to demand that Wolf be sacked. And he was, in 1951, the year of the epochal waterfront lockout , when Labour was out of office and once the notorious Rightwinger, Fintan Patrick Walsh (who had a long reign as President of the former Federation of Labour) became Managing Editor. A detailed account of this appears in Watchdog 69, April 1992 (“FP Walsh, Special Branch & Wolf Rosenberg”). In the early 1990s Wolf was informed that a historian had come across a file on him from the Police Special Branch (the precursor of today’s Security Intelligence Service), with a handwritten note stating: “Notes supplied by Special Branch to FP Walsh on W Rosenberg when question of his continued employment on Standard being discussed”. Wolf’s writings as Criticus also came to the notice of the US Embassy (CAFCA holds an extensive collection of declassified US Embassy files, kindly gifted to us by a Wellington historian. See Watchdog 65, October 1990; “Spies Amongst Us. How The US Embassy Saw New Zealand, 1945-60”). One of those, from 1950, says: “The opinions of Criticus, the international affairs commentator, are considerably to the Left of the Labour Party in general and should not be taken as expressing the views either of the Standard or the Labour Party Executive”. A 1948 report of a private conversation between a US diplomat and an NZ official said: “Mr Fraser’s favourite newspapers are the New Zealand Herald of Auckland and the Dominion and Evening Post of Wellington, all Opposition papers. He seldom reads the official organs of the Labour Party, the Standard (Weekly) and the Southern Cross in particular. Not only does he not inspire the editorials in these papers, but he seldom even sees them. It is therefore fruitless to analyse these editorials for some hint of the Government’s policy, except insofar as they echo it after it has been announced”.

And Wolf paid the price for his politics in his own long academic career. It was patently obvious that he should have been made a Professor, if not the Head of the Economics Department. Instead he rose no higher than Reader (the modern equivalent is Associate Professor), a rank that he proudly proclaimed for decades after his retirement. He was a voluminous writer of letters to the Press, always signed: W Rosenberg, Reader (retired), University of Canterbury. His last letter to the Editor, written from the retirement home, was published in 2006 – it bewailed what has befallen his old alma mater (which is a whole other article in itself). In these doctorate-obsessed days, it was quaintly reassuring that he did not have a PhD, and remained plain Mr Rosenberg throughout his career.

Proud To Call Himself A Socialist

So what were Wolf’s politics? In his eulogy, Bill Willmott said: “Unlike me, Wolf was never a Communist and always a Communist. He was never a member of a Communist Party but he always believed that a Communist society was desirable and inevitable. ‘Socialism is the economic and social system of the future’, he wrote. ‘It has abolished destitution, disease spread by poverty, ignorance and illiteracy and oppressive inequality over a third of the globe’. He was convinced that socialism, if developed in the reality of the situation rather than from some theoretical plan from elsewhere, would solve New Zealand’s economic and social problems…”. Wolf himself defined socialism as “ cooperation, friendship and living together. The idea that competition can build a better society is inherently absurd. I am quite certain that the present atmosphere in which we live will change, but how we can rebuild society is another question. The present system has destroyed so much potential” ( Press, Features, 15/4/94; “A Wolf who eats dogma for breakfast”, Christopher Moore). Wolf described himself as “a Marxist with a small m’’. He was the driving force behind the University of Canterbury introducing a new inter-departmental course on socialism. To quote Bill Willmott’s eulogy again: “It attracted a good number of students and lasted 20 years, taught by a dozen or so socialists on campus”.

When I first met Wolf, in the early 1970s, it was interview him for Canta, the University of Canterbury student newspaper, about his most recent sabbatical trip through the former socialist world. It was his third such sabbatical trip (he told me, with amusement, that on his 1960s’ trip to Hungary a waiter had said: “Everything is bad here, and you know why – all the economists are Jews”). On his 1972 sabbatical (which was to be his final one before his 1980 retirement) he travelled extensively throughout Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, the Balkan socialist counties, China and North Korea. Precisely because he was not aligned to any of the rival Communist parties in New Zealand he was able to travel unrestricted to and from and between socialist countries that were bitter enemies (this was at the height of the Sino-Soviet split that seriously threatened war. I travelled through both of those countries later in the 70s and the propaganda in each depicted the other as their main enemy). In the Balkans, Chinese-aligned Albania was the fierce enemy of all the other neighbouring socialist countries, none more so than the former Yugoslavia. Viewed from the perspective of 35 years later, Wolf’s observations in that interview are fascinating. To give a few examples: “ China is like drinking a bottle of champagne…Parliamentary democracy is impractical in a country of 800 million… The universal propagation of Mao Ze Dong Thought is the universal propagation of democracy under Chinese conditions…In ten years time North Korea will be as great and as prosperous as Australia…” . He described Hungary as “a very jolly society. My impression was that here I was in a country of ‘socialism without socialists’”, whereas “ Yugoslavia appeared to me to be a country of ‘capitalism without capitalists’” and “Poles are habitual moaners”.

