“There’s fear in their eyes,” says Peter Bush as he recalls his powerful photograph taken of the All Blacks in Belfast, in 1972/73. There had been a threat that one player from each team would be shot and as they walked onto the field at Ravenhill, armed soldiers with guns flanked them. Ready.

“The soldiers were there with the weapons and our guys, well they knew this wasn’t for show. The guys had been told this is not an ordinary game, and both sides played it with a great will. Kirkie was a young All Black captain and there was great pressure on him to hold the team together.”

The image, taken at the height of the troubles between Catholic and Protestant communities in Belfast, is just one of many thousands that renowned New Zealand photographer Peter Bush captured during his incredible career that spans more than 60 years. It reflects a different era in rugby and a different time in world politics. It clearly illustrates his skill to capture a moment in time when the two worlds collide. 

It is also one of 95 of Bush’s personal favourite photos that feature in ‘Hard on the Heels’, an exhibition returning to Masterton from June 3rd to July 9th to coincide with the country’s hosting of the DHL New Zealand Lions Series.  The exhibition was originally created to commemorate New Zealand’s hosting of the Rugby World Cup 2011 and debuted at Aratoi - Wairarapa Museum of Art and History in 2010, before touring 13 locations around the country. But thanks to a partnership between Aratoi Museum and the Masterton District Council and generous support from Masterton Trust Lands Trust, Trust House and Exhibition Services, the exhibition is back for locals and visitors to enjoy. 

The photos include great All Blacks’ moments, controversial and contentious moments and candid behind-the-scenes shots. It features All Black legends from Sir Brian Lochore, Bob Scott and Sir Wilson Whineray, to Ian Kirkpatrick, Sir Colin Meads, Graham Mourie and Jonah Lomu, along with star players from other rugby nations.

Arguably the exhibition’s most atmospheric photo shows All Black (Sid Going) running with a ball in hand towards the try-line, while shadows of the other players are seen in the fog. Entitled NZ vs East Glamorgan, Wales 1972/73 Bush is modest in his explanation that he was in the right place at the right time. 

“I can remember taking so many photographs in poor light, particularly in Scotland and Wales, and by half time you couldn’t see much at all. But that game at Cardiff Arms was something else. The fog was so thick it probably should have been called off, but the ref played it because the crowd was already there. You couldn’t even see the try being scored.”

Bush admits he’d never seen fog that bad until the Super Rugby Final of 2006 between the Crusaders and Hurricanes.

Bush grew up on the West Coast but moved to Auckland when he was a “boy-o” to attend Sacred Heart College. It was while living here that he purchased his first camera – a box brownie – from a shop on Ponsonby Rd. After taking his first pictures of a tobacco field near Motueka, he was hooked. He has since taken thousands of images during his travels and adventures all around the world. After working on the sidelines as a cadet for The New Zealand Herald in 1949, he enjoyed privileged access to the All Black teams, both on and off the field. 

Over the decades he’s seen tremendous change in the way rugby is played and who plays it. From a time when the forward line was predominately made up of farmers and the winger threw the ball into the lineout, to using a wide angle lens to photograph the whole front row and to now, rugby’s professional era. 

But the one game that stood out for Bush was when the Kiwi Army team played Auckland in either 1945 or 1946 after returning home from touring England and Europe with a different style and a spirit imbued from being in the services. 

“They weren’t bound by the old stricture. Men had been blown out of the sky or captured in the desert and suddenly sport was such a relief. The way they played that game with such style I thought – hey, this is a magical game compared to the drudgery I was being taught at school with a ‘head down, ball at the toe, take it through’ philosophy.” 

“It was a turning point. The world had taken a deep breath – the United Nations had been formed – and we were all looking forward thinking it’s a bright new world and rugby was going to be one of the great venues. I was then playing for College Rifles in Auckland and the guys were ex pilots, RNZAF and desert rats. Listening to these men saying how much rugby meant to them after being away .., I took great joy.”

Bush, who is a spritely 86-year-old with a “dicky” knee and lives in Island Bay in Wellington, has also seen tremendous change in photographic equipment and technology. In the seventies he would photograph a game with four rolls of film. 

“The first six were threading shots so I’d have about 30 left - 120 pictures approximately for the game. Sometimes I’d have five shots left in the second half and would have to make a judgement on waiting to see if a try would be scored. It made me hesitant but in a way, it gave me a far greater discipline. These days, guys go through nine shots of the same frame – some are beautifully exposed and superb examples of what the modern camera can do, but some are just boring.”

Bush is thrilled his exhibition is returning to Masterton. He has photographed teams at Memorial Park for years and maintains strong links with the Wairarapa having photographed the Hurricanes in their Super Rugby pre-season fixture every year. He’s also donated three images from the 1971 Lions game against Wairarapa Bush featuring Sir Brian Lochore to be auctioned off in a special fundraiser this June – a sign of his respect for the great man and the game.

“Old BJ, who I have the greatest respect for, of all players, truly in his own quiet positive way - he’s such a supreme player, man – everything about him to me denotes real man hood. The teams he’s held together. A rugged individual, with charm and brilliance and I have so much time for him.”

This time around ‘Hard on The Heels’ will be presented in a unique way. It will begin at Aratoi Museum, located on the corner of Dixon and Bruce Streets in Masterton, then follows a trail of rugby balls and photographs appearing in the shop-front windows along Queen Street before concluding at the oldest bookstore in Masterton, Hedley’s. Here a large collection of photographs will be on display as well as the rare book The Lions: The Complete History of The British and Irish Rugby Union Team 1888 – 2005 and over 100 other specialty rugby books. 

Aratoi’s acting director, Susanna Shadbolt, describes it as a must-see exhibition for all sports and photography fans.

“Photographer Peter Bush is a national treasure,” Shadbolt says. “His images are a must-see for all photography aficionados. Seven years ago, his exhibition at Aratoi was very popular among locals and tourists alike, and our Museum welcomes everyone to come to Masterton and enjoy this newly designed exhibition.” 

It will also be held at the same time as Aratoi’s major exhibition of the year: Te marae o Rongotaketake - Redressing our Kahungunu History, which is the largest exhibition of Ngati Kahungunu taonga ever on display. 

The exhibition, which was two years in the making, features 200 historical items which have been sourced nationally and internationally. Included are 11 Gottfried Lindauer portraits of Kahungunu rangatira, a 7-metre-long waka, 70 items from Aratoi’s own collection and several intricate carvings in wood, bone and celluloid. Other items on display are on loan from museums, such as the Fowler Museum in Los Angeles, Auckland Museum, MTG, Te Manawa and Te Papa. The exhibition, which also features works from contemporary artists, runs until September 3rd.