Show Chapters

Queen Street Riot memories


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When AudioCulture published its article last year on the worst disorder to take place at a concert in New Zealand – the 1984 Queen Street riot – it turned out to be anything but the end of the story. 

On Facebook, Twitter and blogs, readers shared their own experiences of that strange day – because everyone who was there had a tale to tell. Most of those stories had not been publicly told before, and some of them were remarkable.

We've compiled the best of the memories of those who were there – and those who weren't.

Punters and bystanders

“I remember this day and everything about it. Such a mellow happy vibe in the square. We went off to get some food and walked back up Queen Street to find a row of cops facing off against the crowd. Broken glass everywhere, scared people hiding in locked shops and we were lucky enough to jump on a bus that just happened to come down Victoria St at the right moment. The driver opened his doors and screamed, “get on if you want to get out of town’.

“We jumped on the bus and got outta town and then had to go home and tell Mum we didn't know where my younger siblings were ... bro walked all the way home and sis hid in a brothel (kindly cared for by the workers) having been turned away from the council chambers by Cath Tizard (the mayor), who refused to let any of the scared young teens in to get away from the violence.

“Don't think all the family were accounted for till close to midnight. Absolutely freaky!!!!”

- Jeni Little on Facebook

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“Who can forget that night? No mobiles in those days; just frantic parents driving to town in the hope of finding their kids. Some of whom rang from phone boxes and were eventually located. My three took hours to be located but all were safe and sound. An experience they'll never forget.”

- Maureen Little on Facebook

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A pre-Thank God It's Over meeting: Ian Kingsford (The Mockers' manager), Mushroom Records' Mike Chunn and Bridget Delauney and Peter "Scruff" Ralph - Photo by Murray Cammick

“It was the first concert I ever attended. I'd caught a bus down from Warkworth by myself and climbed up the statue in the middle of the square, joining a group of about 20 people who'd done the same. We had the perfect view of the concert and the riot.

“Some friends from Warkworth were seated on the awning of the State Services Building across the square and one of them was taking a leak. The police arrived and asked them to get down. That's how it started. When they wouldn't get down, more police were called.

“When the extra police turned up the crowd noticed them, turned around to face them instead of the stage and started abusing them. There had already been a few punches thrown in front of the stage – there looked like a few different gangs represented. The police were driven past the Information Centre into Queen Street.

“A guy standing next to me that I'd met that day is still a good friend of mine today. I vividly remember him chucking a rubbish bin through the Information Centre window. The crowd shifted to Queen Street too, leaving a carpet of broken glass across the entire square in their wake. My new-found friend invited me to get a lift from the police station with his parents. I went back to their house and went back into town to catch a bus to my uncle's in Onehunga at 9pm. The bus was full of people with stolen goods. It was definitely one of the most exciting times of my life.”

- Andre Dromgool on Facebook

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- Photo by Bruce Jarvis

“I remember standing in the middle of Queen Street between a line of riot squad police and a very large menacing crowd chucking bottles, abuse and scary vibes, I was rather optimistically shouting out to both sides to chill out.

“Suddenly I was picked up by a mate of mine rushing across the street and salvaged to the other side, just prior to the two fronts colliding. We went to a mate of a mate's mate's flat above a shop, where we watched the riot unfold both out the window and on the TV live.

“We were enjoying our relatively prime position when some cops in gas masks entered with gas canisters to access the awning, they later returned back inside and advised us they were not going to unleash the tear gas as there were too many innocent people, like movie goers and diners.”

- Jeremy Jones on Facebook

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“I was driving in about 10 minutes before this happened. My girlfriend and I just parked in Queen Street, outside 246. We got a park – really rare. I thought to myself, ‘this is my lucky day.’

“We were on our way to the movies – we were wanting to see Ghostbusters – and we had just made our way to the set of lights at the corner of Queen and Wellesley streets when all this screaming and roaring happened.

“We looked up towards the Civic and all we could see were police running for their lives. Then looking towards the Aotea end of the Civic we could see a MASS of People, really pissed off, in numbers. This was literally happening before our eyes – it felt like seconds. 

“The next minute, the crowd that we were in started to panic, as we had police on the right and a pissed-off mob on the left, and the mob was getting bigger by the moment. Then the shops started to shut their doors, which started people panicking.

“I grabbed my girlfriend's arm and we made a beeline for the cinema. We just got in before the doors closed. We were ushered into the seating by staff. Inside was deadly quiet. The management came on to the small stage and said the movie was going to be played, despite the noise and screaming from outside.

