This collection celebrates rugby in New Zealand as it has been seen onscreen: from classic bios and tour docos, to social history, dramas and protest. In the accompanying backgrounders, broadcaster Keith Quinn looks at the on air history of rugby in NZ; and playwright David Geary asks if rugby is a religion, and argues it is a good test of character.
This intense newsreel reports from the war in the Pacific in Easter 1944, as American, Fijian, and New Zealand soldiers battle the Japanese in the Bougainville jungle. Cameraman Stan Wemyss found himself isolated with a Fijian patrol, amidst casualties and under fire from 'Japs'. He later recounted being so close to the action he could hear troops talking in two languages he couldn't understand; at one point he lays down his camera to pitch a grenade. Grandfather of future actor Russell Crowe, Wemyss was awarded an MBE in 1947 for his services as a war correspondent.
On June 4 1976, Gordon Dryden hosted Abraham Ordia — president of the African Supreme Council of Sport — for a public forum on New Zealand’s sporting ties with apartheid South Africa, which would result in an Olympic boycott by African countries the following month. The debate erupted into what the Auckland Star called “a diabolic confrontation between Māori and Pākeha”, with Dryden frequently pleading for civility. Weightlifter Precious McKenzie, MP Richard Prebble, activist Syd Jackson and Donna Awatere-Huata are among those in the audience, making their feelings known.
Created by Dave Armstrong and Kerry Jimson, The Semisis was a satirical take on a contemporary Samoan-Kiwi family. In this opening episode, the Semisis handle eviction by heading to a campground with all their belongings. There romance buds, the palagi next door neighbour (Brian Sergent) proves unwelcoming, and the South African camp commander is even worse. The over the top Semisis family began as part of 90s TV sketch show Skitz; Armstrong consulted with cast members and a group of young Samoans from Porirua, while writing the scripts.
Māori Battalion - March To Victory tells the story of the New Zealand Army's (28th) Māori Battalion, which fought in campaigns during World War ll. Director and writer Tainui Stephens sets out in the feature-length documentary to tell the stories of five men who served with the unit, and also "capture how they felt about it". Narration by actor George Henare, remembrances, visits to historic sites, archival footage, and graphic stills create a respectful and stirring screen testament to the men who fought in the Battalion. Stephens writes about the film in the backgrounder.
This film documents the influential 1979 New Zealand tour of a black theatre group from London arts centre Keskidee. They visit marae, perform at The Gluepot, prisons and youth centres; meet gang members, Ratana ministers and a young Tame Iti; and korero about roots and fights for rights. The made-for-TV film was directed by Merata Mita and Martyn Sanderson. On the tour Sanderson met his future wife, Kenyan actor Wanjiku Kairie. Tour instigator Denis O’Reilly argued in 2009 that the doco is “full of insights at a time of huge social and cultural shifts in Aotearoa.”
A Political Game charts not only intense rugby rivalry between South Africa and New Zealand, but also the politics of racism that came increasingly to the fore. The signs were there during the Springboks first tour of New Zealand in 1921: a South African reporter was outraged white New Zealanders had supported a Māori side. In 1976 an All Black tour of South Africa sparked an African boycott of the Montreal Olympics; the 1981 tour saw violent protests. Starting with the historic All Blacks win in 1996, this excerpt jumps back in time to chart conflicts on and off the field, up until 1949.
'Azania' is an impassioned anti-apartheid song written for the Auckland reggae band by law student Ross France. Led by original Herbs vocalist Toni Fonoti, it helped to establish the band’s political credentials at a time when New Zealand was split by the 1981 Springbok Tour. Azania was the name given to a post-revolutionary South Africa by the Pan African Congress. There are name checks for black African leaders Steve Biko and Nelson Mandela; and the chant “Angola! Mozambique! Zimbabwe! Azania!” was quickly incorporated into anti-tour protest marches.
'Sierra Leone' was one of those songs that quickly stood out from the pack. Andrew McLennan's synth-pop track won his new band Coconut Rough a deal with Mushroom Records, then became a runaway hit in 1983. The video, slick for the time, features bright colours, a running motif, and African imagery. But the pressure of being in demand for a single song became an albatross around the band's neck. As McLennan told website AudioCulture, "‘Sierra Leone’ became the only song from our repertoire that people wanted to hear and no matter what we did we couldn’t follow it up."
'My Old Man’s an All Black' was a big hit for the Howard Morrison Quartet in 1960. The song subverted 'My Old Man's a Dustman' to mock an apartheid South African decree banning Māori players from the touring All Blacks. In this 1990 performance, Morrison and Billy T James (months after heart surgery) update the song’s lyrics for a more recent controversy: the dropping of popular All Black captain Wayne 'Buck' Shelford. Howard ribs rugby’s supposed amateurism, and Billy T explains why Buck isn’t packing down in the scrum. The final haka includes an unexpected guest...