Bill Rowling

The Right Honourable
Sir Wallace Rowling
30th Prime Minister of New Zealand
In office
6 September 1974  12 December 1975
Monarch Elizabeth II
Governor-General Denis Blundell
Deputy Bob Tizard
Preceded by Norman Kirk
Succeeded by Robert Muldoon
33rd Minister of Finance
In office
8 December 1972  6 September 1974
Prime Minister Norman Kirk
Preceded by Robert Muldoon
Succeeded by Bob Tizard
22nd Leader of the Opposition
In office
12 December 1975  3 February 1983
Preceded by Robert Muldoon
Succeeded by David Lange
8th Leader of the Labour Party
In office
6 September 1974  3 February 1983
Deputy Bob Tizard
Preceded by Norman Kirk
Succeeded by David Lange
22nd President of the Labour Party
In office
Preceded by Norman Douglas
Succeeded by Charles Bennett
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Buller
In office
Preceded by Jerry Skinner
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Tasman
In office
Succeeded by Ken Shirley
Personal details
Born (1927-11-15)15 November 1927
Motueka, Tasman District, New Zealand
Died 31 October 1995(1995-10-31) (aged 67)
Nelson, New Zealand
Political party Labour
Spouse(s) Glen Elna Reeves (m.1951)
Children 5
Alma mater University of Canterbury
Religion Anglican[1]
Military service
Allegiance New Zealand Army
Rank Captain
Battles/wars Malayan Emergency

Sir Wallace Edward Rowling KCMG PC (15 November 1927 31 October 1995), often known as Bill Rowling, was the 30th Prime Minister of New Zealand. He was in office for just over a year, having been appointed Prime Minister following the death of the highly popular Norman Kirk. Rowling was unable to retain the premiership but remained leader of the Labour Party until 1983.

Early life

Rowling was born in a country suburb of Mariri neighbouring the town of Motueka, near Nelson. He was a member of a long-established farming family. He was educated at Nelson College and the University of Canterbury, gaining a degree in economics. He also attended the Christchurch College of Education (currently, University of Canterbury), qualifying as a teacher. After completing his education, Rowling taught at several schools around the country, including at Motueka, Christchurch, Waverley and in Northland. In 1958, Rowling left teaching and joined the New Zealand Army, becoming Assistant Director of Army Education. He spent a short amount of time serving abroad in Malaysia and Singapore, a deployment connected with the Malayan Emergency.[1]

Member of Parliament

Parliament of New Zealand
Years Term Electorate Party
19621963 33rd Buller Labour
19631966 34th Buller Labour
19661969 35th Buller Labour
19691972 36th Buller Labour
19721975 37th Tasman Labour
19751978 38th Tasman Labour
19781981 39th Tasman Labour
19811984 40th Tasman Labour

In the 1960 election, Rowling was selected as the Labour Party's candidate for the Fendalton electorate in Christchurch. Fendalton was regarded as a safe National seat, and Rowling was defeated by the National Party's Harry Lake (who was appointed Minister of Finance in the new National government). Two years later, however, Rowling successfully contested the by-election for Buller, which had been caused by the death of prominent Labour MP Jerry Skinner. Rowling was to hold this seat until the election of 1972, when the seat was dissolved – Rowling then contested successfully the new seat of Tasman, which intriguingly he did travelling up and down the electorate by Commer campervan, which he lived in for the time.

When the Labour Party won power under Norman Kirk in the 1972 election, Rowling was appointed Minister of Finance. This could be seen as a considerable promotion for someone without prior ministerial experience. Rowling's term as Minister of Finance was somewhat turbulent, with a number of formidable economic challenges arising during his tenure.

Prime Minister

Rowling with US President Gerald Ford in 1975.

When Norman Kirk died unexpectedly in 1974, Hugh Watt, served as acting prime minister for several days while the Labour Party chose a new leader. Rowling, was the front-runner to replace Kirk, However, the party National Executive and the Federation of Labour preferred Kirk's deputy Hugh Watt.[2]

Rowling was officially confirmed as party leader and 30th Prime Minister on 6 September 1974[3] taking the role of Minister of Finance[4] He had the option of replacing Kirk in the safe Labour seat of Sydenham[5] but chose to remain in his (more marginal) home electorate of Tasman.

He was later appointed to the Privy Council.[6] Unlike the pro-life Kirk and Muldoon, Rowling was pro-choice.

