Tom Newnham

- John Minto

Tom Newnham, who died in Auckland in December 2010, aged 84, was a CAFCA member from 1993 to 2000. We were only one of the myriad of groups to which Tom belonged. His Press obituary (25/12/10), which was titled “Crusader for social justice”, said: “A crusader for social justice across a range of causes, Newnham achieved his highest profile as a champion of racial equality and human rights”. Tom was most famous as the leading figure in Citizens Association for Racial Equality (CARE), which was the face of the anti-apartheid movement in the 1960s’ campaign to end sporting ties, specifically rugby, between New Zealand and South Africa. From the 1970s to 90s this role was assumed by Halt All Racist Tours (HART), firstly under the leadership of Trevor Richards and then John Minto. This is John’s eulogy, delivered at Tom’s funeral. Ed.

E nga whanau Kath, Anne, Rewi, e nga reo, e nga hau e wha, kia ora koutou. It’s a real privilege for me to be speaking here at this service for such a great New Zealander. I arrived in Auckland in 1977 and was here no more than a week or so when late one afternoon I answered a knock at the door of my flat to find Tom Newnham standing on the doorstep. This man was a household name and a huge figure in New Zealand politics and I felt embarrassed and humbled at having him standing there inviting me to come to the next CARE committee meeting. I admired this man who was so often on TV and in the newspapers associated with controversy but always on the side of the angels.

“The Most Hated Man In New Zealand”

If anti-apartheid organising was challenging in the 1980s it was far more so in the 1960s and 70s when Tom was described more than once as the most hated man in New Zealand. Those early days of anti-apartheid organising in New Zealand are neatly summed up in a message Rob Murfitt* sent through a couple of days ago: “Please convey my admiration for what Tom did at a time when the public awareness of the inequity of apartheid was barely appreciated in NZ and when it took a lion to stand up and declaim it”. Tom was that lion. *Rob Murfitt was an anti-apartheid activist and a Christchurch lawyer for several decades. He is now a judge. Ed.

It’s a great irony that one of the arguments given for the formation of HART* in 1969 was the need for a broad coalition to oppose apartheid in sport because CARE, under Tom’s leadership, had got such a bad name. It wasn’t Tom himself of course; it was simply the nature of NZ at the time – insular, parochial and arrogant when it came to international issues. It was a country where many reacted viciously and viscerally to any attempt to stop the country playing sport with apartheid South Africa. *Murray Horton’s tribute to HART is in Watchdog 72, March 1993, online at “The November 1992 decision to wind up HART, after 23 years of militant anti-apartheid struggle, ends a significant era in the New Zealand progressive movement. Coupled with the December decision to also wind up its comrade in arms, CARE, it ends a whole chapter of a still unfinished book. And on the subject of CARE, a special tribute needs to be paid to Tom Newnham for his long years of courageous leadership. He personified CARE”.

Tom was involved in these campaigns from the early days when the “No Maoris – No Tour” issue took centre stage in 1960. It was just a few months back, 50 years on, when finally there came apologies from the South African and New Zealand Rugby Unions to Maori players and their families for their exclusion, on the basis of race, from All Black teams to South Africa. Perhaps the greatest tribute to Tom’s campaigning was that he was personally attacked so often by Prime Minister Rob Muldoon* through the 1970s. Muldoon made sporting links with South Africa not just a political issue but an election issue and he launched frequent savage attacks against Tom, CARE and others in the anti-apartheid movement. If Tom had been an ineffectual campaigner he would have been ignored, but the fact he was so successful and frequently embarrassed the Government over its hypocrisy – saying one thing at home in New Zealand and giving a very different message through our overseas diplomats – meant he was a target of the most thuggish and feared Prime Minister we’ve had the misfortune to experience. *Murray Horton’s obituary of Piggy Muldoon is in Watchdog 71, November 1992, online at Ed.

Muldoon was looking backwards to a patronisingly racist, socially conservative New Zealand while Tom was looking ahead to a non-racist, bicultural country where international solidarity meant more than blind support for the US, apartheid South Africa and the old white Commonwealth. Some of Muldoon’s verbal attacks were translated into action by others. Typical was the time Tom described finding a note put in his letterbox with the message “CARE members drop out of nigger dog arses” and the time he found a can of petrol left by someone who raced off when disturbed outside the family home. They had the right address but it seems they hadn’t researched the fact it was a brick house with a brick fence and petrol just wasn’t going to do the job.

