Kirk attended primary school in the city of Christchurch.
Kirk earned a living as a maintenance person, including welder and roof painter, and, after a course in correspondence school, as a steam engine operator in mines and on a ferry. He joined the Labour Party at the age of 20. When he was 30 he was elected mayor of Kaiapoi, a suburb of Christchurch. He remained mayor until 1957, when he was elected to Parliament from the Christchurch port of Lyttelton. In 1963 he was elected vice-president of the Labour Party, and in 1964 he became its president. In 1965 he broke a precedent by also becoming leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party. Kirk became prime minister in 1972, when for the first time in 12 years, Labour won the general election. He served as his own foreign minister. In his brief term in office Kirk is credited with having ended the chronic discord in the party between its union core and its theoreticians. He also took New Zealand out of the Vietnam War and initiated recognition of the People's Republic of China. Kirk died at Wellington on August 31, 1974.
As mayor, Kirk showed great creativity and implemented many changes. He surprised officials by studying issues intensely, often emerging with better knowledge of his options than the people functioning as his advisors. Throughout his political career, Kirk promoted the welfare state, supporting government spending for housing, health, employment, and education. Kirk's Government set a frenetic pace implementing a great number of new policies. In particular the Kirk government had a far more active foreign policy than its predecessor, taking great trouble to expand New Zealand's links with Asia and Africa. The Kirk government was also notable for a number of national identity building policies. The Kirk government began the tradition of New Zealand Day in 1973, and introduced legislation in 1974 to declare Queen Elizabeth II as Queen of New Zealand.
President of the Labour Party (1964-1966), member of the New Zealand Parliament for Lyttelton (1957-1969), member of the New Zealand Parliament for Sydenham (1969-1974)
In 1943, Norman Kirk married Lucy Ruth Miller, known as Ruth, who was born in Taumarunui. The couple had three sons and two daughters. In 1974, while her husband was Prime Minister, she became patron of the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child. She took part in anti-abortion protest marches in Wellington and Hamilton. She died on 20 March 2000, aged 77.