Norman Kirk – 6 January 1923 – 31 August 1974

It is 40 years since the death of Prime Minister Norman Kirk, M.P. for Sydenham. He had earlier been M.P. for Lyttelton, and Mayor of Kaiapoi.

Some facts from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography and NZHistory:

  • Norman became a foundation pupil at Linwood Avenue School in April 1928.
  • At school Kirk quickly learned to read. He developed a lifelong passion for libraries and books and acquired an extensive vocabulary.
  • He built his own family home in Kaiapoi.
  • Norman worked as an engine driver at the Firestone factory in Papanui, and cycled between Kaiapoi and Papanui to work.
  • On 9 December 1965, 42-year-old Norman Kirk became leader of the parliamentary Labour Party, and leader of the opposition.
  • Kirk led Labour to victory with a majority of 23 seats on 25 November 1972.
  • He applied pressure to the French to stop testing nuclear weapons in the Pacific, then sent a a frigate to the test area ‘to provide a focus for international opinion against the tests’.
  • His government reformed Māori land law – the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975 set up the Waitangi Tribunal. See television footage of Waitangi Day ceremonies on 6 February 1973.
  • He grew progressively more unwell, and died in our Our Lady’s Home of Compassion hospital in Island Bay on Saturday 31 August 1974 of ‘congestive cardiac failure’ and ‘thromboembolic pulmonary heart disease’. He was 51. Kirk was survived by his wife and family. He had a state funeral, and it was attended by thousands of New Zealanders.
View image of Norman Kirk's coffin
Alongside the coffin of the late Prime Minister Norman Kirk at Parliament House, Wellington. Negatives of the Evening Post newspaper. Ref: 1/4-021782-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Gallery - Norman Kirk The First 250 Days

Cover of The Mighty Totara Cover of Diary of the Kirk years
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One thought on “Norman Kirk – 6 January 1923 – 31 August 1974

  1. Robyn 31 August 2014 / 11:02 am

    I have a distinct but unverifiable memory of going to see Lou Reed at the Christchurch Town Hall. When I got home my flatmate said “Big Norm’s dead”. It was a real shock – I don’t think the public knew just how sick he was. Lots of images come back to me; his coffin being carried up the steps of Parliament, people standing in the rain to see the cortege pass when he came back to Christchurch, queues to pass his coffin as he lay in state at the Town Hall, which he had opened less than two years before.

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