Sixty years on from riots when it rained on parade
Scuffles, arrest and injuries after troublemakers ‘got carried away’
Sixty years ago to the day, the Hastings Blossom Festival suffered a dent to its reputation with the infamous “festival riot”, after rain cancelled the parade.
Ellen Jillings, who was picked as the first Hastings Blossom Queen in 1953, told Hawke’s Bay Today last year that she believes the festival has always been more orderly since that day on Saturday, September 10, 1960. Some claim moral panic in the wake of the incident inflated it in the popular imagination to a full-scale riot instigated by rebellious young people.
But Ellen believed it probably wasn’t actually as bad as that.
“I did hear about a scuffle in 1960 when they had to hose people down. I believe it was young people, full of booze, who got carried away,” she laughed.
In 2006, another Blossom Queen, Helena La Hood, recalled about 400 people had arrived on trains from Wellington especially for the event that year. “The Battle of Hastings” broke out, which brought police and the fire department to the fracas where they “had to hose the crowd down”, she said.
I did hear about a scuffle in 1960 when they had to hose people down. I believe it was young people, full of booze, who got carried away.Ellen Jillings
“So the organisers decided to put on an impromptu parade there were only a couple of floats and two marching bands usually there were about 10. I was on one float, wrapped in plastic to keep my dress dry from the rain.”
Local historian Michael Fowler said the downpour forced organisers, Greater Hastings, to postpone the 11am Blossom Parade until 2pm but, shortly after 10am, cars equipped with loud speakers announced the cancellation due to persistent rain.
“An unofficial parade, however, took place at 2pm, where those who wanted to take part in the rain could.”
With nothing else to do, most of the youths ended up in bars.
“While the 2pm procession was taking place, it was noticeable that several youths were intoxicated and police quickly removed them from the crowd. At the same time, police were called to public bars to deal with glasses and jugs being thrown. Interest in the parade had waned for a certain element and they had returned to drinking.”
The Hastings Blossom Parade has come a long way since the 1960 riots. Photo / File
The disturbance occurred about 3.30pm when apparently “a European and a Māori” began fighting outside the Albert Hotel with a mob urging them on. Other fights soon broke out.
Fowler said there were many varying accounts over who ordered the hoses to be turned on the crowds, but it had a limited effect, as “vandalism and violence persisted into the night”.
While the figure was never confirmed, reports were made that 100 people involved in a later disturbance outside the Hastings Police Station received treatment at the Hastings Memorial Hospital’s emergency department, including three policemen. “Many of the injured youths abused and insulted doctors and nurses during their treatment.”
The historian said most of the blame for the riot was put on young people visiting from Wellington, who had the majority of arrests for drunkenness and disorderly behaviour.
“About 12 people were arrested, the maximum that could be held in the Hastings police cells at that time. Differences of opinion existed as to whether the troublemakers had come by train or by their own cars and motorcycles from Wellington.”
Photo caption – The Hastings Blossom Parade has come a long way since the 1960 riots.Photo/File