Tom, Kath, Anne and Rewi weathered one of the fiercest political storms a family has ever had to endure in New Zealand and for many years it was relentless. This country owes them all a debt of gratitude which will not be acknowledged by the Establishment but which shows itself in changed political policies and changed social attitudes within New Zealanders themselves. It’s important here to say an enormous thank you to Kath who weathered those storms with Tom and without whose support, encouragement and enormous tolerance it would not have been possible. Kath, we thank you dearly.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say Tom had a greater impact on New Zealand socially and culturally than any political figure of the same generation. Politicians notoriously follow public opinion in these areas. Tom however challenged public opinion and he was a leader in social, cultural and political change. Throughout it all Tom was a determined figure of principled action and enormous energy. He never wavered and his infectious enthusiasm inspired those around him. So often when I visited across the road he’d be sitting at the small table in the living room bashing away – and I mean bashing - at the keys of his small portable typewriter as he wrote yet another media release and surrounded by piles of papers, documents, letters etc

81 Tour

Tom would have been in his mid 50s at the time of the 1981 Springbok tour but he was still on the front line. My abiding memory is of him walking around the assembled protestors on the field in Hamilton with his fist raised in triumph just before he was dragged from the field by police and dumped outside where he was further assaulted by rugby patrons only to be finally escorted to safety by Police officer Inspector Huggard (the Springboks/Waikato game had to be abandoned before it started because protestors occupied the field. Tom Newnham was arrested seven times protesting the 81 tour. Ed.).

It wasn’t just the big protests – Tom was always there at any protest on the issue. A couple of days back Dick Cuthbert (one of HART’s leading figures in Auckland) recounted to me a story of a protest outside the Remuera Squash Club back in the 1970s. It was a Sunday morning and Dick turned up to find Tom, the sole protestor, with a placard denouncing apartheid sport and weathering a stream of abuse from the good citizens of Remuera to which Tom was responding politely: “Thank you sir for your opinion” and “No thanks Madam I don’t think the placard will fit”. Meanwhile behind the placard itself Tom had spread out the Sunday newspaper and was reading avidly between responding to abuse.

His numerous publications also helped drive the anti-apartheid struggle. “Apartheid Is Not A Game” and “Cry Of Treason” were two while the hugely popular and important “By Batons And Barbed Wire” on the 1981 Springbok tour was another. Not so well known is that earlier in 1981 he produced what was called the “Protestors’ Handbook” for the 1981 tour. He had collated detailed diagrams of each of the grounds where the Springboks would play, showing where the stands were and what type of fences surrounded the grounds. It also gave numerous other information, such as transport options and contact details for local activists - in other words, anything a civil disobedience protestor would need to know when following the Springboks.

Tom was frequently outraged and angered at injustice and it’s sad to say New Zealanders don’t get angry enough about the things that really matter. Tom did and in that he was an inspiration to a generation of activists. I’ve had numerous messages from many people asking for their messages to be passed on to the family. I will mention two here. Oliver Sutherland passes on the condolences of former members of ACORD (the Auckland Committee on Racism and Discrimination) and Saana Murray from Te Hapua, now living with family in Kaitaia and who taught with Tom at Hillary College (in Otara, south Auckland) and who enjoyed a long association with CARE, also passed greetings from her whanau to the Newnham whanau. In Maori society when a leader dies they say a great totara has fallen in the forest of Tane. Tom was such a totara – a towering figure on New Zealand’s political and cultural landscape for several decades. He lived a big life in a small country. Haere ra e hoa – haere, haere, haere…

15 February 1915 – 16 November 2010

- Kate Dewes

My obituary of Betty Roberts, Norman’s wife, was published in Watchdog 119, February 2009, I recommend that you read that for a detailed account of their life together. They were CAFCA members from 1985 until 2005 when old age forced them to give it up; and members of the Anti-Bases Campaign from 1993 until 2006. Throughout those decades they were regular donors to both groups and to the CAFCA/ABC Organiser Account which provides my income. As a courtesy I sent Norm a copy of the issue containing my obituary of Betty (by then he was in his 90s and living in a home). He responded by sending yet another donation to the Organiser Account, accompanied by a letter of thanks. He was one of Nature’s gentlemen and someone who kept an active interest in the big issues right to the end of his life. I last saw him at the winter 2010 launch of the book “Security Without Nuclear Deterrence” by Rob Green, Kate Dewes’ husband. He had been badly afflicted by a stroke but he was determined to be there. MH.

Research scientist and community leader Norman Roberts died of pneumonia on 16 November 2010 aged 95. He was well known to Christchurch peace people through his membership of various groups, his regular attendance at meetings on foreign affairs and defence and his many letters to the Press, including one published only weeks before a debilitating stroke earlier last year. They were always thoughtful, well researched and challenging. Norman was a high achiever with a very strong belief in civic responsibility, community service and working for the good of all. He was dux of his school at 15 and completed his BSc with first-class honours in Physics and second-class honours in Maths at Sydney University at 19! His Masters was awarded in 1939 for experimental and theoretical work in nuclear physics.

