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
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