Director and producer Oxley Hughan began directing for the Government's National Film Unit during World War II. In the 60s he moved into producing, working on another 120 plus films before his retirement in 1967. Hughan passed away in January 1992.
After 26 years with the National Film Unit I think my greatest pleasure has been the making of farming films, and working with the farming people. Oxley Hughan, on his retirement in 1967
This 1968 tourism promo follows two Aussie sheilas, Helen and Beverly, on a champagne-fuelled trip across the ditch. The tour kicks off with an obligatory sheep's 'baa', but offers some surprises alongside the scenic wonderland way, such as a detour to a Kaingaroa Forest mill and an Otago gold rush history lesson. Surprisingly trippy, Blow Up-inspired opening credits, some bold cutting and a jazzy score enliven the jaunt; a highlight is the lasses and hip local lads Monkee-ing around a Māori village and geothermal power station ... it's not PC, but it's definitely pop-tastic!
Auckland is known as the City of Sails and each Anniversary Day, the Waitemata Harbour hosts the world’s largest one-day regatta. The culture of yachting on the Hauraki Gulf gets full-blown homage in this 1968 National Film Unit film. The short documentary sets up sailing as a way to escape the bustle of the city, and follows the tacks and jibes of a race — “The hum of straining rigging, the sting of flying spray on the lips … the feeling that only a yachtie knows as his craft lifts and surges.” The narration is by Tim Eliott, who had recently helped found Wellington's Downstage Theatre.
Taufa'ahau Tupou IV was crowned King of Tonga on his 49th birthday. This NFU film covers the lead up to and the entire ceremony on 4 July 1967. It was the first coronation in the island kingdom since Tupou’s mother, Queen Sālote, in 1918. Tongans from the outer islands had been arriving in the capital Nuku'alofa for a month. Dignitaries included the Duke and Duchess of Kent and New Zealand’s Prime Minister Keith Holyoake, plus opposition leader Norman Kirk. Director Derek Wright covers the ceremony with decorum, reflecting the dignity of the occasion.
This 1967 NFU instructional film demonstrates breathing exercises developed by Bernice ‘Bunny’ Thompson, to help children suffering from asthma and bronchitis. The film was based on the pioneering physiotherapist's 1963 book of the same name. Director Frank Chilton won renown for his documentaries dealing with the health and welfare needs of children. Asthma and Your Child was commissioned by the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation, and was an early example of a privately-funded socially-useful film. The animation of respiratory processes is by Morrow Productions.
This impressionistic, late 1960s survey traces Auckland from volcanic origins to a population of half a million people. Produced by the National Film Unit, it finds a city of "design and disorder" growing steadily but secure in its own skin as its populace basks in the summer sun. A wry, at times bemused, Hugh Macdonald script and an often frenetic, jazzy soundtrack accompany time honoured Queen City images: beaches and yachting, parks and bustling city streets, and an unpredictable climate given to humidity and sudden downpours.
This 1967 documentary tells the story of 734 Polish children who were adopted by New Zealand in 1944 as WWII refugees. Moving interviews, filmed 20 years later, document their harrowing exodus from Poland: via Siberian labour camps, malnutrition and death, to being greeted by PM Peter Fraser on arrival in NZ. From traumatic beginnings the film chronicles new lives (as builders, doctors, educators, and mothers) and ends with a family beach picnic. Made for television, this was one of the last productions directed by pioneering woman filmmaker Kathleen O'Brien.
This vibrant NFU travelogue takes the pulse of NZ's capital after 125 years of Pākehā settlement and finds a "colourful, casual" city that has had to impose itself on the landscape to endure. Highlights include the 90 sec opening flyover, some off-the-wall music choices in the score and vox pops that are well shy of 'coolest little capital' chutzpah. The wind puts on a requisite show but so do the city's 32 miles of beaches, with a Riviera-esque Oriental Bay beaming on a good day. The mower on a rope trick looks dodgy to a more health and safety conscious age.
The Central Otago gold mining town of Cromwell celebrates its centenary in this 1960s National Film Unit documentary. For a fortnight the townsfolk go about their ordinary business, but in colonial-era costume. They also reenact the frontier-style life of gold rush New Zealand. Just 20 years before the film was shot, Cromwell banks were still receiving deposits of gold dust from customers. The Cromwell put on film in 1966 is also now just a memory. While the old main street still exists, much of the town was flooded with the completion of the Clyde dam in 1993.
