Called up at the start of World War II, George Shadbolt spent six years in the British Army. As a member of the Royal Corps of Signals he spent much of it behind the lines, installing and maintaining vital communications networks. Shadbolt — 99 at the time of this interview — covered 1000s of kilometres through North Africa and the Middle East. It wasn’t until late in the war that he saw action in Italy, bringing communications lines to tanks at the front. The task offered little protection; Shadbolt deemed it the army's most dangerous job. Shadbolt passed away on 9 August 2017.
In the late 1980s, Kiwi John Britten developed and built a revolutionary racing motorcycle. He pursued his dream all the way to Daytona International Speedway in Florida. In 1991 the underdog inventor came second against the biggest and richest manufacturers in the world. Britten: Backyard Visionary documents the maverick motorcycle designer as he and his crew rush to create an even better bike for the next Daytona. After arriving in Florida, another all-nighter is required to fix an untested vehicle with many major innovations. Costa Botes writes about the documentary here.
This notorious film looks at '70s bikie culture, focusing on Auckland's Hells Angels (the first Angels chapter outside of California). These not-so-easy riders — with sideburns and swastikas and fuelled by pies and beer — rev up the Triumphs, defend the creed, beat up students, cruise on the Interislander, provoke civic censure, and attend the Hastings Blossom Festival. After a funeral, Aotearoa's sons of anarchy head back on the highway. Bikies was banned by the NZBC — possibly due to the public urination, lane-crossing, chauvinism and pig's head activity.
Inspired by the ageing Burt Munro — who took his home-engineered motorbike to America, and won a land speed record — this passion project was Roger Donaldson's first locally made film in two decades. Variety called it a "geriatric Rocky on wheels”; Roger Ebert praised Anthony Hopkins' performance as one of the most endearing of his career. The result sold to 126 countries, spent five weeks in the Australian top six, and became Aotearoa's highest-grossing local film — at least until Boy in 2010. Alongside an excerpt and making of material, Costa Botes writes about the film here.
Champion speedway driver Ivan Mauger powered and slid his motorbike around oval tracks to a record six world speedway titles from 1968 to 1979. In this documentary Mauger and his family recall his long career, from his boy racer beginnings — he argues that in Spain the heroes are bullfighters, but in Christchurch they were speedway riders — to his Western Springs farewell. David Lange also pays tribute. Mauger's focus on winning shines through: "if you show me a good loser, you show me someone who consistently loses". Mauger passed away in Australia on 16 April 2018.
Ron Childs’ father had fought at Passchendaele in World War l. With another conflict looming, Ron signed up for the Territorials at age 18. A few months later war broke out, and he was in the army, guarding the entrance to Wellington Harbour with heavy artillery and searchlights. Poor health meant he never made it overseas; he spent the rest of the war on the home front. Serving in both the army and the air force, Childs was variously a gunner and dispatch rider.
This excerpt from mid 90s show Newsnight features the extraordinary story of Max Corkill and his motorcycle-riding cat Rastus. After having Rastus dumped on him as a kitten while he was motorcycling around Canada, Max took him along on the road. Quickly becoming comfortable on the bike, Rastus would stand on the handlebars as they drove along. Back in New Zealand, the pair became community favourites, and regularly raised money for the local SPCA. They passed away on 20 January 1998, after being involved in a head-on collision with a drunk driver.
Merata Mita’s Patu! is a startling record of the mass civil disobedience that took place throughout New Zealand during the winter of 1981, in protest against a South African rugby tour. Testament to the courage and faith of both the marchers and a large team of filmmakers, the feature-length documentary is a landmark in Aotearoa's film history. It staunchly contradicts claims by author Gordon McLauchlan a couple of years earlier that New Zealanders were "a passionless people".
Harold Beven reckons he’s the luckiest man to serve in the Second World War. Born in a village east of London, he saw plenty of action in the (UK) Royal Navy, but by his own admission, never got his feet wet. Joining up as soon as possible after the outbreak of war, Beven served in almost all the naval theatres. As a Chief Petty Officer, he was involved in the evacuations of Greece and Crete — and later the allied invasions of Sicily and Italy — as well as the D-Day invasion of France. At the age of 96, Beven remembers entire conversations as if it was yesterday.
Love, Speed and Loss is an extended documentary about racer Kim Newcombe, who turned heads in the 1970s on a König motorbike he developed and designed himself. Built around home movie footage and interviews with his charismatic, straight-talking widow Janeen, the film charts the couple's travels in Europe, and triumph on the track. Newcombe was killed racing in 1973, and posthumously finished second in that year's World 500cc Championship. Love, Speed and Loss won best documentary at the 2007 Qantas TV Awards and three Air NZ Screen gongs.