In the summer of 2007-2008 freelance photographer Jessie Casson and her family embarked on a road trip around New Zealand in a classic caravan (which threatened to fall apart along the way), to compile a book and accompanying documentary on some of our less-celebrated champions. Among them are gumboot throwers, an A&P show baker, naked Nelson cyclists, a shepherd, a singer, a family of champion woodchoppers, a Cromwell cherry spitter, Hokitika coal shovellers and lamb shearing record holder Emily Welch, who sheared 642 lambs in nine hours.
Godzone is “timber country” in this seventh slot in the New Zealand Now series. The NFU film looks at the world of the Kiwi bushman, as milling is providing the raw material for a postwar housing boom. The narrators provide a good keen guide to life in the remote and tiny (six houses) North Island town of Oraukura, where timber men fell giant native trees during the day and split kindling after work. For the men it’s a hard, but good life; for their wives it’s “pretty dull”. The Axemen’s Carnival in Taumarunui features OSH-unsanctioned woodchopping in socks.
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.
Pioneering series Pukemanu (the NZBC’s first continuing drama) was set in a North Island timber town. Its portrait of the town’s folk offered an archetypal screen image that Kiwis could relate to: rural, bi-cultural, boozy and blokey; viewers and reviewers praised its Swannie-clad authenticity. This first episode sees a culture clash as a motorcycle gang (including a young Bruno Lawrence) comes to town and causes trouble, running Ray (Geoff Murphy) off the road; and stranded townie Diana (Ginette McDonald) falls in love with a local axeman while hunting.
"So the Queen comes to New Zealand. 12,000 miles from the motherland she is not among strangers. She has come to her New Zealand home." When the Queen and Prince Philip began the first tour of NZ by a reigning monarch (soon after her coronation), a National Film Unit crew followed the journey, before condensing 40 days and 46 stops into a mere 25 minutes. Along the way the newly crowned Queen wears her coronation gown to open Parliament, and witnesses geysers, long-jumpers, Māori canoes, plus masses of enthused Dunedinites refusing to keep behind the barrier.
This 1985 New Zealand tourism promo showcases Aotearoa society and industry. As the title suggests, the NFU-made film offers an impressionistic take on the subject. Bookended by a dawn and dusk chorus, the narration-free survey cuts between primary products (milk, logs, wool etc) and their manufacturing processes, and then shows people at work and play — from futures traders to pounamu carvers, contemporary dancers to cricketers. Date stamps of the era include a mass aerobics class, hydroslide action, and saxophone and guitar solos on the soundtrack.
This is the first installment in director Jason Stutter’s trilogy of short cautionary tales. The ingredients are simple: playful kid, dangerous tool. The recipe for a comic screen gem? Mix them up. Here a son, left alone after watching his Dad chop wood, has a go at figuring out how a heavy axe works ... in bare feet. With the economy of a Buster Keaton set-up, Careful’s razor sharp sense of squeamish anticipation saw it become a festival success. It was apparently inspired by listening to Pink Floyd song ‘Careful with that axe, Eugene’ on a road-trip.
Grant Lahood made his name directing a trio of short films whose stars ranged from speedy snails and troublesome mice to squabbling animal activists. After taking shorts The Singing Trophy and Lemming Aid to success at Cannes, Lahood has gone on to direct documentaries and two features — one of which (Kombi Nation) features an all human cast.