There’s a New Zealand Herald photograph of David Lange, family and followers celebrating Labour’s win on election night, 1984. It’s taken in the Metro Theatre, Mangere, where a diverse, working-class crowd of party faithful had excitedly assembled. Next to David in the photo is his wife, Naomi. My sister is behind Naomi’s shoulder, and I’m behind her. Clinging to my back, to get a better view, was one of the Lange’s sons, Byron. Their other son, Roy, is in the top middle of the photo. I can’t recall who hoisted him or perhaps what he was standing on.

My sister (who had David as her godfather) and I had been taken out to Mangere by a family friend, in expectation of the Labour win. David and my father had met when young lawyers in Auckland. A Methodist and Catholic, they shared strong views on the justice system, such as fair access to it for all. Later, they formed a law firm – Lange, Elliott and Brown – with barrister (later a judge in Hamilton), David Brown. David Lange’s role in the partnership was in name only once he became MP for Mangere in a 1977 by-election.

It was all a bit chaotic in the Metro that night. Radio, print and television reporters and crews jockeyed and jostled through the crowd for the best positions. The bright lamps of television cameras swung about the room. Cheap bubbly was poured by some.

As the night wore on, Muldoon phoned to concede the election. The telephone was in the old ticket booth and office in the front of the building. Someone yelled out, “Piggy’s on the phone.” Another voice scolded them. “Come on, that’s not necessary.”

Following the phone-call, a group of exuberant supporters started to lift David onto their shoulders. Roy, possessing the same wit as his father, was standing next to me. “Oh-oh,” he said. “Dad might not be Prime Minister for long.”

There were many Sundays when the Langes visited us after they had attended their church service, then visited David’s mother, who lived not far from us. We were regaled with hilarious stories of official functions and meetings with heads of state, here and overseas.

In 1982, when I was in Form Two at St. Peter’s College, I made an anti-nuclear petition, driven by the fervour for changing the world that many adolescents have. (Dad had previously taken me on anti-nuclear marches up Queen Street.) I glued a piece of lined paper onto a thin piece of cardboard, and titled it NO NUKES using a stencil for the bold lettering.

The fourth person to sign my petition was David. When signatures had almost filled the page, I sent it off to Wellington. (I wish I still had it, to be honest.)

In 1986, when I was writing a school project on Labour’s anti-nuclear stance, I asked David if he could send me some material, such as speech notes. He did it immediately, but they didn’t arrive in our mailbox. I had to keep asking my English teacher, Mrs Scott, for extensions. She was understanding and expectant of what I would produce, so allowed me more time.

Eventually, a faded, snail-eaten, Office of the Prime Minister A4 envelope appeared…in the hands of a neighbour who lived three houses down the road. They had been away for six weeks and the letter had been sitting in their mail-box. David had handwritten the wrong address. Inside was a brief note in the large, swirling writing of his that was so recognisable to me. He had signed it “U.D.” : Uncle David.

Good as Gold: New Zealand in the 1980s by Matt Elliott (Bateman Books, $49.99) is somewhat absolutely and shimmeringly adjacent to his David Lange memoir presented above. Good as Gold is an illustrated record of the 1980s in NZ, revisiting such cultural moments as Space Invaders, Telethon, Gloss, jazzercise, Stubbies shorts, Georgie Pie and Blue Light discos. The author comments, “It seems as though New Zealand suddenly sprung into life in the 1980s. There were new confidences around our national, cultural and individual identities.”

Leave a comment