“After the movie, we were told to leave the building, and go straight home, to not idle or look. Man … the Mess of Queen Street was one I could not believe. I was naturally thinking the worst – my car. But here's the thing – three cars in front and the one behind, TOTALLED. Smashed windscreens, kicked-in doors. My little Mini, NOT ONE dent or touch. It was as if someone had said ‘don't touch this car’. Slightly embarrassing, but also lucky.

“But my eyes could not believe what the carnage was like. I have not been to war, but the images were that of a war. When we got out of the city we got to a phone box and dialled our parents. Who were needless to say – very panicked. But YES – I was there. YES – I saw the lot unfold with in minutes. It was a crazy situation. Unreal.”

- Dave Goodenough on Facebook

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- Photo by Bruce Jarvis

“The day after he was attacked and tied to a tree, [controversial playwright and theatre director] Mervyn Thompson got caught up in the riots. He staggered to our house where Tony administered some serious calming medicines.”

- Penelope Bieder on Facebook

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“I was with a bunch of people at DKD, the cafe inside the Civic Theatre building, avoiding the concert. We had an excellent vantage point to watch people being bashed by the riot squad as the crowd spilled down Queen Street. Surreal night.”

- Roslyn Grundy on Facebook

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“I remember them clearing the square with their batons and shields, me and the guys pulling a couple of girls onto the stage and telling the cops to fuck off. Heady days of chaos and madness ...”

- Sydney Bell on Facebook

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“What a horrible day, that was the day we realised we weren't as good as we thought we were. And I know how easy, and how ‘rock 'n' roll’ it is to blame the cops, but I saw plenty of civilians being irresponsible arseholes as well, PLENTY. Alcohol, drugs, combined with anger and over-zealous authority were a bad combination.”

- Mark Snelling on Facebook

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“Oh the memories! We left the gig before the trouble started, but back home my flatmate's boyfriend (a young cop) was watching the riot on TV, furious he was missing the chance to ‘break some heads’. The memory of him grumping about missing the fun is the best explanation of that riot I've got.”

- Dylan Horrocks on Twitter

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“I was at Uni at the time and I remember walking down Wakefield street after labs thinking I'd vaguely heard there was a free concert on in the square. We wandered down the street to where it joined Queen Street just as the first baton charge took place. I remember thinking how weird the whole scene was. A part of me was wondering what the hell had happened to cause the police to do a baton charge. It turned out, nothing really.

“The next few minutes were spent watching the crowd move forward and then the police charging again and again. I distinctly remember thinking ‘Oh crap this is going to get really bad’ because the police had just trained the crowd to understand that the police were completely ineffectual. You could see the crowd suddenly realise that there was nothing the police could do that could stop them and then chaos really broke loose.

“At that point we turned round and headed back up Wakefield St to get well out of what was clearly going to become a mess.

“To this day I still can't get over the sheer stupidity of the police that day. What I didn't know was that they had no real reason to be so heavy-handed in the first place. Then and now, I still can't believe the police thought running at that massive crowd and waving their batons like some kind of magic wand would do anything other than make the crowd learn just how thin the blue line really was.”

- Bart Janssen on Public Address

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“I was there. The so-called battle zone actually started with two gangs from West Auckland. One fella from Te Atatu North (Head Hunters) v the other from Glendene (Mongrel Mob). The dude from Glendene ran onto Queen Street as the dude from Tat North was getting the better of him and from there it turned into a battle zone. Then Tony 'Magic' Wilson jumped on the stage, grabbed the mic and started doing his rapping. The crowd were loving it. Magic had the crowd cheering and laughing, then the cops jumped on stage to chase Magic down. The crowd were cheering Magic on as he was running around the stage to get away. Until Dave Dobbyn got on the mic and was pointing magic out to the police …”

- Mau Tofa on Facebook

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- Photo by Bryan Staff

“I was in the crowd and I can see myself a couple of times in those crowd shots. I was 14 and excited to be allowed out with friends. I had a plan to meet Dad at the information centre at 8pm. Herbs were awesome in the sun, it felt weird to be dancing to ‘Nuclear waste is comin' down …’ with a whole lot of confetti raining down on us. But hey, shit was weird back then.

“Don’t remember the Mockers, sorry.

“Then DD Smash came on but the power cut out which got us a bit restless. All of a sudden a quart beer bottle smashed at my feet. Shit, how did that get there? None of us had booze nor anyone around us. We figured it had been thrown by some of the scary munters up the back. It had been full of beer too. Oh well.