This National Film Unit newsreel offers a wide-ranging look at ‘the national game’ in 1966. A muddy potted history (scored to rugby folk song ‘On the Ball’) rakes from the age grades to a Ranfurly Shield match, to the apex: the All Blacks. Ex-All Black fullback Bob Scott talks about the need for ‘four stone bantams’ to enjoy the game, while fellow AB Don ‘The Boot’ Clarke discusses the problems for a country player; Wellington College’s 1st XV plays a ‘traditional’ against Nelson in front of a mass haka on the terraces; and club players explain why they play (“it’s a manly game”).
Made for the Forest Service by the National Film Unit this instructional film demonstrates essential firearms safety. Like later cautionary tales (eg. cult bush safety film Such a Stupid Way to Die) the film dramatises what can happen when things go wrong, before a hunter imparts "the five basic safety rules" (with obligatory ciggie hanging from lower lip). The rendering of the lesson might be hokey (compared to the explicit traffic safety ads of the '90s and '00s) but the message is deadly serious, as ongoing hunting tragedy headlines attest.
This NFU film presents the funeral of Tongan Queen Sālote Tupou III in December 1965. Queen Sālote had a special bond with New Zealand — she studied at Auckland Diocesan School, spent summers in NZ and lived her last days at 'Atalanga, the Tongan residence in Auckland. Among the 50,000 mourners at her funeral in Tonga were NZ Governor General Sir Bernard Fergusson, Prime Minister Keith Holyoake and Norman Kirk. Tongan tradition holds that the casket must never pass through a gateway; 108 pall bearers carried it over walls in a procession to the royal tombs.
A series of comical graphics introduce this 1966 National Film Unit diversion, in a style animator Terry Gilliam would soon make famous via British comedy shows Do Not Adjust Your Set and Monty Python's Flying Circus. The film itself follows a reporter (Michael Woolf) on a jaunt with an international 'veteran car rally' through Southern Lakes scenery, trying to make sense of it all. As he says, "there don’t seem to be any rules to this vintage motoring business". Directed by John King, the playful film features a dubbed soundtrack, complete with sheep baas and car horn sound effects.
The ‘Young Giant’ is Kaingaroa Forest: the largest plantation in the Southern Hemisphere, and one of the largest exotic forests in the world. 1,300 square kilometres produce “50 million cubic feet of timber a year” for pulp, paper, and building. Directed by Brian Cross, and made by the NFU for the forest’s then-managers — the New Zealand Forest Service — this documentary showcases the industry in the pines: scrub clearance for forest extension, burn-offs, machine planting, pruning, felling, grafting, and kiln-drying cones to extract seeds for sowing.
This 1966 edition of National Film Unit’s magazine slot heads to Christchurch International Airport to explore weather measuring devices being launched there. Helium 'Ghost Balloons' are sent into the sky by an outpost of the United States' National Center for Atmospheric Research. Meanwhile Christchurch weathermen send up hydrogen balloons, read satellite data, and provide a flight plan for a U2 reconnaisance plane from the US Air Force. The pilot’s preflight routine involves breathing pure oxygen to prepare him for the ultrahigh altitude plane’s steep ascent into the sky.
This Army recruiting film was made while New Zealand was still involved in the Vietnam War. While its emphasis is on the various trades, such as carpentry, engineering and radio operation, which can be learned in the army, it doesn't shy away from the purely military aspects. Soldiers are trained in unarmed combat, parachuting and jungle warfare. Exercises at the Waiouru Army Camp involving armoured support are also featured. Women are included, but in 1966 they fulfil roles in signals and nursing to free up men for combat duties.
Sponsored by the Crusader Shipping Company, this 1966 National Film Unit production joins one of the firm's ships as it transports NZ products from Auckland to Asia — home to “one quarter of the human race, 900 million customers”. As milk powder, wool, mutton, apples, cheese and deer antlers are delivered to ports in the Philippines, China, Japan, and Hong Kong, director Ron Bowie observes cultural difference and economic opportunity; and a “westernising” Orient is beautifully captured by Kell Fowler. The NFU crew were rare foreign observers in Chairman Mao’s China.
