John Leigh is one of NZ's most versatile and experienced actors, with over 40 NZ TV and film credits to his name, including roles in Outrageous Fortune, Serial Killers, Stickmen, Shortland Street and Mercy Peak, plus numerous theatre and voice-over appearances. From early beginnings in the Wellington theatre scene through his first major TV role as Lionel Skeggins on Shortland Street, he is a familiar face on NZ stage and screen. His talents also extend to voice-over with several character appearances on Power Rangers, along with numerous advertising campaigns.
David de Lautour has had acting success in both NZ and the United States. He debuted with small roles in Xena: Warrior Princess before moving on to kidult shows Being Eve and The Amazing Extraordinary Friends. Now based in LA, de Lautour has been seen in a number of big US dramas such as NCIS and Once Upon a Time, plus sitcom What I Like about You. He has gone on to star in Outrageous Fortune prequel Westside, as family patriarch Ted West.
Mitch (Keith Aberdein) moves to Tongariro National Park to help wrangle wild horses threatening ecology and traffic. He meets Sara, who shares an obsession for a fabled silver horse. They clash with rangers and deer recovery guns-for-hire (Bruno Lawrence is the black-clad villain) determined to eradicate the horses, and a showdown on the Desert Plateau ensues. In the notoriously fraught production a stable of Kiwi acting legends perform a melange of western and freedom-on-the-range genre turns (with the conservationists oddly set up as the bad guys).
This Wild South edition joins two legendary New Zealand wildlife documentarians — photographer Geoff Moon and sound recordist John Kendrick — on a 1988 trip to Kāpiti Island. Rangers are learning about, and looking after, the sanctuary’s manu (birds), who are “biological refugees” from the mainland, escaping introduced predators. Dogs monitoring kiwi, a kākā census, and tīeke (saddleback) nest boxes are featured. The two old mates narrate the visit, which includes Moon building a bush hide, and footage of a pioneering 1964 tīeke relocation from Hen Island.
This edition of the NFU’s long-running Weekly Review series firstly looks at making of apparel for the 1950 Empire Games, including singlets "dyed in the traditional black". Then it’s down to Wellington Zoo to meet their new elephant, Maharanee; and across the harbour to examine earthmoving efforts to alter the Hutt River's course and save Barton’s Bush from being swept away. Lastly, it’s up Mt Egmont (aka Mt Taranaki) to follow good keen rangers trapping possums and shooting goats — some hiding up trees — to protect the native forest and slopes from erosion.
Mike King presents the story of Gustavus Von Tempsky: swashbuckling colonial soldier of fortune, "flamboyant folk hero" and "our first pin up boy". The Prussian-born artist, self-promoter, romantic and adventurer, led an elite unit — the Forest Rangers — in the 1860s New Zealand Wars, garbed in trademark Garibaldi shirt, kilt and calvary sabre. His bush-fighting skill attracted respect from Māori foes, who named him "manu rau" (many birds); but also controversy after an infamous raid. He met his demise fighting guerilla leader Titokowaru.
In the mid 1970s the Chatham Island black robin was the world's rarest bird. With only two females left, the conservation ante was extreme. Enter saviour Don Merton and his Wildlife Service team. Their pioneering efforts ranged from abseiling the birds (including the 'Eve' of her species, 'Old Blue') down cliff faces, to left-field libido spurs. This 1988 Listener Film and TV award-winner united two earlier Wild South documentaries, and updated the robin’s rescue story to 1987. It originally screened on Christmas Day 1987, before being modified for this 1989 edition.
By 1976 there were only seven Chatham Islands black robins left. It was the world's rarest bird. In a bid to save the species, the surviving birds were taken from one island to another more hospitable island in a desperate rescue mission. This was part of an incredible conservation success story led by Don Merton and his NZ Wildlife Service team. Seven Black Robins and Project Takahē captured viewers' imaginations as part of an acclaimed series of 'rare bird' films that screened on TV series Wild South. They helped forge the reputation of TVNZ’s Natural History Unit (later NHNZ).
“These three birds are over half the world population of their species.” Peter Hayden’s narration lays bare the stakes for the Chatham Island black robin, and the Wildlife Service team (led by Don Merton) trying to save them. Merton’s innovative methods include removing eggs from nests – to encourage the last two females to lay again – and placing them in riroriro (grey warbler) foster homes. The black robin documentaries helped forge the reputation of TVNZ's Natural History Unit. Paul Stanley Ward writes about the documentaries here, and the mission to save the black robin.
In this series celebrating New Zealand's national parks, Peter Hayden travels through some of Aotearoa's most awe-inspiring environments. This episode — looking at the unique spiritual relationship between the Tūhoe people, and the birds and bush of Te Urewera National Park — was directed by Barry Barclay (Ngati). Barclay used his fourth cinema philosophy of indigenous filmmaking, "to tell the contemporary story of the park through their [Tūhoe] eyes". The film attracted controversy for its then exceptional use of te reo. Catherine Bisley writes about the Journeys series here.