In our series of posts which take you back in time in New Zealand's history today let us reminisce about Opo and the Wahine...
OPO THE DOLPHIN
For almost 12 months, from 1955 to 1956, the locals of a small and charming seaside town on the Hokianga Harbour in Northland were captivated by the attention and antics of a young female bottlenose dolphin.
Opononi George, or Opo, became known as the “gay dolphin” because of her playful and approachable antics. Opo began approaching locals in the summer of 1955 apparently wanting to make contact with the swimmers and people. She enjoyed frolicking in the shallows particularly enjoying the company of children and allowing them to balance on her back and for people to pat her. She also enjoyed juggling balls and balancing bottles on her snout.
As news travelled of Opo and her antics in late 1955, visitors came from far and wide making the small seaside town of Opononi the place to visit that summer and filling the local campsite and small hotel.
With the increase in attention locals became concerned about the fate of Opo and set up the Opononi Gay Dolphin Protection Committee calling on government support for dolphin protection. This resulted in the passing of an order in council making it an offence to take or molest any dolphin in the Hokianga Harbour incurring a 50 pound fine.
Sadly, Opo was found dead the day after the order was passed, her death shrouded in mystery.
Messages of sympathy poured in from around the country including from the Governor-General. Opo was buried in front of the beach where she had entertained so many people and a statue was erected in her memory. A song was written about Opo and she has become an important character in the history of New Zealand!
THE WAHINE DISASTER
The sinking of the Lyttelton–Wellington ferry Wahine on 10 April 1968 was New Zealand’s worst modern maritime disaster. Fifty-one people lost their lives that day, another died several weeks later and a 53rd victim died in 1990 from injuries sustained in the wreck. The Wahine’s demise also marked a coming of age for television news broadcasting in New Zealand as images of the disaster were beamed into the nation’s living rooms. The footage was later screened around the world as the international media spotlight focused on Wellington.
Would-be rescuers stood helplessly on the beach at Seatoun as the Wahine succumbed to one of the worst storms recorded in New Zealand history. It seemed impossible that so many lives could be lost so close to shore. Although the main cause of the accident was the atrocious weather conditions, the subsequent inquest also acknowledged that errors of judgement had been made both on board the ferry and on shore. Shipwrecks were commonplace in the 19th century, but this was the 1960s – how could a large, modern vessel founder almost within sight of New Zealand’s capital city?
'The Wahine disaster', URL: www.nzhistory.net.nz/culture/wahine-disaster, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 20-Dec-2012
There is a poem that refers to the birth and death dates on a tombstone and says what matters most is the dash between those years ... here is a New Zealander whose legacy really stands out in their dash ...
30 August 1871 to 19 October 1937
Ernest Rutherford was born near Nelson in 1871. ‘Ern’, as he was known by his family, later claimed his inventiveness was honed on the challenges of helping out on his parents' farm: ‘We haven't the money, so we've got to think’.
His mother, who believed ‘all knowledge is power’, made sure her children had a good education.
After gaining three degrees at Canterbury College, Rutherford won an Exhibition of 1851 scholarship and used it to study at the Cavendish Laboratory of the University of Cambridge. Nicknamed ‘crocodile’ (because crocodiles always look forwards), he became known for his ability to make imaginative leaps and design experiments to test them.
In 1898 he accepted a professorship at McGill University in Montreal, returning to New Zealand briefly to marry Mary Newton, the daughter of his former landlady. It was at McGill University that Rutherford made the first of three major breakthroughs of his career: the discovery that atoms of heavy elements have a tendency to decay. This heralded the ‘carbon dating’ technique still important in science today.
Rutherford returned to England in 1907 to become Professor of Physics at Manchester University. Here he produced his second breakthrough – a new model of the atom as a tiny nucleus surrounded by orbiting electrons.
During the First World War, Rutherford worked on acoustic methods of detecting submarines – and unsuccessfully tried to persuade the United States government to use young scientists for research rather than in the trenches. It was not his first cause. He had campaigned for women to share men's privileges at Cambridge University, and spoken up for the freedom of the British Broadcasting Corporation from government censorship.
In 1917 Rutherford claimed that he had 'broken the machine and touched the ghost of matter’. In his third major breakthrough, he had succeeded in 'splitting' the atom – making him the world's first successful alchemist. This research was published in 1919, the same year he became Director of the Cavendish Laboratory. There he proved a humane and supportive leader who never failed to let his students take credit for research he had mentored.
On his final trip to New Zealand in 1925, Rutherford was received as a national hero and gave talks to packed halls around the country. His call for government to support education and research helped drive the establishment of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR) the following year.
In 1908 Rutherford received a Nobel Prize for his work on the disintegration of elements. He was knighted in 1914, decorated with the Order of Merit in 1925 and made a Baron in 1931, choosing for his coat of arms a design that included a kiwi and a Maori warrior. Many scientific institutions, streets and school houses bear his name and his image appears on the $100 note and on a stamp issued by New Zealand Post in 2008. He is the only New Zealander to have an element – rutherfordium – named in his honour. (The mineral rutherfordine us also named after him).
Rutherford died in 1937 of complications from a hernia. Years before, in the midst of the First World War, he had expressed the hope that no one would discover how to extract the energy of the atom until man was ‘living at peace with his neighbours’. Nuclear fission, which made possible the use of nuclear power, was discovered two years after his death.
By Emma Brewerton - Article courtesy of New Zealand History www.nzhistory.net.nz
This is the first in a series of posts we will bring you taking you back in time to historical events in New Zealand's past. Today ...
ERUPTION ON WHITE ISLAND KILLS 10 PEOPLE - 10 SEPTEMBER 1914 ...
Attempts were first made to mine sulfur on White Island around the turn of the 20th century. On 10 September 1914, 10 miners were killed when part of the crater wall collapsed, causing a landslide.
The only survivor was the mining company’s cat, Peter the Great. Sulfur was used in the manufacture of sulfuric acid and superphosphate fertiliser.
White Island, in the Bay of Plenty 50 km from Whakatāne and Ōpōtiki, is New Zealand’s most active volcano. Known to Māori as Whakaari (‘to uplift or expose to view’), it is important to the local iwi, Ngāti Awa and Te Whakatōhea.
Sulfur mining on White Island recommenced in the late 1920s but proved uneconomic and ceased in the early 1930s. A total of 11,000 tonnes had been obtained. Today the island is a privately owned scenic reserve and tourism venture.
MOTOR RACING DRIVER BRUCE MCLAREN KILLED - 2 JUNE 1970 ...
At the age of just 22, Bruce McLaren had become the then youngest Formula One Grand Prix winner in the United States in 1959. He would win three more races and achieve 23 other podium finishes, and was runner-up in the 1960 Formula One World Championship.
His abilities as an analyst, engineer and manager contributed much to the success of the cars that still bear his name today. In 1963 he established the McLaren Racing Team which became one of the most successful in Formula One championship history.
McLaren was killed while testing one of his Can-Am series cars on the Goodwin circuit near Chichester, England. He was 32 years old.
In 1990 he became an inaugural member of the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame.
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