During WW2 he established and headed up an electronic instrument factory, and then a Government research laboratory for measurement of wool characteristics in Sydney. He moved to New Zealand in 1962 with his wife Betty, and two of their four daughters, to become the founding director of New Zealand’s Wool Research Organisation at Lincoln. He retired in 1978 after experiencing a decline in health. He assisted in the formation of the Old Stone House Trust in 1970 and acted as its Chair, and as President of the Cracroft Community Centre, for many years. Both he and Betty had been members of the Student Christian Movement which had been gifted Old Stone House for conversion to a Conference Centre and they were the driving forces behind its restoration. They met when Betty was the woman president of the University Student Christian Movement in Sydney in 1939 and married in 1941.

He was an active member of the St Augustine’s Church in Cashmere and various Rotary Clubs since 1968. In “retirement” he was a Chairman of the Family Life Education Committee and an active member of Trade Aid, CORSO, the Royal Society, the Gwynfa Avenue Community Group, United Nations Association, the Institute of International Affairs, India Society, the North Korean Friendship Society and the China Society. Before coming to NZ from Australia in 1962 he was Chairman of the Marriage Guidance Council of NSW, had taught Sunday School and help found an Anglican Youth Movement. He played competition tennis, cricket and baseball for many years and was a keen gardener. Renowned for being a keen handyman he was in great demand for house repairs from members of his extended family. In amongst all these activities, he found time each week, when health permitted, to work in the kitchen at the City Mission.

Active In So Many Causes

Norman and Betty were always keen supporters of the World Court Project (to give an advisory opinion on the legal status of nuclear weapons. Ed.) and other nuclear disarmament activities of the Disarmament and Security Centre; the NZ Nuclear Free Zone Committee; CAFCA and Anti Bases Campaign to name a few, and were regular attendees at many WEA and other peace talks. Frequently they held the other end of a peace banner with one of my daughters at the Hiroshima and Nagasaki Day Lantern ceremonies. In 1998 Betty invited me to speak at the National Organisation for Women Annual Suffrage Day Dinner on the topic “Women 25 Years On”. I will never forget that dinner: Betty, in her inclusive way, had invited my husband Rob Green to come. He provided much needed male support for Norman who was serving the food and washing dishes! What a wonderful role model of support for their women!

Rob remembers Norman and Lloyd Whitten (aged 94 and 92 at the time!) sitting in the front row at a WEA meeting and asking thought provoking questions when he gave a presentation on North Korea’s nuclear weapons. The next day Norman wrote an email to Rob: “I was very glad to find you so interested in the North Korean situation as the poor people of that country would be much happier if friendly relations could be established between them and other countries, and the danger of foolish tragedy averted. What you or I can do to help is our problem. If you have a direct route to Obama's ear that's fine, if not have you a route to someone who has, direct or indirect? Going to both North Korea and USA via China seems one possibility”.

After his two week trip to North Korea in 1980 Norman had tried to develop some trade between it and NZ but gave up after repeated failure to get a reply half way through negotiations. He said that Bob Tizard, a former Cabinet Minister in the Labour Government, had had the same trouble and also gave up. Norman was extremely concerned with the growing tension around the Korean Peninsula. A few months ago Rob sent Norman a long report from the South Korean Marine Engineer appointed by his own Government to enquire into the 2010 sinking of their warship - the Cheonan. This report countered US claims that a North Korean submarine torpedoed the ship. The South Korean had evidence that it had run aground and broken its back and there was no evidence of an explosion. The man was then put on trial by his own Government. Despite Norman’s severe stroke, he was determined to read this long evidence and to discuss the intricacies of the case with Rob when we visited, and over the phone. He even read Rob’s latest book Security Without Nuclear Deterrence while lying immobilised in his bed! He would phone with critical comments – both positive and negative, which were always appreciated.

Norman’s strong interest in our work was maintained right up until the end. Despite the stroke he was determined to attend the last Friends of the Disarmament and Security Centre dinner, and to go to the Cathedral to hear Helen Clark speak about her work with UN Development Programme. Before we could phone him to see how he fared during the September 2010 earthquake, he was ringing us to check out how we had got on. When he learned that we had lost three chimneys and that repairs were partially dependent on getting slates shipped to Christchurch, he said he had left a big stash of them at his old homestead in Gwynfa Ave. Within days, the current owner phoned to offer us some of these, in response to a call from Norman. He also sent us a donation to help with the costs of replacing the smashed photocopier in my office because he knew how important it was to keep educating people (sadly, Kate and Rob’s home sustained more severe damage in subsequent aftershocks and the devastating February 2011 earthquake. Ed). When he knew we were leaving to do a speaking tour of Australia promoting Rob’s book, he phoned to ask where we were meeting so he could alert his friends in Melbourne to attend the meeting... that was less than a month before he died!

