Joan Daniel was excited to learn she was going overseas as a volunteer nurse in World War II — her mother less so. But it was the beginning of a three year adventure for Joan, as she recounts in this interview. First it took her to Egypt. The cases there were mainly related to ordinary illnesses, and there was time for sightseeing and fun too. Tragedy struck though, when three nurses were killed in a traffic accident. From the Middle East she was sent to Italy and a hospital close to Cassino. The patients now were casualties of war: the wounded, the shell-shocked and the dying.
Made in an era before “coolest little capital” and Absolutely Positively Wellington, the title of this NFU promotional film — Promises, Promises — nods to the capricious charms of the harbour city. A reflective narration is scored by a saxophone soundtrack as the film tours from the stock market, school fair, and swimsuit shopping, to Trentham and up hillside goat-tracks. The opening of Parliament is cut together with a Lions versus France rugby match at Athletic Park, while Scorching Bay is jam-packed with sun-seekers (it must have been filmed on a good day).
This 1983 film looks at New Zealand in World War II, via a compilation of footage from the National Film Unit’s Weekly Review newsreel series, which screened in NZ cinemas from 1941 to 1946. It begins with Prime Minister Savage’s “where Britain goes, we go” speech, and covers campaigns in Europe, Africa and the Pacific, and life on the home front. The propaganda film excerpts are augmented with narration and graphics giving context to the war effort. Helen Martin called it "a fascinating record of documentary filmmaking at a crucial time in the country’s history".
This 1946 film surveys New Zealand housing: from settler huts to Ernest Plischke’s modernist flats. Architect William Page bemoans sun-spurning Victorian slums with their unneeded “elaboration”. But more fretful than fretwork is a housing crisis that sees 26,000 families needing homes, with owning or renting out of reach of many. Michael Savage’s pioneering (but war-stalled) state housing scheme and newly-planned suburbs offer hope. Fed by wood and cement, NZ can build again with brio: “For a home is the basis of the simple things that make victory worthwhile.”
World War II veteran Everard Otto volunteered for the Territorials at 18, helping supply Americans troops based in New Zealand. But his real war story began when he turned 21 and was sent overseas. He eventually arrived in Italy as a staff car driver. Mostly behind the lines, Otto’s memory of service is based around the brutal battles for Monte Cassino, watching the cruel fighting and bombing that razed the famous hilltop monastery. Returning decades later he found the countryside largely unchanged. He even found the dugout where he spent four eventful months.
John Wills joined the New Zealand Army as soon as he could when war broke out in 1939. He ended up serving in North Africa and Italy until war’s end in 1945. Now 96, Wills looks back at his time as a driver for an artillery battery. Taken prisoner and held by the Italians in Libya, he was liberated by Indian troops in time to see action at the battle of El Alamein. He was also present, behind the lines, at the brutal Battle of Cassino, north of Naples. Tales of fighting, hardship and bravery are balanced with humour.
There have been many royal visits since Prince Alfred first came to NZ in 1867 for pig hunting and picnicking. Made for TV (it screened in March 1970), this NFU title surveys tours from George V in 1901 to Queen Elizabeth II in 1963, via archive footage and photos. It also looks at NZ’s changing relationship to the “distant mother country”. Tours include the Prince of Wales in 1920 (he is said to have shaken 20,000 hands), the Duke and Duchess of York in 1927 (the footage is silent so there’s no speech from the future King George VI), and Queen Elizabeth II’s 1953-54 Coronation Tour.
In the tradition of novelty songs, ‘Culture?’ was catchy to the point of contagion. Fuelled by carnival keyboards, it was The Knobz response to Prime Minister Rob Muldoon’s refusal to lift a 40% sales tax on recorded music (originally instituted by Labour in 1975), and Muldoon's typically blunt verdict on the cultural merits of pop music (“horrible”). The giddy, hyperactive video comes complete with Muldoon impersonator (Danny Faye), and casts the band as the song’s 'Beehive Boys'. In the backgrounder, Mike Alexander writes about his time as the band's manager.
The great outdoors and the arts are what most inspires sound recordist turned documentary director John Hagen. He learnt the ropes at Avalon television studios, before venturing out on his own as a director. Alongside arts shows like Frontseat and New Artland, Hagen has celebrated Kiwi architecture in The New Zealand Home and recreated hazardous pioneer journeys in popular series First Crossings.