I won’t give any more detailed quotes because it is describing a world (literally, the Second World) which has vanished. For a description of contemporary China, for example, see Jeremy Agar’s review of the documentary “China Blue”, elsewhere in this issue. That late 1980s/early 90s “victory over Communism” left Wolf bitterly disappointed but still a committed supporter of socialism to his dying day. In 2001 he typed his own “Proposal For A Funeral Speech For Wolfgang Rosenberg” and in that he said: “Even at the end of my life when Socialism with a capital S has suffered many defeats, I believe that a society planned for the wellbeing of all its citizens will not form itself by ‘Market’ principles, but must be obtained by the struggle of the disadvantaged classes in cooperation with all citizens of goodwill”.

A Berlin Upbringing In Hitler’s Shadow

Wolfgang Rosenberg was born in Berlin, in 1915, into another vanished world, that of Germany under the Kaiser. The country was at war and his lawyer father was away serving as an interpreter at a camp for French prisoners of war. His earliest memories were of the First World War, and of the political chaos that attended Germany’s defeat and the overthrow of the Kaiser. His formative years were spent in the turbulent 1920s’ of the Weimar Republic, the brief bourgeois democracy that was ended by the 1930s’ ascent to power of Hitler and the Nazis. Among the wonderful exotica on display in his Cashmere home was a one million mark note – that was the amount needed to buy a humble loaf of bread in the hyper-inflation of those years. At a young age he was sent to the French College in Berlin, where he received both his primary and secondary education. As his colleague and friend Winston Rhodes wrote in his essay “The Making Of A New Zealand Economist” (“New Zealand And The World: Essays In Honour Of Wolfgang Rosenberg”, 1980): “One of the results of this exposure to the language and cultures, ancient and modern, of different parts of Europe was that the youthful Wolfgang developed a much broader outlook on human affairs than he might have gained if his early years had been spent in a more rigidly German atmosphere. In particular it tended to foster the Francophile sympathies which he has retained to the present time”. Bill Willmott’s eulogy said: “He manifested the best French academic tradition of publicly involved intellectuals, writing myriad papers and books – and countless letters to the editor – for the general public as well as for his fellow academic economists”.

I am indebted to the Rosenberg family for lending me much material for the purposes of this obituary, and none is more fascinating than the 37 single spaced typed pages of “Berlin Memories” by Wolf’s older brother, the late Gerhard (who also lived most of his life in New Zealand). This is a closely detailed account of family and life in that most epochal of cities in the 1920s and 30s, seen through the eyes of a boy and young man whose entire life and world was about to be overwhelmed and destroyed by a tsunami of malevolence. The big issues of politics are put into boyish perspective – for example, the Reichstag was merely useful as having great steps down which the young Rosenbergs could toboggan in winter. Names are dropped of famous classmates in their elite school, names such as Werner von Braun, who became the father of the Nazi rocket programme in World War Two and then was reinvented as the father of the US space programme. The Rosenbergs were Jews but not religious ones, so anti-Semitic taunts in the street were dismissed as being mere ignorance.

Wolfgang later said: “I never viewed the situation from a Jewish perspective. We saw it from a class perspective. Anti-Semitism in Germany was the stock in trade of political parties long before Hitler. You accepted it as part of the culture in which you lived. The Jewish community in Germany was split between the established middle class Jewish community and the newcomers from Eastern Europe who were predominantly poor and without connections. These were the people who became easy victims together with the sick and the old who could not escape” ( Press, Features, 15/4/94; “A Wolf who eats dogma for breakfast”, Christopher Moore). But the Rosenberg family did not escape unscathed.