President Lyndon B Johnson's whirlwind visit to New Zealand on 19 October 1966 is chronicled in this National Film Unit documentary. The visit came as controversy grew over Kiwi involvement in the Vietnam War. But aside from a few protestors, the first visit to NZ by a serving US President and his wife was greeted with enthusiasm by about 200,000 Wellingtonians. State and civic receptions were followed by the obligatory farm visit to watch a shearing gang, before the President flew out at the end of 'New Zealand’s day with LBJ'.
Winter is going. This impressionistic take on spring in Aotearoa focuses on details of regeneration, from the mountains to the sea. Director Ron Bowie and cameraman Grant Foster capture signs of the season: ice melt like tadpoles under snow grass, gannets nesting on their Cape Kidnappers tenement, fern koru unfurling, kōtuku and royal spoonbills perched in Ōkārito trees like Dr Suess characters, willow buds and kōwhai flowers. And of course, lambs and daffodils. The camera aptly obeys the title to end. Patrick Flynn (Don’t Let it Get You) composed the score.
A military exchange between New Zealand and the United Kingdom is the focus of this National Film Unit short. About 150 Kiwi soldiers head to London for Exercise Powderhorn in 1964, which includes guard duty at Buckingham Palace and the Tower of London. And they still have time to see the sights. Meanwhile a contingent from the Loyal Regiment in North Lancashire arrives in New Zealand for Exercise Te Rauparaha. They experience jungle warfare in a mock battle on the West Coast and practise mountain craft in the Southern Alps.
This 1965 National Film Unit classic follows the working life of a young musterer, on a 145,000 acre South Island merino sheep station. He hands over his swag and gets to work (after he’s been mocked for bringing an electric blanket). He begins in the summer: training dogs and breaking in a horse. In the autumn it’s the muster: wrangling 10,000 sheep from the tops, across rivers and down to the yards before winter snow. Peter Newton’s 1947 musterer memoir, Wayleggo, was a local bestseller, and the film bolsters the book’s Kiwi mountain man mythology.
Taking viewers on a tour of the Volcanic Plateau in the central North Island, this aerial jaunt is enough to make anyone want to take to the skies. After taking off from Rotorua, the award-winning NFU short treats us to soaring shots of the Waimangu Volcanic Rift Valley, Ruapehu, and 'The Frying Pan', the world's largest hot lake. As well as the impressive scenery, the voiceover (supposedly by the pilot) offers up a brief history of the geysers and fumaroles littering the plateau, and a mention of how the Waikato River has been interrupted by "that necessary monster: progress".
In this 60s TV series Selwyn Toogood headed to the heartland to explore six Kiwi towns; it was one of the legendary presenter's first TV slots. In this fifth episode Toogood heads to Motueka to check out the hops, orchards and tobacco crops, and the impact of the seasonal workers on pubs and policing in the Tasman district. Toogood muses on machinery, and interviews pickers about their motives. Women pickers exalt the chance to meet some "jokers" and save for an OE. Toogood also asks a couple of Australian blokes “what do you think of New Zealand girls?”
NFU-produced TV series These New Zealanders explored the character and people of six NZ towns, 60s-style. Fronted by Selwyn Toogood, it was one of the legendary presenter's first TV slots. In this episode Toogood dons the walk shorts and long socks and visits Taupō, extolling the lake district as a place of play (camping, fishing, swimming, jet-boating) and work (the development of Lochinver Station for farming). Toogood does a priceless vox pop survey of summertime visitors, including the requisite quizzing of an overseas couple about whether they like it here.
These New Zealanders was the first National Film Unit series produced for television. Presented by Selwyn Toogood (in one of his first TV roles), it looked at six Kiwi towns in the 1960s. In this episode Toogood visits the Waikato coal mining town of Huntly and learns about efforts to develop industry and opportunities for the local labour force, at a time when coal is being stockpiled. Existing businesses — the brickworks and an earthmoving equipment manufacturer — demonstrate the benefits of being located in Huntly.
New Zealand’s Antarctic presence is still in its infancy as this striking Academy Award-nominated NFU documentary chronicles the six month polar summer of 1963/64. Sled teams pulled by teams of huskies are despatched to explore far flung corners, nothing is too small — or too great — to be analysed by a battery of scientists, and the base at Cape Hallett is resupplied (it suffered a serious fire shortly afterwards). However, all of this activity seems to make little impression on a remarkable polar landscape constantly threatening to reassert itself.
