Queen Street riot 1984

Poster for the concert that sparked the riots on Queen Street

Are the kids all right? 

‘Tears, terror at the concert that made history’ was one of the newspaper headlines the day following the Queen Street riot of December 1984. It made for heady reading over the morning cornflakes as papers described screaming children, bloody head wounds and police facing ‘gun-toting’ rioters.

The ‘Thank God, it’s over’ concert took place on 7 December 1984 at Auckland’s Aotea Centre. Promoted as a summer celebration of the end of the academic year, this free event was to feature performances by top local bands Herbs, DD Smash and The Mockers. After the set by Herbs and shortly after DD Smash took the stage, the power went off. 

While waiting for it to be restored, some of the 10,000-strong audience started throwing bottles at police. There were a few arrests, and more police arrived, outfitted in riot gear.

On the streets 

Dave Dobbyn, DD Smash’s lead singer, then allegedly told the crowd, ‘I wish those riot squad guys would stop wanking and put their little batons away.’ The concert promoters, radio station Triple M, announced that the concert was being stopped at the request of the police.

Parts of the audience rioted. They poured onto Queen Street, smashed shop windows and left behind broken bottles, rubbish and upturned cars. Damage caused was in excess of $1 million.

The government ordered a commission of inquiry to investigate what had happened. Dobbyn was charged with inciting the riot, but he was eventually cleared of all charges.

Credit

Fran McGowan private collection

How to cite this page: 'Queen Street riot 1984', URL: http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/media/photo/queen-street-riots-1984, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 8-May-2014

Community contributions


J3nny
30 Jan 2014

Hello sociology student and others;
I was heading up Queen street to catch my bus back to Dominion Road when the music was still playing that day and I waited for the bus in that block opposite and down a bit from the Aotea Square. The music sounded good and I was thinking of catching a later bus and heading over to listen when the music stopped and I could hear the caffufle beginning with angry shouting and so forth....(Nah, perhaps I will just catch my bus after all).
When the people started pouring out of the square and running in a bit of a frenzy down the street, smashing the windows and (I let my first bus go by and decided to wait for the next one heading roughly in my homeward direction) - then I watched from a distance as the guys who were rocking the little car so much it was going to overturn....somewhere on the western corner of Wellesley and Queen street intersection...got it to bounce over on its side and then as I recall it was set fire to. People were running around with a naughty frenzy look on their face and once some people were smaching things and behaving badly, it seemed a bit addictive like others were so very tempted to join in...and they looked caught up in the urge to be voyeurs of the procedings, or to actually smash some things themselves....the opportunity to rebel against the state authority and "civil" authority was there and people were really tempted to take the opportunity themselves.
I was internally struggling too, I was fascinatged enough (adrenalin?) to hang about at the bustop, observing, waiting to "see what happened next" whilst also thinking "No, I have to do the right thing and the right thing is that if all these people just took themselves home now, the streets would clear out and there would be no audience to fuel the worst of the behaviour. I made self catch the next bus homeward - which came along in the next 5-10 minutes.....though internally I desired to hang about and watch more....not liking it....but yes - there was definately a "crowd-fever" thing and perhaps the alcohol, some weed, the hostility to police authority (post the "81 tour etc), and the cutting short of the concert itself....all conspired to allow the violence and destruction in the people present to have an avenue to leak out through. I was about 22 and I recall thinking that good solid citizens would and were behaving dangerously and destructively, given the right circumstances. I got home and told my flatmates about it and had to be content to watch what unfolded on the telly. I still think I did the right thing by managing myself into the bus and off the street, would tell my family to go home and leave the scene of such things too. Damn shame when your conscience gets in the way of the excitement like that...but such is life, self control and excercise of wisdom.

