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Coal Valley

Short Film, 1979 (Full Length)

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. 

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Weekly Review No. 97 - Coal from Westland

Short Film, 1943 (Full Length)

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.

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Hunger for the Wild - Series One, Episode Three (Mokihinui River whitebait)

Television, 2006 (Full Length Episode)

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.

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Heartland - Reefton

Television, 1996 (Full Length Episode)

Heartland host Gary McCormick visits the West Coast mining town of Reefton. He takes an early morning trip down Surprise Mine, getting an insight into the tough life of a coal miner. He also meets the miners' wives, who talk about the perils of trying to wash ingrained coal dirt out of clothes, and living with men who are frequently injured in the course of their work. McCormick also attends the First Light Festival, held to mark the fact that Reefton was the first town in the southern hemisphere to have electric lighting.

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Pictorial Parade No. 195 - After Ninety Years

Short Film, 1967 (Full Length)

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.

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These New Zealanders - Huntly

Television, 1964 (Full Length)

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.

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The Women of Pike River

Television, 2015 (Trailer)

On 19 November 2010, the first of a number of explosions occured at the Pike River coal mine. Twenty-nine men were left trapped in the tunnel. This documentary explores 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 Erebus crash in 1979 — although it was eclipsed only four months later by the 2011 Christchurch Earthquake. Despite assurances that the survivors would be rescued and the dead retrieved, new owners Solid Energy announced in 2014 that the mine was still too dangerous to re-enter. 

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Descent from Disaster - Strongman Mine Disaster

Television, 2013 (Excerpts)

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.

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A Train for Christmas

Short Film, 1975 (Full Length)

Directed by David Sims, A Train For Christmas follows the Kingston Flyer as it chugs through the farmland of Southland from Lumsden to Kingston, where on the shores of Lake Wakatipu it meets with the steamer TSS Earnslaw. With the driver as narrator, this poetic, and sometimes fantastical (the train talks at one point) celebration of steam transportation evokes a bygone era when the train “would stop at every crossing, hedge and house.” The steam train is cast as an integral part of a vast landscape and the communities that it travels through.

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American Pie - Episode Two

Television, 1988 (Full Length Episode)

More everyday Americans are encountered as this documentary series — fronted by Gordon McLauchlan — visits Tennessee, Virginia and Kentucky to explore the Bible Belt touchstones of patriotism, mining, religion, guns and country music. Interviewees include a former miner and self confessed mountain man who collects guns and teaches scripture, a new wife and mother trying to settle into life in a smaller town, a truckie and aspiring musician who sees big rig drivers as the last cowboys, and a singer/songwriter looking for that elusive big break in Nashville.