What is truly chilling in Gerhard’s “Berlin Memories” is the casual mention of what horrors befell their family. Having given a very detailed account of the various uncles and aunts and cousins (it reminded me of the best kind of European films), one short paragraph then says merely: “All the old people became victims of the Holocaust. (One couple) were deported to Theresienstadt (concentration camp) where they lived for a while, and then no more was heard… The others just disappeared, never to be heard of again”. Writing of his father’s brother and his wife, Gerhard said: “(They) somehow got a warning when the men would come to take them away. They took poison. They left a letter, which was preserved, in which they asked that no attempts at resuscitation should be made”.

Wolf’s father was a Social Democrat, which was a rather radical thing to be in Imperial Germany. As a young man, Wolf joined Socialist Youth, the Social Democrats’ youth wing. His milieu was that of the highly educated, well to do urban bourgeoisie. He told me that he and his fellow socialist youths had an earnest discussion once about whether they would still be able to have servants after the revolution. It is important to realise that Wolfgang was not an academic in Germany and did not become one until he lived in New Zealand. He did not even go to university in Germany, as that was strictly for the ruling class. His career was going to be banking and his first job was as a cadet with the city’s largest State-owned bank, in 1932. He was fired because he was a Jew, so he completed his apprenticeship with two Jewish banks until 1936. He lived under Naziism for several years, but life became progressively more impossible, so he resolved to leave whilst he could get out. He left Germany permanently in December 1936, travelled to England, then across the US to New Zealand, arriving in this country in June 1937, aged 22. It was to be his home for the next 70 years. He chose NZ because it was as far away as possible from Hitler’s Germany and because, as an eight year old , he’d been utterly fascinated to receive a postcard from a family friend here. On it was written: “This is a country without beggars”, a completely revolutionary concept to the inquiring mind of the young Wolfgang. Germany’s loss was to be New Zealand’s gain (Gerhard had moved to England in 1933, to be joined there later by his parents and sister Miriam. The parents received their exit visas the day that war broke out in Europe). It was the mid 1950s before he could bring himself to speak German again – and he could never bring himself to go and see any of the welter of Holocaust movies of recent years. It brought back too many bad memories, he told me.

NZ: Love At First Sight

On his very first day in Wellington, Wolf not only fell in love with New Zealand but also met one very special New Zealander, Ann Eichelbaum, who was to later become his wife for 61 years. However, on that day in 1937, the seven years younger Ann was a teenager attending a piano lesson; the relationship didn’t develop until they were at university together (they got married after the war). In Wolf’s own 2001 “Proposal For A Funeral Speech For Wolfgang Rosenberg” he concluded it with: “And as far as my marriage goes there is more than I can say that I owe to Ann, particularly during these last years when lost my sight and have been suffering from constant tiredness. Thank you Ann!”. For her part Ann told the Press that “if she kept her mouth shut over certain topics ‘he was very nice to live with’” (Obituary, 24/2/07; “Socialist lawyer and economist”, Mike Crean).

They had three children – George, Bill and Vera - and lived the bulk of their married life (50 years) in their lovely Cashmere home, where the high minded dinner table talk was of politics, economics and international affairs (I never did get to discuss my love of rugby with Wolf). Coming from the flatland petit bourgeois suburbs I was fascinated that his kids and grandkids all called him Wolf, or the more affectionate Woof, in contrast to my relationship with my own late father whom I never referred to except as the old man (dreadful old racist that he was, he always lampooned Wolf’s German accent whenever he heard him on radio. The two of them never met, which is a pity because it would have been interesting). Bill once told me, jokingly, that he thought that his father’s reason for having children was so that there would always be someone to fix the cuckoo clock. It was always a pleasure to visit a home full of such interest, intellectual stimulation and emotional warmth.

That, of course, all lay far into the future. On that 1937 day in Wellington he was a new boy in town, a European foreigner with not much English arriving into an isolated Anglocentric society. He needed to find a job – he did so, within four days, cementing his love affair with New Zealand. He worked as a secretary/accountant for a wire cutting factory; then for a radio factory, a match factory and a polish manufacturer. He even milked cows at Pahiatua, in the Wairarapa. He’d been told that in order to meet interesting people he should join a tramping club. He became an active member of the Tararua Tramping Club, although as Winston Rhodes observed: “Wolfgang was better at economics than he was at bushcraft” (essay, “The Making Of A New Zealand Economist” in “New Zealand And The World: Essays In Honour Of Wolfgang Rosenberg”, 1980). Some of Wolf’s longest standing friends and colleagues date from that period and those sort of activities. At his wake, the prominent historian Harry Evison said that when he first met Wolf, in Wellington way back then, he was a young fellow “with lovely curly hair”. Bill interjected expressing amazement, never having met anyone who knew his father when he had hair. His love of the Kiwi bush led to him buying a bach in Arthurs Pass, which the family owned for decades, and I was one of the grateful friends who got to stay in it, on several occasions (it was a great place to get away for a few days of solitary typewriter bashing - if you could ignore the raucous distractions of bludging keas sliding down the iron roof and hopping in the door to pinch food).

