Kenneth Cumberland won fame with ground-breaking 1981 doco series Landmarks, presenting his view of the story of New Zealand. The achievements of this English-born geography professor were many: establishing and heading Auckland University’s geography department, writing on soil erosion, producing 13 editions of an Australasian school atlas, and helping plan Auckland’s development. Cumberland died April 2011.
Learning how we’ve handled this environment, how we’ve moulded the New Zealand habitat, has been a most congenial task. I’ve enjoyed - indeed I still savour - every moment of it. Kenneth Cumberland, in the first episode of Landmarks
The opening episode of the Prime TV series celebrating 50 years of New Zealand television travels from an opening night puppet show in 1960, through to Outrageous Fortune five decades later. It traverses the medium's development and its major turning points (including the rise of programme-making and news, networking, colour and the arrival of TV3, Prime, NZ On Air, Sky and Māori Television). Many of the major players are interviewed. The changing nature of the NZ living room — always with the telly in pride of place as modern hearth — is a story within the story.
Presented by Kenneth Cumberland, Landmarks looked at New Zealand history through the landscape — and at man "coming to terms" with it. In this episode Aotearoa's "last, lonely, remote" geography is framed as a stimulus for ingenuity. A narrative of "triumph over the elements" finds its flagbearer in the DIY story of jetboat inventor Bill Hamilton. Cumberland is donnish but game in pursuit of telling landmarks: exposing seashells alongside the Napier-Taupō highway (700 metres above sea level) like a downunder Darwin, or in a gas mask on an erupting White Island.
This eighth episode in the Landmarks series was the first episode filmed, to test how geographer Kenneth Cumberland handled being in front of the camera. On a Cook Strait ferry in a southerly, he begins exploring how trade and people have gotten about Aotearoa: from the “Māori main trunk line” (beach, water), sailing ships, Cobb & Co and ‘Shanks's Pony’, to the railways and Bob Semple’s roadmaking bulldozers.The episode ends with the national grid and airways, with a rocky landing at Wellington airport demonstrating that the wrestle with place is an unresolved one.