On 26 July, New Zealander Tom Heeney took on American Gene Tunney for the world heavyweight title in front of 46,000 spectators at New York’s Yankee Stadium. In the midst of boxing’s golden age, the bout attracted massive interest both here and in America. Gisborne-born Heeney, the ‘Hard Rock from Down Under’, entered the ring wearing a Maori cloak that had been sent to him by Heni Materoa, Sir James Carroll’s widow. He was guaranteed US$100,000 for the bout, equivalent to US$1.3 million in 2011. Heeney fought bravely but was outclassed by the talented Tunney. The bout was stopped in the 11th round to save the Kiwi from further punishment.
At 9.22 a.m. on 11 September, Australian pilot Charles Kingsford Smith landed at Wigram Aerodrome, Christchurch, in his three-engine Fokker plane, the Southern Cross, to complete the first successful trans-Tasman crossing. Leaving Sydney the previous evening, Kingsford Smith and his crew (two Australians and New Zealand radio operator T.H. McWilliams) had covered 2670 km in 14 hours 25 minutes. Some 30,000 people flocked to Wigram to greet them, and many thousands of others listened to a live radio commentary of the event.
As part of her prize for winning the 1927 Miss New Zealand contest, Dale Austen won a first-class return trip to Los Angeles and a ‘studio engagement’ with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Thousands of people crowded Dunedin Railway Station to farewell the local girl on her journey to ‘stardom’. After minor roles in several films she played the second female lead in the Tim McCoy feature The bushranger, which was filmed in California but set in Australia. She was offered a longer contract, but decided to return home, later recalling that: ‘The Hollywood swinging scene was parties, drinking, sex … I didn’t drink. I was unprepared for the fast life’. Back in New Zealand, Austen appeared in Rudall Hayward’s 1928 features A daughter of Dunedin and The bush Cinderella.
Amid mounting economic uncertainty, the governing Reform Party faced a new opponent in November’s general election. The United Party had been formed by disaffected Reformists and the remnants of the old Liberal Party. United was led by the veteran former Liberal Prime Minister Sir Joseph Ward, who made the startling promise to borrow £70 million (equivalent to more than $6 billion today) in one year to fund an ambitious public works programme. The ageing Ward had misread his speech notes (he meant to say £70 million over 10 years), but voters embraced the proposal as a bold developmental vision. As Labour MP John A. Lee recalled, United rode the ‘musical chink of the seventy million’ into power against all the odds. Ward died shortly after resigning as Prime Minister in 1930.