Weekly Review No. 332 - Hokianga ... Backblock Medical Service

Short Film, 1948 (Full Length)

This NFU film looks at the challenges of delivering health services to the large, sparsely populated Hokianga district after World War II. The Weekly Review doesn’t flinch from facing the poverty and poor housing of the mostly Māori population. District nurses carry much of the burden, and doctors and nurses from Rawene Hospital travel by car, foot, boat and horseback to attend clinics and emergencies; including the legendary Dr George McCall Smith — responsible for setting up the Hokianga Special Medical Area. The film’s score was composed by Douglas Lilburn.

Heartland - Hokianga

Television, 1993 (Full Length Episode)

In this full-length Heartland episode, Gary McCormick travels to the Hokianga in Northland, where he attends the annual rowing regatta in the town of Horeke. Locals compete in ironman (swimming, running and... woodchopping), before McCormick delves into the region’s logging past and sees local bone carvers at work. He also visits the Motuti Marae, then drives on to Panguru where he interviews local resident and Māori land march leader Dame Whina Cooper. The programme (gently) reflects on Māori and Pākehā race relations in the area.

Pictorial Parade No. 55

Short Film, 1956 (Full Length)

An elegiac profile of artist Eric Lee-Johnson, by Maurice Shadbolt, is the high point of this NFU magazine film. Johnson gave up a lucrative commercial career to pursue his vision of a New Zealand art moving beyond European tradition; and he is observed chronicling abandoned homesteads and churches, built in remote reaches of Northland's Hokianga harbour by early Pākehā settlers. There's light relief in coverage of a chimpanzees' tea party at Wellington Zoo, while a suitably breathless piece looks at a new industry manufacturing fibreglass boats.

Survey - The Town that Lost a Miracle

Television, 1972 (Full Length)

In this 1972 documentary writer James McNeish visits Opononi to examine the life and controversial death of Opo the dolphin. Working from a McNeish idea, director Barry Barclay uses Opo’s mid 50s visit to the Hokianga as the basis for a probing film essay on people, and other animals. Witnesses recall Opo “oomping away”; they include local Piwai Toi, filmmakers Rudall and Ramai Hayward, and author Maurice Shadbolt. Opo is provokingly not shown on screen. Michael King praised Miracle as “without a doubt the most interesting and evocative” slot in the Survey series to date.

Opo

Television, 1991 (Full Length)

This dramatised documentary looks back to 1955, when a female bottlenose dolphin began appearing regularly in Hokianga Harbour, close to the town of Opononi. Opo became a national celebrity, but died in controversial circumstances on 9 March 1956, the suspected victim of bombing by local fisherman. Directed by Steve La Hood (Numero Bruno, Swimming Lessons), the film recreates events of the summer and explores the belief of local Māori that Opo was a messenger sent by Kupe to unite the people. It includes interviews and extensive archival footage of Opo.

Koha - Whina Cooper (part one)

Television, 1983 (Full Length Episode)

The early life of Dame Whina Cooper, one of the most influential Māori leaders of the 20th century, is explored in the first episode of this two-part TVNZ profile. The inspirational leader of the 1975 Māori land march was born in Hokianga in 1897. She recalls her first protest at age 18, working with her people to improve their land (spurring them on with a whistle given to her by Sir Apirana Ngata) and becoming a pig breeder (with aid from Princess Te Puea). She also reminisces about a Tuhoe leader who gave new meaning to the idea of fiery oratory.

The Strength of Water

Film, 2009 (Trailer, Excerpts, and Extras)

Released in Kiwi cinemas in mid 2009, The Strength of Water marked the big screen debut of Māori playwright Briar Grace-Smith and Pākehā director Armagan Ballantyne. The drama centres on a 10-year-old twin brother and sister living in an isolated part of the Hokianga, and the events that follow when they encounter a young stranger. The Kiwi-German co-production was invited to film festivals in Berlin and Sydney, after debuting in Rotterdam. The extras include interviews with Grace-Smith and the four main cast members, plus making of footage. 

Hone Tuwhare - The Return Home

Film, 2004

Poet Hone Tuwhare was born in the far north, near Kaikohe, but forced by poverty to leave as a child. "75 years after Hone Glenn Colquhoun (doctor, poet, Tuwhare fan) wrote a poem in the Listener inviting him back." Hone accepted the invitation and this documentary is a record of his March 2002 Hokianga homecoming, taking in song, readings and plenty of laughs and kai moana. Silver-haired Tuwhare is irresistible, crooning Sinatra, charming school children with bawdy jokes or channelling the fire of his most famous poem: "For this is no mere axe to blunt!"

Autumn Fires

Television, 1977 (Full Length)

An old woman (Olive Bracey) recounts to her nephew (actor Martyn Sanderson) memories of her life in Hokianga. The film is a mix of personal return journey for Sanderson and an affectionate record of his spirited aunt (she's "the one who ate wheatgerm" in the family). Autumn Fires mixes conversations, photos, and dramatisations of romantic letters. Sanderson rambles on the farm, picks mussels in bull kelp sandals, muses on industrial agriculture and on the "unambitious peaceful life". Directed by Barry Barclay, the elegiac film screened in TV1's Scene series.

Koha - Whina Cooper (part two)

Television, 1983 (Full Length Episode)

Dame Whina Cooper was one of the most influential Māori leaders of the 20th century. She spent most of her life fighting for land rights; and, in this episode from a two-part TVNZ profile, she explains the importance of the land to her people. The former Panguru storekeeper first came to national attention in 1951 when she established the Māori Women’s Welfare League. At age 80, she was back in the spotlight leading the Māori land march; her fire and determination are very much in evidence in a heated address to then Prime Minister Robert Muldoon.