For a small country from the edge of the world, achievements on the Olympic stage are badges — silver fern-on-black — of national pride: precious moments where we gained notice (even if it was Mum’s anthem playing on the dais). This legacy collection draws on archive footage, some rarely seen, to celebrate the stories behind Kiwis going for gold.
Now known as the Commonwealth Games, the 1950 British Empire Games were held in Auckland, at Eden Park, Auckland Town Hall, Newmarket Olympic Pool and Western Springs, with rowing at Lake Karapiro. This 75 minute NFU film starts with the arrival of the teams on silver-hulled flying boats, DC-3s and cruise ships. It features the opening at Eden Park along with athletics, boxing, swimming, rowing, fencing, the marathon and more. Future Olympic champ Yvette Williams wins the ‘broad jump’ (clip four). New Zealand finished third on the medal table, out of 11 nations.
After days of elaborate subterfuge, host Bob Parker, with his trademark red book, ambushes champion middle distance runner John Walker at a dinner at Trillos nightclub. A week earlier, Walker had become the first person to run 100 sub-four minute miles. Parker leads him through a career that also includes his mile world record, the epic 1974 Commonwealth Games 1,500 metres final and Olympic gold at Montreal in 1976. Those paying pay tribute in person or via satellite include athletics superstars Filbert Bayi, Sebastian Coe, Steve Scott and Peter Snell.
Jack Lovelock won New Zealand’s first Olympic athletics gold medal. He did so in spectacular fashion, winning the 1500 metres at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. In front of Hitler and 110,000 spectators, the famous ‘Lovelock kick’ unfurled into NZ’s sporting and collective consciousness: from Timaru to Oxford, to Berlin triumph. Yet Lovelock was an enigmatic achiever. In this short film, the race — the supremely judged apex of a sporting career — is contrasted with his mysterious and tragic death, in front of a train on the New York subway in 1949.
This Pictorial Parade visits the Auckland Athletic Champs at Eden Park, where a water-logged grass track makes the going tough. Peter Snell wins the half-mile and Murray Halberg the three-mile ("you know Mother I think he'll win" deadpans the narrator); then heads to the Bay of Islands for the 1st Underwater Fishing Champs, where a 235lb stingray is the biggest catch; and finally to the Turn and Gymnastic Circle of Hamilton, an acrobatic family fundraising for a world tour by scrub-cutting and pie-baking: "no job is too small or too big."
The race to build a new hotel at Mount Cook to replace the original Hermitage (which burnt down a year earlier) leads this edition of the National Film Unit's magazine series. A two year construction job was finished in just eight months and Prime Minister Walter Nash cuts the cake at the grand opening. The recording industry is booming and sales of LPs soaring as the cameras visit a pressing plant to find out "what's behind putting the chatter on the platter"; and the NZ team for the 1958 Cardiff Empire Games gets ready to fly out with high hopes for medals.
This film comprehensively surveys Kiwi Olympic success to 1968. Footage includes triumphs from running men Lovelock, Halberg and Snell (trying a celebratory haka), and long jumper Yvette Williams; and podium efforts from Marise Chamberlain, Barry Magee and John Holland. The John O'Shea-made doco then meets athletes training for the upcoming Mexico Olympics. Reigning Boston Marathon winner Dave McKenzie runs on quiet West Coast roads and Warren Cole rows on Lake Rotoiti under snow-capped peaks. Cole would go on to win gold in the Men's Coxed Four.
This National Film Unit film visits Christchurch roughly four years before the main event, to promote the city’s readiness to host the Commonwealth Games. A comical potted history of New Zealand precedes a montage of young women cycling around Canterbury environs and a split screen catalogue of NZ tourist attractions, before getting into a survey of the venues. As the opening demonstrates, “there’s always a traditional welcome awaiting our friends!” In 1973 the NFU completed a second film called Christchurch 74, before covering the games themselves in the feature-length Games 74.
This chronicle of the Christchurch Commonwealth Games marked one of the National Film Unit's most ambitious productions. Though a range of events (including famous runs by John Walker and Dick Tayler), are covered, the film often bypasses the pomp and glory approach; daring to talk to the injured and mentioning that most competitors lose. The closing ceremonies of the "friendly games" feature the athletes gathering to — as the official song's chorus put it — "join together". The directing team included Paul Maunder, Sam Pillsbury, and Arthur Everard.
On the eve of the 1976 Montreal Olympics, this Keith Quinn-scripted profile traces the career of athlete John Walker, from being a training averse teen at the Manurewa Harrier Club to his world mile record triumph in Göteborg, Sweden. Walker still smarts from his second place to Filbert Bayi in the 1500 metres at the 1974 Commonwealth Games. What are euphemistically referred to as "political implications" (Kiwi sporting ties with South Africa) have prevented further match-ups — and they'll ultimately remove the Tanzanian from the race so keenly anticipated here.