He became a part-time student of Economics and Accountancy at Victoria University (which was then, like all its counterparts, simply a College of the University of New Zealand). It only had 850 students. Once he had graduated with a Master of Commerce First Class Honours, he was awarded a travelling scholarship which he wasn’t able to take up until years later. He became a fulltime student and threw himself into student politics, serving two years as Treasurer of the Students’ Association (Ann was on the Executive). And the politics were vigorous, as befitted the times, with the Spanish Civil War flowing seamlessly into World War Two. The Students’ Association sent congratulatory telegrams to Stalin after the Soviet victory at the former Stalingrad (this led to complaints from the College authorities who pointed out that benefactors had removed it from their wills because of similar student activities in the past). Throughout this period he was active in Wellington trade union affairs, the Ngati Poneke Maori Club and the Progressive Publishing Society. Since 1938 he had been writing pamphlets and articles on economic matters.

Inspiring Teacher

The outbreak of war with his recent homeland (the one that would have murdered him if he’d stayed there) led to the idiocy of New Zealand declaring him – a Leftwing German Jew but inarguably a German, even to the extent of loving Wagnerian opera, God help us – to be an enemy alien. At least he wasn’t locked up, unlike hundreds of others, but restrictions were placed on his rights of movement. In 1944 he volunteered for the Air Force (ceasing to be an enemy alien as soon as he did so) and served in the ground staff, exclusively within NZ. “When his mother learnt of his decision, she wrote: ’Wolfgang will always look for the most dangerous assignments’, but she could scarcely have been aware that her son was engaged in dishwashing, in ground training at Harewood and Blenheim, and then in auditing Officers’ Mess Accounts at the different ‘Delta’ camps, that he had never eaten as well as he had at his base camp, nicknamed ‘Hotel Harewood’, and that he was spending much of his time cycling from camp to camp on auditing tasks, enjoying a sleep on the hillsides when the weather was fine” (Winston Rhodes’ essay, “The Making Of A New Zealand Economist” in “New Zealand And The World: Essays In Honour Of Wolfgang Rosenberg”, 1980).

Once he was demobilised, in 1946, he married Ann (and that really was until death did them part. Wolf died the day after their 61 st wedding anniversary). Then he got a job at the University of Canterbury’s Economics Department and he was there until compulsory retirement did them part, aged 65, in 1980 (by one of those strange quirks that reinforces how small NZ is, my Dear Old Dad was the bureaucrat in the former Department of Education who had to process the financial detail’s of Wolf’s retirement. Don’t ask me why). Wolf was a high profile figure within the university during his 35 years there and was a leading figure in opposing any attempts to curb academic freedom during the darkest days of the Cold War. ”It was too short a time. You couldn’t imagine a more satisfactory job when you are paid to do exactly what you are interested in. It was constantly stimulating” ( Press, Features, 15/4/94; “A Wolf who eats dogma for breakfast”, Christopher Moore).

To quote Bill Willmott’s eulogy again. “Wolf was an inspiring teacher. Jeremy Agar (CAFCA committee member, Watchdog’s reviewer. Ed.) sent his condolences to the family with these words: ‘I knew your father only through Stage 1 Economics, but I was intrigued by his talk of the miracle of full employment and other mysteries that I grasped only tenuously. His lectures nurtured in me what has become a lifelong interest in social justice. More than anything, it was the humanity that I sensed in your father that impressed me’”.

He made good use of several sabbaticals in the course of his long career at Canterbury. In 1953 he went to Basle in Switzerland, working for the Bank of International Settlements, ironically enough working with a future Managing Director of the IMF. He also attended an international peace conference in Europe and visited the Soviet Union. In 1962 he took the whole family to Geneva and worked for the United Nations’ Economic Commission for Europe, editing a European study on the timber industry. He again visited the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, including another major international peace conference. I have already detailed his final sabbatical in the early 70s. In 1978, before he retired, he and Ann spent two months in the former East Germany. After he had retired from Canterbury, he continued to travel extensively, including in the socialist countries – in his eulogy, Bill Willmott recounted a hilarious anecdote about Wolf and Ann accompanying him on a 1984 trip to China. “He was so fascinated by our visit to a department store in Guangzhou that he absentmindedly walked out the wrong door, and as our bus driver became more and more frantic about illegally stopping on a main street in rush hour, search parties finally located him a few blocks away, nonchalantly window shopping”.