Shining Example

Norman and Betty were both shining examples of how to live a long and fulfilling life with purpose and determination. We will never forget his wisdom and intellect, his encouragement and generosity, his gentlemanly manner and wry smile, his honesty and integrity, his vigorous enthusiasm for life and above all his friendship. Like his youngest daughter Lin we remember him for his incredible honesty and commitment. At his memorial service Lin said: “I have not met anyone else in my life with Dad’s commitment to deeply thinking through what was the right thing to do in any given situation and then making sure he did it. This worked at many levels – from concern about international relations and national governance and his own work, through to things as simple as always stopping the car to remove an obstacle like a piece of wood on the road that might cause an accident. Cynthia (older sister) has etched on her memory an incident as a young child when she wanted to take a piece of chalk home from Dad’s lab & being told in no uncertain terms that such an action would be theft from the Government. I must have absorbed this view also because later in my own management roles (in the more self-interested era of Rogernomics), I encountered surprise if not resentment from staff when I took the attitude that one should not dine better when travelling on Government business than one would when paying for oneself. The example of commitment to social justice from both my parents, for me has turned into a 30 plus year journey working for a more sustainable world”. Norman’s younger sister Helen remembers Norm’s response to a question about what he'd learned from life, and he said something like this: “When you meet someone, don't expect them to live up to your standards, but look to see how closely the live up to the standards they profess themselves”. This is Norman’s greatest challenge to us all!


- Murray Horton

CAFCA expresses our condolences to Susan Miller, a long time and actively supportive West Coast member, whose husband Alec (also known as Alex) died in February 2011, aged 70. He died a mere two months after being diagnosed with bowel cancer. Alec was a man who, all his life, loved the mountains and loved flying, as detailed in his Press obituary (19/2/11; “An eye on the mountains”, Mike Crean). Becky and I benefited from both of these passions of his when, in 1993, we stayed in their Franz Josef home for a couple of days as guests of Susan and Alec. On the morning we were due to catch the bus back to Christchurch Alec said that he planned to take his plane up for a flight and would we like to come along. He then proceeded to fly us right up the magnificent Franz Josef Glacier, so close to the snow covered valley sides and peaks that it felt like we could reach out and touch them. Although we didn’t land on the glacier, it remains one of our most vivid memories of travel anywhere in New Zealand and for that I am eternally grateful to Alec (who duly got us back in time to catch the bus). He ended up owning and operating the ski plane flights business at Mount Cook.

Alec was a dedicated conservationist all his life and he said that he is how he wanted to be remembered. He had been active in the 1960s’ peace movement and was one of the founders of a West Coast hippie commune at Fox River. There is a wonderful story about how he managed to combine his peace activism with his flying career to stage a unique protest at the US military base at Christchurch Airport (which is still there today). Susan described it to me in a March 2011 e-mail: “As far as the 'incident' went, it was during his time at the Canterbury Aero Club, where he was a 'B' Category instructor there in the latter half of the 1960s. He was walking back across the tarmac from an instructing flight, when a Deep Freeze Hercules came trundling along. On an impulse, he decided to make a one man protest against US military policy in Vietnam in particular, as informed opinion had it that the US military was probably using its Harewood base for nefarious military purposes, and not just for its stated mission of servicing the Antarctic.

“He lay down on the tarmac in the path of the Hercules and held his breath that the pilot and co-pilot had spotted him. He refused to budge, regardless, and was very relieved to hear the enormous machine slowing down and finally grinding to a halt only a few metres away. At that point Alec got up, dusted himself off and proceeded back to work, none the worse for his experience, having made his opinion on US foreign policy very clear to the crew of the Hercules. At that time we knew Owen and Joan Wilkes* through mutual friends. Owen had hoped that Alec would get involved with his research work into military systems; however Alec was not cut out to be that sort of activist. We were concerned about US policy and its actions in Vietnam and Alec was not averse to taking action at the right time and in the right place on his own terms. Although Alec's protest was not filmed or photographed at the time, there is a rather compelling synergy with the action of the lone activist stopping the tank in Tiananmen Square”.*Murray Horton’s obituary of Owen Wilkes is in Watchdog 109, August 2005, Ed.

Can you imagine the hysteria today, with all the anti-terrorist hype surrounding airports, if someone did something similar at Christchurch Airport, let alone involving a US military plane? Alec’s Harewood activism was carried on by his son Sam who, in the 1990s, made the short film “Base Deception”, for the Anti-Bases Campaign, about the US base at Christchurch Airport. To quote from his Press obituary: “Susan says his mountain flying, which included nearly 4,000 ski landings, gave him a unique perspective for observing the alpine environment. ‘He had an understanding of the massive systems involved”. His greatest concern was for global warming. ‘He had no pretence. He loathed artifice and insincerity, was always straight and honest. He allowed no compromise on standards…he was a man of integrity and principle’”. Haere ra, Alec, you were a bloody good bloke.

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