'No 8 wire' Kiwi ingenuity is defined by problem solving from few resources (No 8 wire is fencing wire that can be adapted to many uses, an ability that was particularly handy for isolated NZ settlers). Embodied in heroes from Richard Pearse to PJ, Kiwi ingenuity is a quality dear to our national sense of self. It has been memorably celebrated, and sometimes satirised, on screen.
This Feltex Award-winning documentary follows the 1977 Indo-New Zealand Ganges expedition, where Sir Edmund Hillary and crew (including son Peter) attempt to jet-boat upriver from the mouth of the Ganges to its Himalayan heart. There, they aim to make a first ascent of Akash Parbat. The adventure pilgrimage was a proof of concept for the Kiwi-invented boat, and a return to action for Ed after mourning the death of his wife and daughter in a 1975 plane crash. The mission faces epic white water, altitude sickness and tigers, as they’re cheered on by throngs on the river’s banks.
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!
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 episode from the first season of the show celebrating Kiwi heroes pays tribute to the exemplar: Sir Edmund Hillary. The greatest "damned good adventures" of Sir Ed's career (up to then) are bagged: his first peak (Mt Ollivier — reclimbed with son Peter here), trans-Antarctic by tractor, up the Ganges by jet-boat, school and hospital building in Nepal; and of course Everest, whose ascent is recreated with commentary from Hillary. Graeme Dingle provides reflection and presenter Neil Roberts has the last word: "[Sir Ed:] our own bold, bloody-minded magic Kiwi".
Forty-five years in the making, this documentary looks at the history of Kiwi adventure sport. Via spectacular — original and archive — footage, it follows the pioneers (AJ Hackett et al) from sheep farm-spawned maverick surf kids to pre-Lonely Planet OEs chasing the buzz; and the innovative toys and pursuits that resulted. From the Hamilton Jet to the bungee, No.8 fencing wire smarts are iterated. The exhilaration of adventure is underpinned by a poignant ecological message — that the places where the paradise chasers could express themselves are now in peril.
Made by Philip McDonald (Such a Stupid Way to Die) for the National Water and Soil Conservation Authority, this award-winning short explores the impact of people on New Zealand’s water cycle. Shots of irrigation, industrial waste and run-off from dairy farming show Godzone’s 1972 waterways to be far short of 100% pure — the closing national anthem played over polluted rivers underlines the point. A young Sam Neill (then working at the National Film Unit) cameos as an eau-so-suave drinker in a scene showing the disconnection between water use and where it comes from.
For this 1987 Kaleidoscope report, architectural commentator Mark Wigley uses Kiwi resort towns as fuel for an essay on local architecture. He visits Waitangi, arguing that Aotearoa should have followed the "rich ornamental example" of the Whare Rūnanga, instead of the restraint of the Treaty House. He praises Paihia’s "cacophony of bad taste" motels. In part two, he compares Queenstown and Arrowtown, and admires a gold dredge and the Skyline gondola. Wigley, then starting his academic career in the United States, would become an internationally acclaimed architectural theorist.
Made by the NZ Broadcasting Corporation in the mid 1960s, this half hour TV documentary sets out to summarise New Zealand. More than a promotional video, it takes a wider view, examining both the country’s points of pride and some of its troubles. In a brief appearance Barry Crump kills a pig, although the narration is quick to point out that the ‘good keen man’ image he epitomises is also a root of the country’s problem alcohol consumption. The result is patriotic, but certainly not uncritical. Writer Tony Isaac went on to make landmark bicultural dramas Pukemanu and The Governor.
Made by the NFU for the NZ Water Safety Council this film enlists shock to provoke punters to consider water safety. On a summer’s day a fisherman, surfer and boatie all reckon it's “a great day for it”. But thoughtlessness results in tragedy. Directed by Hugh Macdonald (This is New Zealand), the disjunct between the jaunty song on the soundtrack and sunken bodies onscreen anticipates the graphic horror of the late 90s/early 00s road safety ads (sharing kinship with 1971 bush safety PSA Such a Stupid Way to Die). Grant Tilly cameos as a radio DJ.