US President Lyndon Johnson is speaking into a microphone at the National War Memorial in Wellington.

US Presidents – The Kiwi Connection

9 Nov 2016
A look back at New Zealand's relationship to Presidents of the United States of America

With the results from the United States presidential election due to start coming in later today, we thought it a good time to take a look back at New Zealand’s previous Presidential encounters, as they have been captured in recordings held in the Sound Collection of Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision.

The first visit to our shores by an incumbent US leader was by Lyndon Johnson in 1966. He came to office after the assassination of John F. Kennedy in November 1963. That event shocked the world – and most New Zealanders who were alive at the time can probably still remember where they were when the news broke. Here is New Zealand’s Prime Minister at the time, Keith Holyoake, addressing the country on the tragedy:

After the assassination of President Kennedy, Lyndon Baines Johnson was sworn in , and he paid New Zealand flying visit in 1966, primarily to shore up our support for the increasingly unpopular war in Vietnam.

It was a whirlwind 24 hour visit to Wellington, with a welcome at the airport, a motorcade through the capital and an official lunch at Parliament, while Mrs Johnson toured Wellington’s Botanic Gardens and Cable Car.

200,000 Kiwis crammed the streets to get their first glimpse of a President and “First Lady” and – to the consternation of his security staff – the President leapt out to the car to shake hands and address Wellingtonians in impromptu style with a loudhailer. He thanked New Zealanders for the care he received from them as a soldier in the Pacific during World War II.

President Lyndon B. Johnson in New Zealand (New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation, 19 October 1966)

When he reached Parliament Buildings the live radio commentary also captured our first recording of anti-Vietnam War protestors. You can hearing booing and chanting in the background, but the very proper NZBC commentator doesn’t acknowledge this.… although LBJ did mention the protests in his speech at the luncheon.

President Lyndon B. Johnson in New Zealand (New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation, 19 October 1966)

Listen to the full half-hour compilation of LBJ’s 1966 visit to Wellington.

The only other visit to New Zealand by an incumbent US President was in 1999 when Bill Clinton (accompanied by his wife Hillary, daughter Chelsea and mother-in-law Dorothy Rodham) visited New Zealand to attend the APEC conference in Auckland. They also enjoyed some “R and R” in Queenstown and Christchurch. We don’t have any audio of Mrs Clinton from that trip, but she and the President were famously given New Zealand merino sweaters, which they apparently wore with great pleasure – much to the delight of the NZ manufacturers:

Morning Report Feature on President Clinton’s Visit (16 September 1999)

U.S President Bill Clinton toasts a glass alongside NZ Prime Minister Jenny Shipley

United States President Bill Clinton and New Zealand Prime Minister Jenny Shipley join in a toast during a gala at the Royal New Zealand Air Force Museum in Christchurch, 15 September 1999. Photo by David Scull (public domain image).