From Academia To The Law

“When he reached 65, the compulsory retiring age, Rosenberg was not ready to stop work. He had taken a law degree while still lecturing (a sometimes confusing business that once led to Rosenberg mixing up his lectures and having to be reminded by students that he should be giving a lecture rather than sitting waiting for one with them). He wanted to practise with his lawyer son George (as Rosenberg and Father) but George moved overseas and his father eventually went out on his own” (Wolf went to Wellington to do the required practical work in George’s office before he could be admitted to the Bar. George has lived overseas since the early 1980s. Wolf returned to Christchurch, working first with another lawyer, then by himself, operating out of a shoebox office in the Arts Centre. Ed.).

“He took immigration and criminal cases on legal aid. He remained resolute under fire. ‘No’, he declared, when I asked him if it had been depressing. ‘That’s the whole point. The important thing is that you learn that all people are people. There are styles of living and crime is one of them. What we call crime is frequently only stealing or breaking in and that kind of thing. It is not particularly hideous, and to the people who are nice to them they are nice. I always had the best of relations with my clients’ (Listener, 21/10/00; “ Rosenberg’s law: Security above all else should be our national goal, says a father of New Zealand economics”; Bruce Ansley). At his wake, former prison chaplain, Father Jim Consedine, pointed out that Wolf’s kindliness towards these “unfortunates” was abused by at least one of them who stole his moped (which he half pedalled, half scooted all the way out to Paparua Prison on a regular basis to meet his clients). He didn’t ask for payment, relying on the increasingly meagre legal aid which barely covered his costs.

I never had need to avail myself of Wolf’s services as a lawyer (during my “criminal career”, which spanned the 1970s and 80s, I had other lawyers) and never saw him in action in court, so I can’t personally comment on that two decades of his professional life. Nigel Hampton, the high profile Queen’s Counsel said, in his eulogy, that Wolf aimed to “educate the ignorant, meaning judges”. Another lawyer of my acquaintance claimed that Wolf drove judges mad by his lack of adherence to court procedures (the same lawyer had been one of Wolf’s Economics students decades earlier and objected strongly to his advocacy of North Korea as an economic model, so he was probably biased against Wolf anyway). During my 14 years as a Railways labourer I worked with plenty of rough diamonds who kept the Police and courts in business (one has just been sent back to prison having previously escaped and spent a quite extraordinary 17 years on the run). The only direct client feedback I got about Wolf came from one of them, a burly bikie who defined his weekend pursuits as “rape and pillage”. He told me: “That Rosenberg’s fucking useless, he didn’t get me off”. There’s no pleasing some people. “ Rosenberg’s stooped figure on his tiny moped is no longer part of Christchurch life. He had hoped to practise law until he was 90, but his shingles forced him to retire at 83. ‘The bloody shingles’” (Listener, ibid).

Throughout these 52 years of continuous work as an academic and lawyer, his prolific political and economic activities constituted the seamless thread of his life. I’ve already detailed his very high public profile over many decades, bolstered by a stream of books, booklets (called pamphlets in those days), articles, letters to the editor, lectures and speeches, plus innumerable appearances in all media – newspapers, magazines, radio, TV. Wolf was one of the pioneers who warned the country of the dangers of “free trade” – for example, when Closer Economic Relations (CER) with Australia was being hyped in the early 1980s, he correctly foresaw that it would disadvantage New Zealand manufacturers and workers. “The greatest enemy is intellectual sloth. Economics has degenerated to an incredible degree to become a form of pure scholastics – a great medieval science which dictated that certain assumptions had to be accepted, and presented lengthy arguments over questions of how many angels could fit on the head of a pin. That is why I am opposed to a concept like GATT (the former General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, now the World Trade Organisation – WTO. Ed.), which is based on that same economic theology which states that free trade must be good for us and that anyone opposing it must be a heretic. That is dogma” ( Press, Features, 15/4/94; “A Wolf who eats dogma for breakfast”, Christopher Moore).

