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.
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.
As writer and presenter of The World Around Us, and producer of Looking at New Zealand, Conon Fraser was an early television celebrity. He joined the National Film Unit in 1969 and continued to make films documenting his adopted country’s landscape and history, and New Zealanders’ way of life. Fraser died on 17 June 2014, aged 84.
Train enthusiast David Sims captured the dying days of steam trains in this 1968 National Film Unit short. It features arresting images of a Kb class locomotive billowing steam as it tackles the Southern Alps, en route from Canterbury to the West Coast. Kb Country was released in Kiwi cinemas in January 1968, just months before the steam locomotives working the Midland Line were replaced by diesel-electrics. Sims earned his directing stripes with the film. As he writes in this background piece, making it involved a mixture of snow, joy and at least two moments of complete terror.
Dropping in on the Americans at the South Pole for afternoon tea, having driven there by tractor, was one of the most unusual events of Derek Wright's career as a National Film Unit cameraman. In his 40 years with the NFU he filled many other roles, from laboratory assistant to producer: but it is for his filming in the Antarctic that he is particularly remembered.
Immortalised as the big Texan tourist who wanders into a nest of Dunedin hipsters in classic Clean video ‘Beatnik’, the screen career of character actor David Telford spanned three decades. Along the way the Cantabrian starred in TV series Rabbiter's Rest, and brought his dramatic and comedic skills to McPhail and Gadsby and classic Otago goldmining tale Illustrious Energy. Telford passed away on 7 September 2010.