Bitchin' Channels

A blog about television and radio with Paul Casserly

Paul Casserly: The man who ate his dog

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True Crossings' Kevin Biggar and Jamie Fitzgerald. Photo / Supplied
True Crossings' Kevin Biggar and Jamie Fitzgerald. Photo / Supplied

"I was compelled, though very reluctantly, to give my consent to killing my dog, Rover. The flesh of a dog is very palatable, tasting something between mutton and pork." - Thomas Brunner

TV One's First Crossings has proven once again that our love affair with our own country isn't over yet. We're a self-obsessed bunch, like African dictators or the Ridges, we just can't get enough of ourselves. From the early days of Country Calendar, on shows like Peter Hayden's Journeys Across Latitude 45 South through to Gary's McCormick's finest hour - Heartland, to Marcus Lush on a train; our most loved TV has involved New Zealanders poking about New Zealand.

We do this so often that you almost expect the hosts of First Crossings to run into another film crew coming the other way as they cross the Southern Alps, possibly finding Te Radar eating trail mix, or harassing a chicken, or just researching another award-winning show.

While Heartland celebrated the small towns and backwaters, and the 'characters' within, the more recent crop of shows have found new and often novel ways to divide the country up: Captain's Log followed in the boat-steps of Captain Cook, Hunger for the Wild kept to the wild-food killing-fields of the Taranaki, the Hawkes Bay, the Kaikora - while the spin-off show Coasters, stuck to the west coast. Lush's Off The Rails was probably the most inventive, allowing for a criss-cross journey into the heart of lightness via our anorexic rail network.

You may even recall that John Campbell made his way around our nation via Elizabeth Regina's 1953 visit on A Queen's Tour. I was lucky enough to follow Jeremy Wells around the land using birds as an excuse on Birdland, and more recently Craig Potton used our waterways on Rivers.

Of course, most of these shows have been made before. In 1991 comedian Jon Gadsby explored the Clutha river on Great New Zealand River Journeys, while the late great Kenneth Cumberland examined most of these stories on Landmarks in 1981.

Not content with his rail inspired journey, Lush went back, with pack and pedal, to conquer the south, on South and the north, on North. Can't wait for East and West. And just when you thought we'd run out of ideas of ways to dissect the country, along comes First Crossings, following in the footsteps of early Pakeha explorers. Viewing the first episode had me wondering if they could spin a whole series out of the concept, after all it just seemed to be two guys bashing through the bush dressed like Sam Hunt and moaning about shit food. Four episodes later, I'm hooked.

As far as credentials for this type of carry on go, Kevin Biggar and Jamie Fitzgerald are pretty much as good as it gets. These guys have not only rowed across some 5000 kilometres across an ocean, they've also legged it, by leg, to the South Pole, and they're surprisingly good as TV presenters.

Historically the show is a little light but visually it's a treat, and great effort has been made to capture the physicality of it all. The camera goes where they go, whether it be up rock faces or under freezing water. The stories are epic and told without too much cliché. On a recent episode they even nearly managed to mention the culling of seals without the predictable soppy flannel - although there was an unnecessary hint of an apology on behalf of the explorers, who were no doubt happy to kill the mammals as we would swat a fly.

It was a great idea to make the guys wear the period clothes, eat period food (sometimes) and build shacks and boats just like the early explorers. Last week's show was about some marooned sealers, who after dispatching some 11,000 seals set about crossing the sea, trying to cross the alps and then heading back to the island where they were marooned to bash some more seals before they were finally rescued. Nearly three years had passed. I'll try to remember that the next time I fume about having wait for two minutes to reset my Sky decoder.

Like watching Bear Grylls - whose own show is an obvious influence - it's sometimes easy to spot the artifice, to wonder about where they really slept, or to clock the purpose built bottom to the supposedly hand-made boat.

That's all part of the fun really, and probably serves to make a very important point: The guys who did this stuff for real were real hard bastards and we're just a bunch of pussies. Well, I'm speaking for myself; the guys who made this show, both on and off screen, are anything but.

The final episode, tracing Thomas Brunner and Maori guide Kehu's monumental schlep down the Buller, screens this Tuesday.

It was on this journey that Brunner made himself somewhat infamous. Due to the arduous nature of this trip, and a threat of starvation, he'll forever been known as the man who ate his dog. News that he chowed down on Rover spread throughout the colony, earning him the nickname Kai Kuri - dog eater.

In the interests of accuracy I'm hoping that Kevin or Jamie will do likewise.

If it's not too late I'd like to volunteer my neighbour's yapping mongrel. I'll even send down some damper and dripping to go with it.

* First Crossings TV One, 8.30pm, Tuesday, August 21.

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