“Mental subnormality here is no higher than in other countries. Still it strikes more than one in a thousand.” The subjects of this 1964 NFU documentary are intellectually disabled patients (mostly children) at a Levin psychopaedic hospital, and the trainee nurses who care for them. The narration embodies contemporary healthcare ideas where “retarded” children were seen as patients to be kept “happy among their fellows”, and sheltered from the outside world. By the 90s, institutions like this one (later renamed Kimberley) were overtaken by assisted living.
This NFU classic tells Peter Snell's story, up until just before his triumph at the Tokyo Olympics (he'd already won 800 metres gold in Rome, and beaten the world record for the mile). Snell's commentary — focused, candid — plays over footage of training and some of his key races. "It always gives a feeling of exhilaration to run in the New Zealand all black singlet." Snell offers insights into the marathon-style training of coach Arthur Lydiard (15 miles daily, 100 miles a week), and there's priceless footage of Snell running through bush and leaping fences in Auckland's Waiatarua hills.
This documentary series was presented by the legendary Selwyn Toogood. These New Zealanders was one of Toogood's first appearances for television, having previously become a household name as a radio host. The National Film Unit production was part-documentary, part-magazine, and part-travelogue, and took Toogood to six towns to capture their character and people. The towns visited were Gore, Benmore, Motueka, Huntly, Gisborne and Taupō. It provides a fascinating perspective of New Zealand life in the 1960s.
These New Zealanders was a series presented by Selwyn Toogood (one of his first television roles) looking at six Kiwi towns. Here Toogood travels to Benmore Dam, to find out what it was like to live and work on NZ’s (then) largest construction project. He interviews engineers, workmen and housewives, discussing work and pay, social opportunities and family life. As the town had the highest birthrate in the country, facilities for children were also important. The itinerant workers earned good money — about 25 pounds a week, and enjoyed a low cost of living.
These New Zealanders was a magazine-style series produced by the National Film Unit and presented by Selwyn Toogood (one of his first television roles), that looked at six Kiwi locations in the 1960s. In this episode Toogood visits the North Island East Coast city of Gisborne. By 1964 improved road, rail and air links had brought about the end of Gisborne's isolation from the rest of the country. Here Toogood meets food processor James Wattie, and talks to the locals about the problems, achievements and hopes for the region.
These New Zealanders was a series presented by Selwyn Toogood (one of his first television roles) that looked at six Kiwi locations. Here Toogood visits the prosperous farming county of Gore. At that time Gore had a very high rateable value (75 million pounds) and was the only county in NZ to be debt free. A freak early summer storm has left seven inches of snow on the ground at a ‘rehab’ farm; a romney sheep breeder also dabbles in grain, rearing bulls and race horses; and Toogood chats with Maurice Cronin, who has been farming in the area for 45 years.
This 1962 National Film Unit short uses the relationship between Māori and manu (birds) as a platform to celebrate New Zealand bush birds — from food source and key roles in myth, to their general character. Legend of Birds was filmed on Kāpiti and Little Barrier Islands. Many of the images were captured by noted nature photographers Kenneth and Jean Bigwood, and the score is by composer Larry Pruden. The narration includes a rap-style tribute to the kākā parrot: “squarks about his indigestion, population and congestion … politics the current question”.
This NFU documentary reviews Māori in New Zealand in 1960 through the lens of Pakeha boosterism. It depicts Māori cultural revival and Māori being channeled into the cities into schools, housing, trades and labouring work. The Maori Today is of it's time: the narration advocates that Māori land to be consolidated into a single title (a policy today considered responsible for alienation of Māori by The Crown). However it contains some classic footage, such as artist E Mervyn Taylor working on prints inspired by Māori myth and of noted politician Eurera Tirikatene.
This 1959 Pictorial Parade edition begins with the opening of the ‘Milson Deviation’: a rail bypass which diverted trains from the Palmerston North CBD. Then it’s to Hastings for the National Ploughing Championship, where the prize is a silver plough modelled on the first (Pākehā) plough used in NZ. Lastly, the Echo (a flat-bottomed Kauri scow that sailed between Wellington and Blenheim) turns a wetter furrow and sails up the Opawa River. With the onset of competition from ferries the Echo was retired in 1965; she’s now ‘on the hard’ on the Picton Foreshore.
