This classic wartime newsreel profiles the coal mining towns of Westland. It compares the town of Rūnanga, where mining has brought prosperity and a strong community life, with Denniston, which is set in rocky, inhospitable land high up a West Coast mountainside. Its tone is patriotic: “Here then are the men who feed New Zealand with the raw material of industrial prosperity ... They work in the darkness of the mines, buried away from the fresh splendours of the air above them.” The Weekly Reviews were screened in cinemas 1942 - 1950.
This short 1979 National Film Unit documentary heads up the steep bush-clad West Coast valleys from Rūnanga, to profile the men at work at five private coal mines. Director Conon Fraser (Looking at New Zealand) showcases the remarkable DIY resourcefulness required by the small groups of miners. The rugged individuals work the seams, push bins along steep incline railways and dump the loads down vertiginously steep flumes. At the time this film was made waning prospects for the unique way of life were looking up, as high oil prices spurred demand for coal.
This award-winning lifestyle series took Wellington chefs Al Brown and Steve Logan out of their fine dining restaurant kitchen, and off on a mission to put the local in 'locally sourced' kai. In this episode it's wild food on a wild river — whitebaiting on the Mokihinui. Brownie gets a primo 'stand' and coaster advice; and Steve gets some Green Fern lager and meets a Department of Conservation ranger who tells the whitebait's perilous life story and nets a grown-up: a kokopu. Then it's riverside fritters with beurre blanc sauce and asparagus, washed down with a glass of pinot gris.
These New Zealanders was the first National Film Unit series produced for television. Presented by Selwyn Toogood (in one of his first TV roles), it looked at six Kiwi towns in the 1960s. In this episode Toogood visits the Waikato coal mining town of Huntly and learns about efforts to develop industry and opportunities for the local labour force, at a time when coal is being stockpiled. Existing businesses — the brickworks and an earthmoving equipment manufacturer — demonstrate the benefits of being located in Huntly.
This fondly-remembered Pictorial Parade plunges down the famously steep grade of the Denniston Incline. The cable railway was the key means of transporting ‘black gold’ from the isolated Denniston Plateau to Westport. The engineering marvel fell 518 metres over just 1670 metres. It brought down 13 million tonnes of coal and many hardy families, despite notorious brake failures. This film was made just before the mine and railway ceased operating, as “old king coal” was supplanted by oil. Director Hugh Macdonald writes about making it, and a companion film, here.
On 19 January 1967, an explosion rocked the Strongman coal mine on the West Coast, causing the deaths of 19 miners. This documentary, part of a series investigating NZ disasters, sees TV personality Leigh Hart examining what happened that day in Rūnanga, and how it affected the community. Interviewees include Hart’s own family: his Dad, who was in the mine at the time, his mother, and his Uncle Terry, who was part of the rescue team. This two-minute excerpt includes a reenactment of the disaster, and Leigh examining the outside of the old mine.
People of the Waikato makes frequent pitstops along the 425 km path of NZ's longest river. Made in an era of post-war electricity shortages, the film balances requisite beautiful scenery with excursions into the Waikato's extensive hydroelectric system: including then-unfinished fourth dam Whakamaru, whose development was slowed by the discovery of clay in the foundation rock. Alongside brief glimpses of those who live and work on the river, there is footage of stunt-filled canoe races, Turangawaewae Marae, and a veteran boatman tugging coal.
Gary McCormick visits the West Coast mining town of Reefton in this full length episode. He takes an early morning trip down Surprise Mine, and gains insights into the tough life of a coal miner. Meanwhile, miners' wives talk about being married to someone with a high risk occupation. McCormick also attends the First Light Festival, held to mark Reefton being the first town in the southern hemisphere with electric lighting. Later he heads to the abandoned gold mining town of Waiuta, and back in Reefton meets a woman with a doll collection which takes up her whole house.
On 19 November 2010, the first of a number of explosions occured at the Pike River coal mine. Twenty-nine men were trapped in the tunnel. Nominated for Best Documentary at the 2017 NZ TV Awards, The Women of Pike River explored the lives of six of those left behind, who were wives and mothers of the miners. The disaster was NZ's worst single loss of life since the 1979 Erebus crash — until the 2011 Christchurch quake four months later. Despite assurances survivors would be rescued and the dead retrieved, new owners Solid Energy said the mine was too dangerous to re-enter.
In 1951, New Zealand temporarily became a police state. Civil liberties were curtailed, freedom of speech denied, and people could be imprisoned for providing food to those involved. This award-winning documentary tells the story of the 1951 lockout of waterside workers, and what followed: an extended nationwide strike, confrontation and censorship. There are interviews with many involved, from workers to journalists and police. At the 2002 NZ Television Awards, 1951 won awards for Best Documentary and Documentary Director (John Bates). Costa Botes backgrounds 1951 here.