“It’s funny, but back then odd shit happened and we just accepted it. It was like I had expectations of lawlessness and munterisms that wouldn’t happen today. Maybe I’m just older or was it something to do with being from West Auckland?

“We waited and clapped for DD Smash. Someone came out to calm down the crowd or the concert would be cancelled. That got us riled up, but the band played on. Dave Dobbyn said something to the hooligans at the back to calm down or the pigs will shut it all down. And shortly after, he announced that the show was finished. He certainly was strong in his words but the truth was the fault lay with cops for closing down the party. What did they expect would happen? That everyone would head home quietly? Idiots vs hooligans.

“Anyway, our group decided to get the hell out of there. We ran to the car park behind the Wellesley Street Post Office heading to Wellesley Street. But it was a no-exit and everyone had to jump over eight foot high vertical bars set into the ground (awesome urban planning still there to this day). Thankfully a helpful adult gave my girlfriends and then me and my boyfriends a lift over. Then I had to track down Dad. A phone call home and we arranged to meet him at the same place an hour or two later.

“It turned out Dad had had an adventure too. Bang on 8pm, the first rubbish bin hit the iconic plate glass of the Information Centre. He was right there, he saw the guy do it. He hung around waiting for me and then dispersed to safety. Finally we met up amid the carnage of Aotea Square. I was breathless with excitement.

“Walking back to the car up Wellesley Street the lights were out on Albert St and a traffic cop was directing traffic, the young man in front of me passing the cop’s motorbike swiped his gloves off the seat. No one blinked an eyelid.

“Little things were so different back then. Everyone hated the cops; the cops were arseholes to everyone except Nats, business people and farmers; casual drunken threatening behaviour was everywhere, men in singlets looked at you funny, the TV regularly played the fault graphic with a kiwi tripping on the power cord, traffic cops directed traffic at lights with their nice white gloves …

“Thank god that part of NZ is over.”

 - Myles Thomas on Public Address

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“Herbs played a good set; talked to Ian Belton for a moment and then it was time for DD Smash. Had this shitty feeling – there was strong polarity in the crowd already, before the fit hit the shan. I skeedaddled quick smart and brought a bunch of people back to the old Mont Martre (remember Chopsticks just round the corner on Lorne? it used to be Lautrec's) to get out of harm's way. We hung up there listening to the crowd raging to and fro, with a responding pattern of projectiles clattering off the coppers' riot shields. My little club was like an island in a flood-tide of humans. Huh. Wrote a song about that a couple of days later, 'Everything's Made of Glass'.”

- Rohan Hunt on Facebook

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"I remember that gig very well as a 15-year-old. The crowd, the bottles thrown at the band, the police, the eruption, people scattering in all directions. Caught the bus back to Torbay and watched the result of the city centre carnage on the news. Can't praise Dobbyn enough for trying to quell the disquiet & keep it manageable. As soon as the ‘Move! Move! Move!’ riot police chant started up all hope was lost. Opening scene of Sleeping Dogs sprang to mind ... I was in a state of shock!”

- Scott Flyger on Facebook

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“I was, on that day at least, being responsible and chaperoning a friend's nine-year-old daughter to the concert so had to scarper when things got ugly. I dropped her back with her dad and came back into town. Someone I knew had, for some reason, hired a hotel room downtown and we could see a fair bit of residual action from there, which was kind of strange when you think about it. Some bastard nicked my lovely Morris 1000 from a car park that night, never saw that again.”

- Nat Curnow on Facebook

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“I was at the corner of Wakefield & Queen, elevated, so saw the Keystone Kops arrive and stir it all up with their batons and ridiculous charges, forcing people into corners from which they couldn't escape – when what they wanted (both police and punters) was to get out, fast.”

- Chris Bourke on Facebook

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"We were right near the stage so went in the opposite direction to the trouble – around the side of the stage and up onto Albert St. I looked down Wakefield St and saw someone bashing a traffic cop motorcycle with a road sign and the cop scarpering. So my view of it (after seeing the initial ‘Move move’ stuff in the square and narrowly avoiding getting hit in the head by a flying bottle) was looking down each street we passed – we got to the bottom of Queen St and could see it was heading down the street and spreading – so went into an underground pub next to the Chief Post office (pub was called the CVC or Colonial Victualling Company). the manager came around after 20 minutes and said the riot had spread everywhere and he was locking the front door but to sing out if we wanted to leave and they’d unlock it. A few more friends (pub regulars) joined us with stories of getting caught between the police and rioters, that people were looting Deka and coming out with full trolleys, and that police were searching all the buses heading to South Auckland. We drank until closing and caught the last bus home to Te Atatu. Biggest memory though is that the sound of plate glass windows smashing sounds like shotguns being fired. Scary noises."