This NFU documentary goes behind the scenes as Selwyn Toogood and his team prepare an episode of 50s radio quiz show It's In the Bag, long before it hit the telly. Questions are prepared and booby prizes — epsom salts, toy ducks — selected, before Toogood hits the stage at the Lower Hutt Town Hall to utter the ultimate poser. The big prizes du jour included washing machines and flash (New Zealand-made!) fridge-freezers. The show was so popular with '50s radio audiences it was said cinemas closed their doors on Tuesday nights when it went to air.
This National Film Unit documentary follows the British Lions 1959 rugby tour to New Zealand. Prior to live televised sports coverage, match highlights were rushed onto cinema screens; NFU tour coverage was later edited into this feature length doco. On the field the series was won by the All Blacks 3-1, including the first test where Don Clarke famously kicked six penalties to beat the Lions’ four tries. Off the field, the Lions visited farms and resorts, drove trout and tried Māori song and dance with guide Rangi. A star back for the Lions was Peter Jackson.
This half-hour film from 1958 documents New Zealanders in Antarctica: researching International Geophysical Year, and supporting the Trans-Antarctic Expedition by laying supply depots for Vivian Fuchs’ overland crossing. National Film Unit cameraman Derek Wright films Edmund Hillary's team, capturing the drama of their (in)famous dash to the South Pole as they roll precariously forward in converted Ferguson tractors — “the best crevasse detectors ever invented” as Hillary notes. Hillary's team got to the South Pole on 4 January 1958, 82 days after leaving Scott Base.
This NFU documentary chronicles a major milestone in NZ's presence in Antarctica: the building of Scott Base. Members of the Commonwealth Polar Expedition leave Wellington in December 1956, and sail through storms and pack ice. Led by Sir Edmund Hillary, they construct Scott Base, meet some local wildlife and begin preparations to support a British team led by Doctor Vivian Fuchs. After wintering over, Hillary would, in January 1958, controversially reach the South Pole before Fuchs — only the third party after Scott and Amundsen to do so overland.
People of the Waikato makes frequent pitstops along the 425 km path of NZ's longest river. Made in an era of post-war electricity shortages, the film balances requisite beautiful scenery with excursions into the Waikato's extensive hydroelectric system: including then-unfinished fourth dam Whakamaru, whose development was slowed by the discovery of clay in the foundation rock. Alongside brief glimpses of those who live and work on the river, there is footage of stunt-filled canoe races, Turangawaewae Marae, and a veteran boatman tugging coal.
This National Film Unit documentary shows the NZ contingent training in the Aoraki Mount Cook area for their mission to Antarctica, as part of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition. On the Tasman Glacier, they practise polar survival techniques, huskies are put through their paces and an RNZAF ski plane dramatically flips before a blizzard blows in, and some classic Kiwi DIY repairs are required on the ice runway. Team leader Sir Edmund Hillary narrates in laconic style. Cameraman Derek Wright went on to chronicle Sir Ed’s famous tractor dash to the pole.
"For the farmers of the high country the snowline is their boundary". So begins the narration to this National Film Unit documentary. Beautifully shot by Brian Brake, the challenges of farming the vast stations on the rugged aprons of the Southern Alps are captured. The centrepiece is the great autumn muster where shepherds and dogs work 16,000 sheep down from "the tops" over 100,000 acres of peaks and glaciers, before the snow and winter blizzards arrive. "It's mutton every meal out here - we chase sheep every day and eat them every meal."
Four decades before starring in The Last Samurai, New Zealand’s most symmetrical volcano stole the limelight in this NFU short. Extolling a mantra of progress and change, Taranaki presents New Plymouth as regional hub and suburban paradise, surrounded by bays and gladioli. Narrator Paul Ricketts touches on a conflict-soaked past by recalling his great grandmother’s nightly refuge in a central city stockade, during the 1860s Taranaki Wars. Back in 1954, a fishing license costs two pounds, and co-operatively-run dairy factories produce over half the nation’s cheese.