Monthly Review , Civil Liberties, Etc, Etc

Wolf was a central figure in any number of progressive organisations, some of which I have already mentioned. “Monthly Review was a Christchurch institution, and a landmark of the New Zealand Left, for fully 36 years (1960-96). It was the successor to other Left publications such as Tomorrow and Here and Now. Founded in 1960, it was always Christchurch-based, and for more than quarter of a century featured our very own Wolfgang Rosenberg as the Hon.Sec. (he wrote innumerable articles for it too, both under his own name, and as the columnist ‘Criticus’). The Society published several of his books and pamphlets – his prescient works warning against NZ joining the International Monetary Fund were bestsellers. The last book the Society published was Wolfgang’s 1992 “New Zealand Can Be Different And Better: Why Deregulation Does Not Work”. Wolfgang was greatly saddened by the (1996) closure and declined nomination to the committee overseeing the winding up and disbursement. ‘It was my baby, I did not want to be at its funeral’. Contrary to what a lot of people seem to think, Wolfgang was never editor…

MR’s hallmark was that it was a journal of the independent Left, it was never the ‘property’ of any particular party or group….Nor did it confine itself to politics. It played a great role in fostering New Zealand writing…Writers and poets of the international stature of Janet Frame and Hone Tuwhare wrote for it. All up it was a very successful publication. Started with no capital, it rapidly built up over 2,000 subscribers and the magazine paid for itself out of those subs. It also showcased investigative writing by some of the country’s very best investigators… (such as Owen Wilkes. See my obituary of him in Watchdog 109, August 2005, which can be read online at MH.)... But by the mid 1980s it was in trouble. Subscribers were dropping (the final tally was less than 500), it was in debt, and it was very much a flagship of the Old Left (with emphasis on the Old)… (Watchdog 84, May 1997, Obituary, Monthly Review, Murray Horton). A new group took over the magazine and the society, repudiated the old, headed off in quite a different direction and, within a decade, both the magazine and society had ceased to exist. The bitterness lingers undiluted. At Wolf’s wake one of the old regime editor’s referred to his new regime successor as a “shit”. But Monthly Review’s loss was our gain – Wolf became a regular Watchdog writer, right up until the turn of the century.

Wolf was a founder and long serving secretary and chairman of the Canterbury Council for Civil Liberties. Bill Willmott, in his eulogy, credited Wolf for getting him actively involved in the Council. “His staunch defence of free speech, both in the university and in society, involved him in organisations and demonstrations all his life, and I suspect sparked his interest in the law…”. He was active in the Howard League for Penal Reform, and the family asked that those attending his funeral give donations to that in lieu of flowers. Nigel Hampton QC spoke on behalf of the League at the funeral. For decades he worked with trade unions on policies for economic development, and there was a strong union contingent at his funeral. I always remember one of my Railways workmates telling me that he had attended a Labour Party branch meeting shortly after the war and the speaker was Wolf, who made a lasting impression on my workmate by saying that unions must always campaign for higher pay for workers. He was a lifelong peace campaigner, including joining the Anti-Bases Campaign within his final years.

His colleague and friend Winston Rhodes wrote in his essay “The Making Of A New Zealand Economist” (“New Zealand And The World: Essays In Honour Of Wolfgang Rosenberg”, 1980): “He had been chairman of the Lecturer’s Association, a committee man of the University Teachers’ Association, chairman of the Economic Society, and also took a prominent part, for he had become the father of three children, in the work of School Committees”. And this was describing just one small period of his life, in the 1960s.

I Count Myself Lucky To Have Known Him

Nor was it all work and no play. “He was a keen tramper, reader and music lover, even delivering lectures on Wagnerian opera to interested groups” ( Press, Obituary, 24/2/07; “Socialist lawyer and economist”, Mike Crean). He was the only person I knew who read overseas papers such as the Guardian Weekly and Le Monde Diplomatique. Bill Willmott’s eulogy referred to his 1984 China trip with Wolf and Ann, which demonstrated Wolf’s “marvellous curiosity for everything, whether buying drinks by the roadside (against our advice) or asking questions of everyone he met…”. With the exception of his last decade, he was blessed with excellent health (the only thing he had wrong with him was Type 2 diabetes, diagnosed in his 50s – the same age bracket in which I was diagnosed, which is why I think Bill has become one of the health Nazis, reproaching me for the number of chocolate bikkies I eat at CAFCA committee meetings).

