Renowned ornithologist and Dominion Museum head Robert Falla goes into the field to present this first edition of National Film Unit’s Land of Birds. His subject is the kōtuku or white heron, nesting in swamp forest by Ōkārito Lagoon, Westland — the only New Zealand breeding colony. In Māori lore the heron is the sacred 'He kotuku rerenga tahi' or 'bird of single flight', owing to its rare sightings. Grant Foster’s beautifully shot survey of the kōtuku’s Ōkārito summer housing screened on TV in 1972, and won a 1973 Feltex Award for Best Natural History Programme.
Russell Rooster and Suzy Cato bid viewers “doodle-doo” in this TV3 children’s show which combines local skits, interviews and competitions with overseas cartoons. In this August 1991 compilation, “Bugman” Ruud Kleinpaste talks about cockroaches (with serious specimens) and Billy T James is remembered with an excerpt from an appearance on the show. In-house artist Mark shows viewers how to draw 'monstas' and there are time-honoured jokes from Kiri Kea and various ducklings. Mercifully, Suzy protects Russell from the fact she is giving away fried chicken vouchers.
This 1962 National Film Unit short uses the relationship between Māori and manu (birds) as a platform to celebrate New Zealand bush birds — from food source and key roles in myth, to their general character. Legend of Birds was filmed on Kāpiti and Little Barrier Islands. Many of the images were captured by noted nature photographers Kenneth and Jean Bigwood, and the score is by composer Larry Pruden. The narration includes a rap-style tribute to the kākā parrot: “squarks about his indigestion, population and congestion … politics the current question”.
Land of Birds was a series of 10 films looking at Aotearoa’s manu or native birds. Produced by the National Film Unit, the series was written, directed and largely photographed by Grant Foster. It was New Zealand’s first natural history film series, showing on NZ TV and internationally. The first instalment — Bird of a Single Flight (presented by Dr Robert Falla, on the kōtuku colony at Ōkārito) — won a 1973 Feltex Award for Best Natural History Programme. Other topics included Royal Albatross (toroa), and The Honeyeaters (tui, bellbird/korimako, stichbird/hihi).
You can’t choose your family. This 2011 short film explores the father-daughter dynamic between free-spirited Bird (Peter Hawes) and uptight Blessing (Dra McKay). When Bird nearly burns down the house, Blessing packs him off to the Golden Falls retirement home. Hippy Bird chaffs against the home’s confinements, and forces Blessing to reconsider what freedom and kindness might mean with regard to kin. Bird was co-directed by acclaimed advertising director Steve Ayson (The French Doors) and Jane Shearer (Nature’s Way); the pair co-wrote with Gregory King (Song of Good).
A foundation TV3 programme in 1989, The Early Bird Show was devised by What Now? founder Rex Simpson and followed that show’s formula in its mix of overseas cartoons and locally made inserts. Originally broadcast Monday to Friday from 7-9am, it moved to Saturday and Sunday mornings when TV3 dropped weekday morning programming in February 1990. The original puppet line-up of Russell Rooster, Kiri Kea, Dawn Chorus and Quack-ups was given a human presence in the form of Suzy Cato from mid-1990 and she remained with the show until it ended in early 1993.
This episode in the Open Door series looks at the Whangarei Native Bird Recovery Centre. The centre rescues, raises and rehabilitates over a thousand birds every year. It runs breeding programmes for kiwi and other native birds as well as education programs for children and the general public. "No bird is turned away" is the mantra of founders Robert and Robyn Webb. This episode features The Centre's most famous resident, Woof Woof the talking tui (RIP) — see it to believe it!
Director Paul Murphy follows Second Hand Wedding with a romance featuring comedian Rhys Darby, songs by Queen and ... a duck. Darby plays heartbroken nice guy Doug: after a close encounter with a native duck (a paradise shelduck) with emotional problems, he enlists expert help from a sassy animal specialist (played by Brit Sally Hawkins, a Golden Globe-winner for feature Happy-Go-Lucky). True to rom-com form, love ensues ... eventually. NZ Herald reviewer Russell Baillie called Love Birds “an endearingly funny, if sugar-coated local romantic comedy”.
After coming to prominence with the agit-punk Blam Blam Blam and more theatrical Front Lawn, Don McGlashan formed The Mutton Birds in 1991 with David Long and Ross Burge. Alan Gregg completed the core line-up in 1992. The tone was set by their debut single ‘Dominion Road’ — a literate, melodic McGlashan rocker unafraid to address a NZ subject — and four albums followed. ‘Anchor Me’ won the APRA Silver Scroll in 1994; but while a move to the UK in 1995 brought a degree of critical and popular acclaim, major success was elusive and they disbanded in 2002.
Packed with creatures and landscapes that quite simply boggle the mind, the Nature Collection showcases New Zealand's impressive menagerie of nature and wildlife films. Many of the titles were made by powerhouse company NHNZ, which began around 1977 as the Natural History Unit, a small, southern outpost of state television. In this backgrounder, Peter Hayden — who had a hand in more than a few of these classic films — guides viewers through just what the Nature Collection has to offer.