A brief history of A.A. in New Zealand

Ian MacE., was the first member of A.A. in New Zealand. He had tried every known treatment for his drinking problem without success. In the latter part of the 1945 Ian admitted himself to the Nelson Psychiatric Hospital.

It was while in the reading room that he picked up a “Reader’s Digest” magazine and read an article “Maybe you can do it too!” by Edward McG., an alcoholic who had recovered with the help of a Fellowship known as ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS. Ian MacE., identified with the article in a way that he had never identified with anyone before. In a footnote to the article, it was suggested that anyone wanting help should write to Alcoholics Anonymous, PO Box 459, New York. On 3 January 1946, Ian wrote to that address and took the first step in his own recovery and A.A. in New Zealand was born. At that time A.A. was in its infancy in America, where it had originated in June 1935 when the Co-founders BILL W., a New York Stockbroker, and Dr Bob S., a surgeon in Akron, Ohio, found that by sharing experiences they could stay sober.

Ian MacE., continued to correspond with New York and in August 1946, Ian received a letter from Bill W., appointing him as the representative of A.A. in New Zealand and advising that they had placed a pin in the site of RICHMOND on their office map of New Zealand and so A.A. in this country was established. Ian travelled widely throughout the country carrying the message of A.A. His first success was Alf J., of Devon- port. In 1947, Alfs brother-in-law, Dr J Caughey, a non-alcoholic who had heard of A.A. as a result of Ian’s efforts in Wellington, contacted Ian, who then forwarded his own Big Book, “ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS”, and other literature for Alf to read and digest. The Book “ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS”, known as the Big Book among members of the A.A. Fellowship, was first published in America in 1939 and has since been reprinted in many languages throughout the world – over 15 million copies have been sold at this time (1995) in about 145 countries and more than 1600 copies are sold annually within New Zealand.

The first recorded meeting of two or more sober alcoholics in New Zealand came about in September 1947, in Auckland, when Ian met Lillian Roth and her husband, Burt, from America and later contact Alf.

Meanwhile Alf J. had become very active in spreading the A.A. message and held meetings in his home and at his dental surgery.

The Devonport Group was the first New Zealand Group registered with G.S.O., New York, June 1948. Dunedin had in August 1948 two members, Arch F., and Howard H., who were meeting regularly. At the end of 1948 there were six members in New Zealand, Ian MacE., Richmond, AlfJ., Auckland, Arch F., Howard H., Murdock Y., Dunedin, and Bill L., Wellington. By 1951 there were six groups in New Zealand, at Auckland, Hastings, Nelson, Wellington, Dunedin and Invercargill, with a total membership of around 60. From that time on there was a slow but steady growth throughout the country. Today there are about 4,000 members in some 400 groups.

On 16 February 1964 at Massey University campus, Palmerston North, the first National Convention of A.A. New Zealand was held. At this Convention the New Zealand General Service Conference of A.A. was formed. New Zealand was divided into four Areas, namely, Northern, Waikato-Bay of Plenty, Central and Southern with three delegates from each Area attending the General Service Conference. This was later changed to three Areas by merging the Waikato-Bay of Plenty area with Northern. The number of delegates from each remained the same. In addition to the Chairperson and Secretary, not more than four non-alcoholic members could be appointed to the General Service Conference.

The General Service Conference elects two World Service meeting delegates from nominations received from each Area. In 1969 the first World Service meeting was held in New York with two delegates from each of the participating countries in attendance. The second World Service meeting, was also held in New York in 1972. Since then the meetings are held every two years with locations alternating between New York and some other country. New Zealand, a staunch supporter of World Service, has been represented at all meetings.


Archive Documents


25th Anniversary

Alf History

Alf J – Founder in Auckland

As Ian Saw It

Ian GSO Letters

Ian M Obituary

Post Card

Timeline of AA in NZ

A Society of Alcoholics in Action NZ