Wolfgang Rosenberg lived an extraordinarily long and productive life which immensely enriched the lives of all those with whom he came into contact. He immeasurably benefited the country to which he came as a refugee from Hitler’s murderers 70 years ago and which he passionately loved for the rest of his life. Wolf was a unique figure in my life as I had, quite literally, never met anyone like him before. I have an abiding memory from all those memorable visits to his and Ann’s Cashmere home. Always, as we were leaving, he would stand in the drive, bowing slightly, and saying: “Come soon again”. Sadly Wolf won’t be coming soon again but he has made an indelible impression on the public life of this country and on the lives of all those privileged to have known and worked with him. I count myself lucky to have been one of them.


Death In The Family: Betty Currie

- by Murray Horton

CAFCA expresses our condolences to the Currie family, of Tony, Ann and Ron, for the death of their mother Betty Currie in April 2007, aged 87. This is a family that has been involved with CAFCA from the very beginning, indeed since before the beginning. I’ve known Tony, the oldest offspring, since 1970, when he joined the Christchurch Progressive Youth Movement (PYM) and many’s the adventure we’ve had together, on both sides of the Tasman. Tony took part in both the 1974 Long March across Australia and the 1975 South Island Resistance Ride, the two events which led directly to the birth of CAFCINZ (which became CAFCA). Tony has made his home in Sydney since 1983 and remains a member of CAFCA. Ann was a member of the CAFCA committee and our Treasurer for half a dozen years, from the late 1980s until the mid 90s. She is a member today, as is Ron, whose unique cartoons have been a feature of Watchdog and other CAFCA publications since the very beginning. So all three Currie offspring have been CAFCA activists and members throughout the entire 30+ years of our existence. And their parents, James and Betty, were members for a number of years in the 1970s and 80s, when they lived in Timaru (they moved to Christchurch, in 1991, to be closer to Ann and Ron and their families). James Currie died in 2005, also aged 87, and you can read about him in Watchdog 109, August 2005, which is online at

They were very supportive of the political activities and lifestyle of their kids, very unusually among the parents of my contemporaries. In the early 1970s, before CAFCINZ was born (let alone CAFCA), Timaru was a major focal point of the original anti-bases campaign, because the headquarters for the US Air Force observatory atop Mt John (overlooking Tekapo) was situated in Washdyke, an industrial suburb north of Timaru. We traveled there on several occasions, to protest, to leaflet the entire city, to hold public meetings and pickets. James and Betty always made us welcome, either with a bed for the night or a cup of tea to break the journey. The 1972 protest at Mt John was a landmark in New Zealand history, leaving the access road wrecked and the cops stranded on the mountaintop with the Yanks after we retaliated for a night of Police violence that left protesters with broken bones and dog bites. National uproar followed, and the hysteria was at its most intense in Timaru. The Curries didn’t duck for cover – they hosted Owen Wilkes, who was the public face of the anti-bases protesters, and James chaired a public meeting at which Owen spoke (my obituary of Owen is in the same Watchdog as that for James Currie). That took guts – when things got too hot, we could all bugger off back to Christchurch. But they remained, living in the thick of it, in a conservative provincial city. Tony Currie says of his mother:

“Betty (Beatrice) Currie wasn’t your typical CAFCA supporter – if there is such a creature. Betty was mother of three longtime CAFCA members, Tony, Ron and Ann and her politics were of a conservative shade, a result of her coming from a large Southland based farming family. But Christchurch PYM members can be grateful for the regular food parcels she sent her sons, in the famous PYM flat at 47 Onslow Street in the early 1970’s - which relieved the rather turgid diet of mashed potatoes, cabbage and Irish stew that they existed on – more out of compromise than necessity. Her other contribution to the incipient anti-foreign control movement was to host an assorted collection of weird characters (by Timaru standards) who passed through her home (shared with her husband James) using it as a base for activities in Timaru (I was one of those “weird characters”. Ed).One large group from Christchurch leafleted the whole of Timaru, to counteract negative publicity, one rainy Saturday shortly after the Mt John demonstrations – and Betty and James provided refreshments and shelter. Owen Wilkes was a regular visitor and was guest speaker at a public meeting organised by James Currie at the local Labour Party Clyde Carr Hall. Betty Currie will be sorely missed”.

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Foreign Control Watchdog, P O Box 2258, Christchurch, New Zealand/Aotearoa. May 2007.


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