33 years ago, a Johnsonville bowler became a household name in New Zealand

  • May 3, 2018


Rob Davis

‘Allan Galbraith’ is one of those names you sort of feel you’ve heard before.

Not because you may have played bowls with, or against, Allan at the Johnsonville Bowling Club.  Something more than that.

Bowler, Photographer, Detective and Star in a Kiwi Legend

Not because you enjoyed the great action shots Bowls New Zealand’s Facebook page taken by amateur photographer Allan Galbraith at the recent BPL07 at Naenae.  The name instead rings a bell from somewhere, way back.

And you’d be right.  In fact way back to 10th July 1985 when the Greenpeace ship ‘Rainbow Warrior’ was mined at Marsden Wharf in Auckland.  It was Allan Galbraith, a Detective Superintendent with the Auckland CIB, who was made the officer in charge of the investigation of the bombing – and who became the name, face and voice on the television news every night for the next few months.

“To this day, it’s still pretty incomprehensible as to why the French DGSE would have even bothered to have carried out the sabotage of a pretty innocuous protest ship in a friendly port on the other side of the world,” explains Allan. “Sure they might have been grumpy about the ‘HMNZS Otago’ going to Moruroa to protest nuclear tests, but that had happened 12 years earlier in 1973.  There was no need for anyone to die as Fernando Pereira did.”

It was Allan’s team piecing together a remarkable investigative jigsaw which eventually discovered ‘whodunit’ – although Allan keeps pretty humble about his leading role.

The inward buckling of the hull plates meant that it hadn’t been an accidental internal explosion on the ‘Rainbow Warrior’

Urban myth has it that there was a lot of dumb luck involved – for instance, suspicious witnesses just happening to record the registration plate of the agents’ campervan, that had rendezvoused with the yacht ‘Ouvea’ smuggling the explosives in to Northland.

Urban myth also portrays the French agents as keystone cops, making bumbling mistakes that were critical in implicating them in the sabotage.

“That’s all true,” says Allan.  “But there was also a heck of a lot of police footwork involved – at one stage there were 60 investigators working on the case.  Like all good policing it was about investigating and following up, investigating and following up … covering all the evidential minutiae.”

“For instance, we traced the purchase of the zodiac inflatable and its Yamaha outboard back to England – and found that the buyers were agents of the DGSE.  The whole picture started to come together more and more as we uncovered links like this.”

In the course of the investigation, Allan sent 23 investigators to 9 countries, including France – including a woman.  It was quite rare for New Zealand Police to send a female detective overseas on such an important and high profile case.  “It seems a nothing now,” says Allan, “but at the time it raised more than a few eyebrows.”

30 years later, the DGSE in France has probably taken down the picture of Galbraith on the bullseye of the headquarters dartboard.  But he’s probably still not on Dominque Prieur’s and Alain Marfart’s Christmas card list.

Allan can reflect back on his almost 40 years in the police.  A cocky Scots upstart jumping off the boat from Glasgow in 1957, training at Trentham in 1958, and retiring as Assistant Commissioner in 1995 – the same year as he started playing bowls.

Today, Allan’s world is a different place.  His life now revolves around family (his wife Joan, 4 children and 7 grandchildren), full membership of the Johnsonville Bowling Club (a car accident a few years ago gave him whiplash which squashed competitive bowls), and photographing all and sundry with an SLR housing one of those long lenses you only see media photographers using at the rugby.

Thanks for being a part of New Zealand folklore, Allan.  And thanks for all you do for bowls in New Zealand.