Going with his father to see the battleship HMS Ramilles set Peter Couling on a course that led to the New Zealand Navy. Joining at 18, he soon found himself bound for Korea where his ship escorted convoys from Japan to Pusan. He was also on hand to see the battleship USS Missouri fire its guns in anger for the first time since World War II. That was in the early stages of the Incheon Landings. In this interview he also talks about going on parade in London for King George VI’s funeral. Back home he headed south with Sir Edmund Hillary and the Trans-Antarctic Expedition.
This National Film Unit documentary shows the NZ contingent training in the Aoraki Mount Cook area for their mission to Antarctica, as part of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition. On the Tasman Glacier, they practise polar survival techniques, huskies are put through their paces and an RNZAF ski plane dramatically flips before a blizzard blows in, and some classic Kiwi DIY repairs are required on the ice runway. Team leader Sir Edmund Hillary narrates in laconic style. Cameraman Derek Wright went on to chronicle Sir Ed’s famous tractor dash to the pole.
This edition of the NFU magazine series first travels to Waiouru to observe the NZ Army’s elite Special Air Service, in the year it was established. The soldiers undergo bush exercises, an obstacle course and a mock ambush, training for deployment to Malaya. Then it’s up to Auckland Zoo to meet husky litters destined for an Antarctic Adventure with Hillary and the Trans-Antarctic Expedition (the dogs are related to Captain Scott’s huskies). And finally, it’s further north to go shark fishing for “a day on the Kaipara” in a segment directed by Maurice Shadbolt.
This NFU documentary chronicles a major milestone in NZ's presence in Antarctica: the building of Scott Base. Members of the Commonwealth Polar Expedition leave Wellington in December 1956, and sail through storms and pack ice. Led by Sir Edmund Hillary, they construct Scott Base, meet some local wildlife and begin preparations to support a British team led by Doctor Vivian Fuchs. After wintering over, Hillary would, in January 1958, controversially reach the South Pole before Fuchs — only the third party after Scott and Amundsen to do so overland.
In this 1956 reel, Sir Edmund Hillary and colleagues describe their mission to set up bases in advance of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition. Ed meets Everest mate George Lowe in Uruguay to board The Theron, and they smash and use explosives to blast their way through ice, then unload supplies (including the soon-to-be-famous Ferguson tractors). Sections of the footage were shot on 16mm film by Hillary himself. Lt Commander Bill Smith and Dr Trevor Hatherton narrate pathfinding with sledges in McMurdo Sound, on the other side of the continent.
Kiwi George Lowe directed this Oscar-nominated film of the Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1955-58), which made the first overland crossing of the continent via the South Pole. Lowe joined mission leader Sir Vivian Fuchs’ party coming from Shackleton Base, spotting hazards for the vehicles and dogs. NFU veteran Derek Wright filmed the Edmund Hillary-led NZ support crew coming from the other side of Antarctica, and helped drive the tractors. Worried about running out of food while waiting for Fuchs to reach the Pole, Hillary and his team headed to the Pole first, against his orders.
This half-hour film from 1958 documents New Zealanders in Antarctica: researching International Geophysical Year, and supporting the Trans-Antarctic Expedition by laying supply depots for Vivian Fuchs’ overland crossing. National Film Unit cameraman Derek Wright films Edmund Hillary's team, capturing the drama of their (in)famous dash to the South Pole as they roll precariously forward in converted Ferguson tractors — “the best crevasse detectors ever invented” as Hillary notes. Hillary's team got to the South Pole on 4 January 1958, 82 days after leaving Scott Base.
Dropping in on the Americans at the South Pole for afternoon tea, having driven there by tractor, was one of the most unusual events of Derek Wright's career as a National Film Unit cameraman. In his 40 years with the NFU he filled many other roles, from laboratory assistant to producer: but it is for his filming in the Antarctic that he is particularly remembered.