Matilda
26 Apr 2011
I was there on the day and it was frightening. The cops basically cordoned off the city and the rioters (and innocent bystanders like me) were caught in a trap and couldn't get out for hours. I saw cars being rolled and set alight, the crowd chased, caught and attacked a photographer in front of me. Shop windows smashed, looters, the works. I blame Dave Dobbyn to this day. The guy's a tool of the first order. He was willfully working up the crowd and taunting the police.
mark
15 Nov 2010
My mrs shelley and i arrived with a chillybin during Herbs sound check. Id brought a mates toolbox back from oz and got some acid for my trouble. We were 17, found my cuz drinking on the grass area, grouse day, i remember seeing my mrs being the only one standing n dancing in front of the stage, next i knew ther was thousands of people, and we bumped into everyone that we knew, i caught a taxi back to my ship and ticked up the rest of the bar and back to the square, i saw that guy pissin of the roof and it was rather a trivial thing, next a squad of police in riot gear speared their way through the crowd chanting hey, hey, hey in a V formation,thats what pissed everyone off, the forceful barging, thats when they started getting bombed. I was by the citizens advice bureau when the window smashed and the police car was across the road from the civic outside stones furs and leather shop, damn there was so much going on for so long, a security guard had a hold of this maori outside the london bar and he grabbed me asking to help him, i smashed him in the face and the security gave me the high eyebrows, ill add more another time,could write a book
Paul
08 Jan 2010
I remember it all too well. Went early to the event but my girlfriend and I were hungry so left to find a place to eat. We heard on the radio the place was 'a riot'. We thought "oh good the place is realy rocking on" We headed back to listen to the bands and got caught in the mess. I remember trying to keep my girlfriend safe and being told to move back down the street by sailors in uniform. Only problem was my motorcycle was parked out front of the St James and the Herald the next day showed it being knocked over and a car rolled over it before the car was set on fire. I rolled my bike out of the area and was stopped by a cop who thought I was stealing the bike. Ah well I was part of NZ history in a small way.
fortyearsyoung
03 Dec 2009
I was 17 when this happened. I remember sitting on the big rock in the middle of Aotea Square soaking up the atmosphere. I thought I had the best seat in the place. I remember seeing this guy climb up on the roof of the old Post Office and piss on this cop. We all thought it was hilarious. I dont think he did. I remember seeing a big fight up the front. We heard another fight happened and some one had broken into a gunshop. I think thats when the cops panicked. When they turned up I remember Dave Dobbyn saying to the cops f**k off you w*nk*rs. Most freaked out and bolted but some of us ran around by the WinterGarden and tried to get cheeky from behind them. I was pretty naughty then so I said,"Lets make a barricade". Next thing we were turning over a car on Victoria Street outside the Civic Theatre. I remember seeing my back on tv flipping the car.I took off to the 305 bus stop after that.
Anonymous 84
14 Jul 2009
I finished high school in '84 and was at the concert with a couple of friends. We were drinking beer in the sun by the town hall and it was a great day. People were getting quite drunk (including us)and grooving to the music. As the afternoon wore on there were some drunken antics and it was getting a bit loose. I didn't know why the riot started (although I heard the story later about the guy p*ssing that the other person posted on this site) but I remember Dave Dobbyn saying the police were turning off the equipment and the concert was going to stop. Everyone started booing and then things escalated. In my memory it seemd to happen quite fast. People started throwing bottles at the stage and soon there were bottles everywhere, smashing on the concrete of Aotea Square, all around us. It rained bottles. My frineds and I had moved over to near the old Information Centre to try and protect ourselves from the glass missles. It had huge plate glass windows and this massive angry looking guy picked up one of those old wire rubbish bins and threw it at the window. I was so excited and amazed at this incredible rebellion that I must have been staring with my mouth wide open! The window bowed in and bounced the rubbish bin back. I realised that I was disa[ppointed and that I had actually wanted to see the window smash. The guy picked the bin up again and threw it really hard. The window smashed. It cascaded down like a glass waterfall. It was a stunning effect. Crowds surged down Queen Street, breaking windows and looting shops. Later we caught the bus home and the Police stopped the bus, got on and arrested some people with stolen stuff. The whole day was actually pretty cool, scary but the violence wasn't directed so much at people (at least in my experience) as property. Now I have my own children I would be outraged if this sort of thing happened but at the time, to a 16 year old, it was immaculate.
Anonymous1
10 Jun 2009
Hi Bryce, No worries :-) I just wanted to add my bit that's why i posted - I bet there were others who saw different aspects as well. Mine is just one angle. You put forward what you remember and that's great as well - no disrespect intended by my post towards you at all. It was a shocking moment for new Zealand actually - it shattered the image of a peaceful country after that. Sadly, I don't live in NZ now but I would return there in an instant if I could, it's still an awesome place with awesome people. NZ'ers need to stand proud of who they are and how great their country is - you have a LOT to be proud of and can hold your heads high in this world. Look at what your prime minister is doing now - he stands alone in the world and is making correct financial decisions while the rest of the world stupidly keep s spending. NZ'ers are unique and are always prepared to stand up for what's right rather than take the easy way out! Well done ALL of you.
Bryce
10 Apr 2009
Thanks to the contributor who was there on the day for the enlightenment. I was only 12 so only remember TV news footage but you're so right how history can be easily rewritten.
Anonymous
16 Mar 2009
Sorry - I have posted three times because each time I remembered a little more about teh events of that day.
People have short memories! I remember only too well the riots and it wasn't started by the singers comments at all. It started when a young man p*ssed on the crowd and police went and tried to arrest him. The crowd intervened and refused to let the police arrest him. Yes, it may have been teh singers comment after that but it wasn't the reason the singer spoke out it was becasue the police tried to arrest him and then teh singer spoke out telling them to put away their battons. After that the police decided the concert got out of hand and ordered it shut down and had the power tuned off. When they tried to get the urinating man down everyone stood up to the police and pulled him away from the police - this is what started it - I was there. I notice the wiki entry for this event totally ignores the urinating event also.
The police then called for reinforcements from all over greater Auckland. People were driving in from the suburbs to take part in the protests and police got teh radio stations to broadcast that police backup was pouring into the city. The riots lasted for over a day - it wasn't over in a hurry at all. The police stood defensive and allowed the riots to quell themselves. The police realised they were totally outnumbered but they also remembered that the cause of the riot would soon lose momentum so they let it die a natural death. Amazing how politicians rewrite things to make ti seem like law and order prevailed when in fact it didn't.
Anonymous
05 Feb 2009
Until recently I condemned Dave Dobbyn for his actions that day. Unfortunately I was not familiar with the facts and have had cause to reconsidered. Undoubtedly we all jump to conclusions; the power of the media to cast adverse comment can be very seductive if we are not vigilant.

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