- Steven Shaw

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“I was in the centre of town that night, with a couple of friends – we hadn’t gone to the concert, but were walking back up Queen Street to our car (parked somewhere up the back of Mainstreet) when we met the police line at the Wellesley Street intersection. There were about 10 police facing the crowd from the concert, and we saw the two baton charges. We also saw one person try to talk to the crowd and get them to disperse – basically walked up the no-man’s-land between the police and the crowd, just trying to get people to turn around and walk away. It worked for a while, then someone threw something, and it was all on again – we left at that stage, while we could still get up Wellesley St and around back to the car.”

- Dave Patrick on Public Address

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“We watched the concert then went the movies. Then we could hear massive noise, then they stoped the movie halfway through. We went outside and saw all the smashed St James glass doors, people running down Queen Street. All the shops opposite us, the Sound Plus store, the jewellery store. I remember people carrying TVs, radios and food, also the army stopping buses, because people doing looting had stolen gear on the bus. Scary time, seeing people yelling smashing and looting. Not good. I'll never forget it.”

- Sene Atafu on Facebook

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“I remember the night also, caught the bus back to GI and all the people with their stolen loot!”

- Angelina Perkinson on Facebook

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"I was there!!! Graham Brazier told me to head home. As I got to the top of Queen Street, I looked back down to see the chaos emerging from the Square. My Mum was overjoyed when I walked in the door.”

- David Duke on Facebook

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“I missed the riot because I had to catch the last bus home. Which sums up my late teens ...”

- Bryan Crump on Facebook

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People working on the day

“I introduced Herbs. I do remember saying in my intro that Aotea Square would be the hottest place in Auckland that night. I couldn't stay round for much of the gig because I was on air at 89FM in the evening.

“I don't know what time the first phone calls started coming in but people were ringing saying some trouble had broken out. I could see a little bit of Queen Street (near Airedale Street) from the news booth window, next to the on-air studio, but, apart from the odd flashing light, there didn't appear to be anything going on.

“I decided not to say anything on air but then started getting some really abusive phone calls claiming that the station was responsible for burning Auckland down. I continued saying nothing on air – well, I really didn't know anything – then at some stage someone from the station management rang me, asked me what I'd said on-air – I said 'nothing' – and was told to keep it that way.

For the last hour or so of my show I didn't answer the phones at all – and just played music. I still didn't really know what the fuck was going on. Finally some very shaken 89FM staff members started arriving. I remember one, an accountant, had found her car windscreen smashed on Wakefield St. Later when she got the repair bill she grimly told me it was $89 …”

- Mark Everton on Facebook

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“It was a night I will never forget – along with later appearing as a witness in court when Dave Dobbyn faced ‘inciting a riot’ charges. I remember that Hugh Lynn said, ‘If you stop this now, you'll have a fuckin' riot on your hands.’ Prophetic words.”

- Fred Botica on Facebook

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“I was a DJ for Triple M 89FM. I was one of the MCs for the day and introduced The Mockers. I remember seeing some early standoffs between the regular police and the crowd in the alleyway by the old post office, but at some stage the riot police showed up and the increase in police numbers became obvious. We could see from backstage the occasional flying bottle way at the back of the main audience, and it seemed to us that the police were trying to push people back towards the stage, but I think this was the human swell tide from the standoff back and forward. Then it seemed that it just exploded, critical mass had been achieved ... what did Joe Strummer say? ‘Don't push us when we're hot.’”

- Andrew Boak on Facebook

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“Cheek Ta Cheek were playing at a hotel in Wellesley Street at that time and we were sitting in the windows watching the riot from upstairs. Then the police arrived and tried to shut it down. Cheek Ta Cheek had one of their best nights.”

- Russell Parmenter on Facebook

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“When the inspector came up on stage and said, ‘Stop the show!’ I said to him at the time, ‘That’s the worst thing you can do!’ When you stopped the music, the attention diverted away from the music to this other show that was the riot that was building. So 5,000 people immediately turned and faced the other way and now there was a new entertainment going on.

