Descent from Disaster - Strongman Mine Disaster

Television, 2013 (Excerpts)

On 19 January 1967, an explosion rocked the Strongman coal mine on the West Coast, causing the deaths of 19 miners. This documentary, part of a series investigating NZ disasters, sees TV personality Leigh Hart examining what happened that day in Rūnanga, and how it affected the community. Interviewees include Hart’s own family: his Dad, who was in the mine at the time, his mother, and his Uncle Terry, who was part of the rescue team. This two-minute excerpt includes a reenactment of the disaster, and Leigh examining the outside of the old mine.

Then Again - Strongman Mine

Television, 1986 (Excerpts)

Mid-1980s series Then Again revisited high profile moments in Kiwi history, mixing archive material and interviews with those who were there. This item from a 1986 episode looks back at the Strongman mine explosion of 19 January 1967, which killed 19 men at New Zealand's largest underground coal mine. Twenty years on reporter Jim Hopkins visits the still-working West Coast mine, to see if ghosts still linger. An official inquiry found that the state-run coal mine had neglected safety procedures; the Government paid compensation to families of the victims. 

Angel Mine

Film, 1978 (Trailer and Excerpts)

"I like to pull rabbits out of hats to surprise people". So said young director David Blyth, before unleashing Angel Mine. Inspired partly by the surrealism of Luis Buñuel, Blyth's inventive debut is one of a handful of Kiwi experimental feature films to win mainstream release. Featuring a whitebread suburban couple and their liberated alter egos, the film explores ideas of consumerism, sexuality, the media, and taboo-breaking. The film excited criticism from Patricia Bartlett, and a notorious addition to its R18 certificate: "contains punk cult material."

Heartland - Reefton

Television, 1996 (Full Length Episode)

Gary McCormick visits the West Coast mining town of Reefton in this full length episode. He takes an early morning trip down Surprise Mine, and gains insights into the tough life of a coal miner. Meanwhile, miners' wives talk about being married to someone with a high risk occupation. McCormick also attends the First Light Festival, held to mark Reefton being the first town in the southern hemisphere with electric lighting. Later he heads to the abandoned gold mining town of Waiuta, and back in Reefton meets a woman with a doll collection which takes up her whole house.

Coal Valley

Short Film, 1979 (Full Length)

This short 1979 National Film Unit documentary heads up the steep bush-clad West Coast valleys from Rūnanga, to profile the men at work at five private coal mines. Director Conon Fraser (Looking at New Zealand) showcases the remarkable DIY resourcefulness required by the small groups of miners. The rugged individuals work the seams, push bins along steep incline railways and dump the loads down vertiginously steep flumes. At the time this film was made waning prospects for the unique way of life were looking up, as high oil prices spurred demand for coal. 

Journey to Arras

Television, 1997 (Full Length)

This documentary unearths the story of the soldiers in the New Zealand Tunneling Company, whose daring World War I raids involved digging tunnels through chalk rock, laying explosives underneath enemy lines, and countermining German tunneling efforts. The story is told through the eyes of a New Zealand woman who retraces her grandfather’s war story to Arras, France, and sees the Kiwi-tagged cavern 'city' nearly 80 years later. The company played a key role on the Western Front, and was especially recruited in NZ, made up of miners, bushmen and labourers.

Weekly Review No. 97 - Coal from Westland

Short Film, 1943 (Full Length)

This classic wartime newsreel profiles the coal mining towns of Westland. It compares the town of Rūnanga, where mining has brought prosperity and a strong community life, with Denniston, which is set in rocky, inhospitable land high up a West Coast mountainside. Its tone is patriotic: “Here then are the men who feed New Zealand with the raw material of industrial prosperity ... They work in the darkness of the mines, buried away from the fresh splendours of the air above them.” The Weekly Reviews were screened in cinemas 1942 - 1950.

Sunday - Daniel Rocks

Television, 2011 (Excerpts)

This Sunday item is based on an interview with Daniel Rockhouse, one of two survivors of the Pike River mine disaster. The interview screened on 27 March 2011, less than five months after the November 2010 tragedy, when a series of methane gas explosions resulted in the deaths of 29 of Rockhouse's workmates, including his brother. Deafened and stunned, Rockhouse dragged workmate Russell Smith a kilometre through noxious gas to safety. Here the reluctant hero, cradling a newborn daughter, reflects on the events. In 2015 Rockhouse was awarded the NZ Bravery Medal.

These New Zealanders - Huntly

Television, 1964 (Full Length)

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.

Memories of Service 5 - Albert Asher

Web, 2017 (Full Length)

At 101 Arthur Asher offers a remarkable account of his experiences in World War II. Dates and events come easily to mind as he narrates his time in the North African desert war and Greece. Caught up in the gruelling battle at Bel Hamid near Tobruk, Asher was later wounded by an exploding mine. A stay in a convalescent camp felt more like being in prison to Asher, who went on to fight the German advance in Greece, shooting down a spotter plane in the process. Back in North Africa, he was hit by a car, ending his war with a broken leg and jaw. Asher died on 19 May 2017.