As leader, Rowling was attacked by the opposition led by Robert Muldoon, and was generally characterised as being weak. His supporters denied this, saying he chose not to participate in the confrontational and aggressive politics that Muldoon favoured.

Leader of the Opposition

The 1975 election was a major defeat for the Labour Party. Labour also campaigned with the famous Citizens for Rowling – prominent New Zealanders who backed Rowling. The campaign was labelled as being elitist, and was generally regarded as having backfired on Rowling.[7]

During the late 1970s, Rowling alienated Maori by removing Matiu Rata, the party's effective and well-regarded Maori Affairs spokesman, from the Opposition front bench. Earlier, Rowling had replaced Rata with himself as convenor of Labour's Maori Affairs Committee. Mat Rata complained about the insensitivity of Labour's Maori policy[7] and went on to form his own party, Mana Motuhake, a precursor to the Māori Party.

His approach to the Moyle and O'Brien 'affairs' was regarded as heavy-handed and unnecessary in many circles. In regards to the 'Moyle affair', "it was Rowling who insisted that his close friend, Colin Moyle, must resign".[7] Large numbers protested at the 1977 Labour Party Conference; many in the LGBT community never forgave him.[8]

Rowling, however, managed to retain the party leadership, and gradually managed to improve public perceptions of him. In the 1978 and 1981 elections, Labour actually secured more votes than the National Party but failed to gain a majority of seats.

While Rowling had largely managed to undo his negative image, many people in the Labour Party nevertheless believed that it was time for a change. In 1983 Rowling was replaced as leader by the charismatic David Lange, who went on to defeat Muldoon in the 1984 election. Rowling retired from parliament at the same election.

Later life

After leaving politics, Rowling was appointed Ambassador to the United States, serving from 1985 to 1988. He held that position when the issue of nuclear weapons and ANZUS flared up between the United States and New Zealand, and he travelled extensively across the country explaining the policy.[9]

Later, after returning to New Zealand, Rowling became highly involved in a number of community organizations and trusts. He also played a prominent role at the Museum of New Zealand, and is considered to have been the "driving force" behind the eventual establishment of Te Papa.[1]


Honours that Rowling received include being made a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George in the 1983 Queen's Birthday Honours,[10] an honorary law doctorate from the University of Canterbury in 1987,[11] and being made a Commander in the Orde van Oranje – Nassau (Netherlands).[9]


Rowling died of cancer in Nelson on 31 October 1995.[9]


Wikimedia Commons has media related to Bill Rowling.
  1. 1 2 3 Henderson, John. "Rowling, Wallace Edward". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 23 February 2013.
  2. Auckland Star 5 September 1974 p11
  3. "Prime Minister Appointed" (6 September 1974) 87 New Zealand Gazette 1899.
  4. "Ministers Appointed" (10 September 1974) 88 New Zealand Gazette 1901.
  5. Grant, David (2014). The Mighty Totara: The life and times of Norman Kirk. Auckland: Random House. ISBN 9781775535799.p420
  6. "Special Honours List" (26 September 1974) 93 New Zealand Gazette 2047.
  7. 1 2 3 Rowling: The man and the myth by John Henderson, Australia New Zealand Press, 1980.
  8. see Henderson, p. 167 for more on Gerald O'Brien and the O'Brien 'affair'
  9. 1 2 3 OBITUARY: Sir Wallace Rowling, The Independent, 1 November 1995.
  10. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 49376. p. 33. 11 June 1983. Retrieved 20 June 2015.
  11. "Honorary Graduates" (PDF). University of Canterbury. p. 1. Retrieved 20 June 2015.
New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by
Jerry Skinner
Member of Parliament for Buller
Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament for Tasman
Succeeded by
Ken Shirley
Political offices
Preceded by
Norman Kirk
Prime Minister of New Zealand
Succeeded by
Robert Muldoon
Preceded by
Robert Muldoon
Minister of Finance
Succeeded by
Bob Tizard
Leader of the Opposition
Succeeded by
David Lange
Party political offices
Preceded by
Norman Douglas
President of the Labour Party
Succeeded by
Charles Bennett
Preceded by
Norman Kirk
Leader of the Labour Party
Succeeded by
David Lange
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Lance Adams-Schneider
Ambassador to the United States
Succeeded by
Tim Francis
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