Operation Grapple - We Were There

Portrait of Tere Tahi, image by Denise Baynhan
Date Tuesday 5 December 2023 - Friday 23 February 2024
Where Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts, Main Gallery
Presenter Photography by Denise Baynham
Contact Hollie Tawhiao
Contact email
Admission Cost Free

‘Operation Grapple - We Were There’ is a powerful photography exhibition by Baynham which tells the story of Operation Grapple through the portraits of 19 NZ nuclear test veterans and their stories. Operation Grapple which was a nuclear testing program in the Pacific in 1957-58, which RNZ Navy personnel took part in. A largely unknown chapter in NZ history, Operation Grapple has left a sad and ongoing legacy for those that took part, their offspring and future generations to come.

Operation Grapple testing began in May 1957 and ended September 1958. Nine Tests were held in total. Over the course of these tests 551 New Zealand naval personnel manned the ships HMNZS Pukaki and HMNZS Rotoiti, witnessing the detonations and collecting weather data as close as 37 kilometres to Ground Zero. Later many veterans and their families suffered severe health complications, and many felt their service had not been recognised at the time. In 2002 the Special Service Medal (Nuclear Testing) was finally awarded. These portraits are to honour and recognise the veterans – this is their story.

Baynham undertook this personal project to tell this story and to bring honour and recognition to all those that took part. Over a period of 18 months, Denise travelled NZ to photograph and interview the nuclear test veterans. By photographing the veterans in their own homes Denise humanised this story, and allowed people to see these men, who they are, and where they are over 60 years later.