“I noticed people becoming excited when the riot was on and joining in. I saw Friday shoppers watch people throwing bottles into buildings and look at each other and join in. It was mass behaviour. It was fun for lots of people.

“There were major changes [afterwards]. Inspector Tim Masters came in and it was his job to get it all together. With concerts, people had to work together – policemen, traffic, City Council but no one was talking to each other. So what we did was we had a pre-production meeting and then after the show they sat down and went over how everything worked and it started to become smoother.”

- Hugh Lynn, concert promoter, Real Groove 2001

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“I was there doing a radio report and recall how close Bryan [Staff] got to the trouble spots – especially on the Wellesley St intersection where there were bottles flying everywhere. Brave stuff.

“I wasn't planning to go anywhere near the place (I don't like large crowds), but was called at home by the on-air jock at Radio i who said the Queen St was ‘in flames’ and maybe I should get down there. We didn't have news staff on duty after 6pm on weekends. So I raced up to the station, grabbed a tape recorder and headed downtown behind a fleet of police cars headed for Queen St.

“It was a frightening evening – that overturned car, store windows smashed, bottles flying everywhere. I kept saying to myself ‘this doesn't happen in New Zealand!’ I interviewed a number of witnesses and shopkeepers, then David Lange turned up for an impromptu news conference. I think most of the private radio execs were at a conference down at Wairakei that weekend. I was up till 3am cutting tape and filing stories.”

- Duncan Campbell on Facebook

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“My first event as Promotions Manager at Triple M – what an event ... There's no doubt in my mind that the police started the riot, but alcohol was also a big factor – funny how the police did nothing about the surrounding bottle shops selling hard liquor to minors all afternoon. I also shot a roll or 36 as the police started agitating the crowd and just as the riot started. Subsequently, I was told to lay low and I don't know what happened to the pictures, they may still be in the archives at ZB who bought 89FM in the late 80s.”

- Harvindar Singh on Facebook

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“I was working evening shift at NCR in Wakefield Street. A guy comes back and says, hey, they are turning over cars down the street. I didn't quite believe it but when I went outside I saw they had smashed every window in the front of our building, including ones up to the third floor. Thrown roadworks signs right into the reception through two sets of glass doors – didn't see it happen but the immediate aftermath was pretty drastic. Had to call the caretaker guy ‘Er, Joe, we have a bit of a problem at the office ...’”

- Tom Wilson on Facebook

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“I was pumping gas at Glendene when every cop in Henderson turned up in riot gear to fill up on their way into town.”

- Steve Adams on Twitter

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“I had a cafe at the top of Queen St and saw the noisy rabble approaching and had to batten down the hatches. Literally. Terrifying yet thrilling.”

- Simon Mark-brown on Facebook

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I was setting up lights for a gig at Mainstreet (possibly The Pelicans) when someone came in a few minutes before 6pm and said there was a riot going on. They were roundly derided and went away.

By around 7pm I'd finished, so I went off in search of some food. Sure enough, there was a riot going on. The sound of yelling, glass breaking and sirens was coming from all over the place, and while there were no police in sight there was debris on the street.

I wandered down Queen Street into Aotea Square. It appeared that the police had recently done a charge through the square. There were about 20 injured people lying on the ground. I went around and made sure that none were at risk of dying immediately. No one was morbidly injured and none showed any aggression to me. I then walked up onto what was becoming Mayoral Drive where I found a couple of ambulance officers. They refused to enter the square for fear. I yelled at them.

From there I continued on Mayoral Drive back across Queen Street. Airedale Street ended in a blank wall before the steps were constructed and about 20 police in riot gear were viciously beating half a dozen people who were lying on the ground.

From there to the corner of Wakefield Street and Mayoral Drive. People were breaking windows and rolling 44-gallon drums down Wakefield Street at a few police. There was a nicely sized ditch-digger parked there and I couldn't help but think that would be fun.

Time had got away from me and there was no chance of finding food so it was back to Mainstreet.

The gig went off OK. The crowd was quite lively, I had to put out three fires. Memory tells me that was one of the very last gigs at Mainstreet.

Afterwards, perhaps 2:30am, the streets were still full of the sounds of sirens, yelling and breaking glass. Most of the glass sounds were glaziers and council workers beginning repairs and cleaning up.

I returned when I woke in the morning and took a few photos. [I'll have to dig to find those] Only the door of the ditch-digger remained.

- Mark Robinson, by email

 
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