The rich scenery around Lake Wakatipu has inspired painters, postage stamps and director Peter Jackson. Shortly before leaving NZ in 1954, photographer Brian Brake headed south for the NFU to capture images of lake, mountain, tourist and miner. Amid the postcard perfection, Brake films mist-shrouded hills sliced open by mining, and a trio of skiers on Coronet Peak, travelling hand in hand. Tourists swap lake steamers for open top buses, en route to the Routeburn track; and one old-timer sets out on horse to pan for gold, via the abandoned mining village of Macetown.
A pocket survey of the diversity of Kiwi farming circa 1952, this film serves as a booster’s reminder that thanks to self-reliance and research, New Zealand ranks as “one of the world’s great farming countries”. Cameraman Brian Brake captures arresting high contrast imagery: cattle move in silhouette against the sky; dust-caked fertiliser trucks emerge from clouds of lime; shirtless WWII veterans load silage onto harvesters. Meanwhile an upbeat, nationalistic voiceover pays homage to the holy trinity of good pasture, stock and climate.
Government filmmakers the National Film Unit launched Pictorial Parade two years after the demise of Weekly Review. It was another 10-minute magazine programme, but this time monthly, rather than weekly. It was the NFU’s major product for the next 20 years. In 1950 the NFU had been moved from under the wing of the Prime Minister’s Department, to be controlled by the Tourist and Publicity Department. The Pictorial Parade was seen as a move away from the political in government filmmaking, and a return to the promotional role of the early scenic films.
This booster's gem was produced by the NFU to mark Canterbury's centennial. The original Canterbury crusaders' dream of a model England colony is shown in settler life re-enactments. The importance of meat and wheat to the region's prosperity is extolled and a progressive narrative — "in one brief century they've turned the wilderness into fertile farms and built their red-roofed homes" — underpins contemporary scenes (cricket, church) and much bucolic (plains, alps) scenery. Trivia: Peter Jackson used an excerpt from the film to open Heavenly Creatures.
This National Film Unit documentary provides a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the various stages of 40s film production at the relatively nascent unit, from shoot to post production. It was made to be screened continuously (thus the ‘loop’ title) at exhibition theatrettes. There’s genial interaction among the cast and crew (see backgrounder for who they are). Directed by pioneer woman director Kathleen O’Brien, the filming took place at the unit’s Darlington Road studios in Wellington, close to where Weta Workshop and Park Road Post now operate in Miramar.
On the occasion of London's Victory Parade (8 June 1946), the National Film Unit issued a special edition Weekly Review. This narrated reel culls from the NFU series to present a patriotic potted history of the war as it “affected New Zealand.” It traces the progress of NZ forces overseas, but ‘total mobilisation’ also means the home front and the women who “helped keep the country going”. With war over: “A starving world looks to us for more meat and more butter. Now our factories can make household utensils instead of grenades ...”
The war is Europe is over and New Zealanders take to the streets to celebrate in this NFU newsreel. The relief and excitement at the end of hostilities against Germany is clearly visible on the faces of the thousands who flood into New Zealand's towns and cities. But Deputy Prime Minister Walter Nash reminds the crowd the war is not over: Japan has yet to surrender. That doesn't stop wild celebrations following the National Declaration of Peace. Civilians and servicemen alike enjoy the party, many looking the worse for wear "in advanced stages of celebration".
At 11am on 15 August 1945 news of Japanese surrender reached New Zealand, marking the end of the nation's six years in World War II. This newsreel records the public celebrations in windy downtown Wellington and on Auckland’s Queen St, where there are street parties, bagpipes and beer as tensions are released. At Wellington Town Hall on the second day of the public holiday, tributes are paid to “team spirit”; and Prime Minister Fraser hopes for social justice and that the dead have not died in vain. Then there is a mass rendition of ‘Land of Hope of Glory’.
The National Film Unit was set up in 1941 to publicise New Zealand’s war effort. The unit’s output soon evolved into the Weekly Review, a weekly reel screened in cinemas. Confusingly the first Weekly Review in October 1942 was named No. 60. It was the principal NZ film series produced in the 1940s. The series ended in August 1950 with the 459th issue. The reviews were a mix of newsreel and general interest stories and occasionally, full-reel documentaries. Some were later re-issued (without the Weekly Review title) for screening in educational and overseas markets.