The iconic all-things-rural show is the longest running programme on New Zealand television. With its typical patient observational style (that allows stories of people and the land to gently unfold) it’s an unlikely broadcasting star, but New Zealanders continue, after 50 plus years, to tune in. Amongst the bucolic tales of farming, fishing and forestry, there are high country musters, floods, organic brewing, falconry, tobacco farming, as well as a fencing wire-playing farmer-musician, a radio-controlled dog, and Fred Dagg and the Trevs.
This best of special culls history and highlights from 40 seasons of the longest running show on NZ television. Farming, forestry and fishing are all on the roster, but this edition is as much about observing people and the land. There is footage of high country musters, helicopter deer capture, floods and blizzards, as well as radio-controlled dogs and mice farmers. Longtime Country Calendar figures like John Gordon and Tony Trotter share their memories, and the show sets out to catch up again with some of the colourful New Zealanders that have featured on screen.
This excerpt from a 1986 episode of NZ TV’s longest running show comes from the heady pre-crash mid-80s when NZ farming was getting off the sheep’s back and diversifying to stay profitable in changing times. Here Robert Hall is stocking the “hard hill country” of a farm near Taumaranui with goats. Rather than hunting goats as pests, the young industry — fuelled by “large amounts of city money” — is attempting to farm them for their cashmere wool. It offers new opportunities for women in farming, but teething problems include low yields from feral animals.
Designer Garnet Nelson has a distinctive attitude to fashion for the rural sector, showcased in a range of clothes combining style and practicality — although the after five combinations may be a step too far. This might be one of the celebrated Country Calendar spoof episodes, but the buy-in from models who could only be farmers and not actors is a sight to behold. And the fashion tips don't end there. Reporter (and long time Country Calendar producer) Frank Torley adds his own sartorial note with an unfeasibly long shirt collar that has a mind of its own.
"Another adventure with Tim" is how one of Tim Wallis’ friends wryly puts it. The "adventure" came about when Wallis combined an “expensive toy”, and a noxious pest: using helicopters to recover deer shot by hunters in inaccessible South Island backblocks. Next deer were captured alive, to stock deer farms; a multi-million dollar industry was born. At the peak of his operations, Wallis had a fleet of 35 helicopters. The aerial shots in and around Milford Sound are magnificent. The stories he tells of his many crashes are 'she'll be right' Boy's Own classics.
Ask Country Calendar viewers which shows they remember and inevitably the answer is "the spoofs" — satirical episodes that screened unannounced. Sometimes there was outrage but mostly the public enjoyed having the wool pulled over their eyes. Created by producer Tony Trotter and Bogor cartoonist Burton Silver, the first (in late 1977) was the fencing wire-playing farmer and his "rural music". This special episode collects the best of the spoofs, from the infamous radio-controlled dog, to the gay couple who ran a "stress-free" flock, and more malarkey besides.
This Country Calendar episode profiles Billy Riddell, one of the few remaining drovers who was still moving herds the old fashioned way in the mid 1970s: “on the hoof” (the art of droving was being supplanted by rail and livestock trucks). The episode accompanies Riddell on a ‘drive’, as he moves a herd of cattle along the East Coast. Riddell’s narration recalls stampedes, river crossings, losing dogs and stock out to sea, the joys of butter, and why townies shouldn’t be on the roads: “the roads were there before cars were even blimmin' thought of”. He also reflects on a drover’s life.
Enjoying sex, drugs and rock'n'roll is difficult when you have to be up early to shear sheep. Country Calendar visited Rangitikei to investigate the Dickheads phenomenon, and found the Taihape band ready to mumble when it came to discussing the hazards of mixing music with farming. The Dickheads are seen rehearsing at Dickheadquarters, in the stockyards, and yarning at the New Taihape Hotel as they head for the big time: an afternoon slot at Sweetwaters, 1982. As a former shearer, TVNZ director Keith Slater identified with the Dickheads' dilemmas.
Champion shearer Godfrey Bowen returns to Akers station at Opiki, Manawatu where he set a world record in 1953 by shearing 456 sheep in nine hours (shown in archive footage). He shows off his biceps (not far from the 23 inches they used to be) and explains the Bowen Technique which revolutionised shearing by reducing the number of blows required to remove a fleece. Bowen talks about how his life changed (travelling the world and an MBE) and there's footage of Agrodome with its trained sheep, which he opened in Rotorua, with his brother Ivan.
'No 8 wire' Kiwi ingenuity is defined by problem solving from few resources (No 8 wire is fencing wire that can be adapted to many uses, an ability that was particularly handy for isolated NZ settlers). Embodied in heroes from Richard Pearse to PJ, Kiwi ingenuity is a quality dear to our national sense of self. It has been memorably celebrated, and sometimes satirised, on screen.