New Zealand in the Twentieth Century: King Dick to Helen Clark

Twentieth century New Zealanders adapted constantly to social, economic and political change, sometimes at a bit too slow a pace.  The inexorable movement to the North, urbanisation, World Wars, developing New Zealand’s ‘own’ identity and earning a living in a changing world are important themes of this course; so is leadership, Maori and Pakeha.

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Course outline

Session one:

In this session Judith will cover New Zealand in 1900 with a focus on:

  • Richard John Seddon and the Liberal Party confidently dominating a ‘small but perfectly formed’ colony
  • The building of ‘God’s Own Country’
  • Demographic change – movement to the North Island; and into towns
  • Sir Joseph Ward and ‘Farmer Bill’ Massey
  • The First World War

Session two:

This session will focus on New Zealand in the 1920s paying particular attention to:

  • Gordon Coates, Peter Fraser.
  • The Great Depression
  • The First Labour Government
  • ‘Mickey’ Savage Foundations of a Welfare State, and a protected, insulated economy
  • The Second World War; still ferociously loyal, but a greater sense of independence than in 1914
  • A developing sense of a distinct New Zealand identity

Session three:

This session will focus on New Zealand in the 1950 paying attention to:

  • Social and demographic change in the 60s and 70s expands upwards and outwards
  • Sidney George Holland, ‘Kiwi Keith’ Holyoake and Robert David Muldoon
  • The 1951 waterfront dispute
  • The Royal Tour of 1953, the last of its kind
  • Working wives; ‘Moral Delinquency’; Bodgies and Widgies;  Milk Bar Cowboys
  •  A more diversified, urban, opinionated society
  • The implosion of the controlled economy

Session four:

This session presented by guest speaker Dr Michael Bassett will focus on:

  • The Lange Government and the reforms of 1984 – 2000
  • The insulated, centrally controlled economy reaching the end of its credibility in 1984
  • Significant economic and social reforms under Roger Douglas, Ruth Richardson, Jenny Shipley
  • The Clark Government – a formidable manager and a remarkable politician, but the legacy is still hard to evaluate

Learning outcomes

At the completion of this course participants will have enhanced knowledge of the development of modern New Zealand and will be able to more critically consider New Zealand’s place in the modern world.

They will also have greater understanding of recent historical writing. This course might assist researchers into local or family history to engage more creatively with the results of their research.

Who should attend?

Those who want to increase their knowledge of modern New Zealand History.  People with an interest in social, economic and political history. Researchers of their own family or local history who are looking to engage more creatively with the results of their research.


  • 4 x Wednesdays, 24 March - 14 April, 10am – 12pm
  • $185.00 incl. GST
  • The University of Auckland, City Campus
  • Presented by Judith Bassett and Dr Michael Bassett

Seminar presenter

Judith Bassett

Judith Bassett

Judith taught Early Modern European History at The University of Auckland for many years. She is a graduate of the University of Auckland in History and Law. Her interest in European History includes Russia and France as well as a deep appreciation of the court culture of England in the 16th and 17th centuries and the popular culture of England in that time.

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