Weekend Rewind: Sir David Attenborough and Life on Aotearoa

By Nicky Harrop

With the announcement of his forthcoming Auckland shows, NZ On Screen’s Nicky Harrop reflects on Sir David Attenborough and his influence in capturing nature on screen in New Zealand.
Sir David Attenborough. Photo / AP
Sir David Attenborough. Photo / AP

February 2017 will see Sir David Attenborough heading to Auckland for his first New Zealand stage shows. The 90 year-old naturalist has had a huge influence on natural history documentary making, inspiring New Zealanders to celebrate some of our own wildlife superstars on screen.

2017 won't be the first time Attenborough has visited us. Sir David has made previous trips to New Zealand, and has filmed content here for a number of his BBC programmes. In 1991, while in Auckland to promote his new series Trials of Life, he was interviewed by Paul Holmes. Attenborough talks about the state of natural history TV making and changes in camera technology (musing that the old days were less efficient, but "more fun"), while Holmes asks Sir David if he's ever been "horrified" by nature, and whether this would be his last big series.

See Sir David interviewed on Holmes here:

Holmes - David Attenborough

Attenborough's early shows were no doubt hugely influential in the creation of our own Natural History Unit.Founded in 1977 by TVNZ, the Dunedin-based unit (now NHNZ) continues to create acclaimed documentaries and series. In the 70s, a key focus was highlighting the plight of New Zealand's endangered species. The world's rarest bird at the time, the Chatham Island black robin, was the subject of three award-winning films that were foundational for the unit, amalgamated to create The Back Robin - A Chatham Island Story.

Watch The Back Robin - A Chatham Island Story here:



But it wasn't all heart-warming conservation rescue stories. Much like Attenborough's, some National History Unit titles also illustrated the brutality of nature. Starting out innocently enough, Kea - Mountain Parrot moves from profiling the "mischievous monkeys in parrot's feathers" to jaw-dropping night footage of a pair attacking and taking down a sheep. Note to our vegetarian readers - watching clip four of this documentary is perhaps best avoided.

Watch Kea - Mountain Parrot here:

Kea - Mountain Parrot

Wildtrack was a successful, long-running children's series created to showcase all things native and natural. Produced by Ian Taylor's Taylormade Productions, this 1991 episode explores the mountain life of Aoraki-Mt Cook, including more cheeky kea and solar-powered butterflies. Look out for an appearance from future actor/director Katie Wolf, seen here as a young field reporter.

Watch Wildtrack - Mount Cook National Park here:



Primeval Survivors focused on the tuatara, the sole survivor of a reptile species extinct for 135 million years. Following a NZ Wildlife Service (now DOC) team on a Stephens Island (Takapourewa) sanctuary, the nocturnal creatures can be seen in impressive numbers hunting for insects. Rather than opting for an Attenborough-esque voiceover, the short film is soundtracked by esteemed composer Jack Body.

Watch Primeval Survivors here:



Closer to the signature Attenborough style, though not necessarily in subject matter, A Flock of Students takes a nature documentary approach in capturing a species rarely caught on screen. A colony of year one students, who have migrated south to Dunedin, are shown partaking in customary rituals, including nesting, social groupings and early, "somewhat unfocused" attempts at courtship.

Watch A Flock of Students here:



See more great nature content, in NZ On Screen's Collection.

- NZ Herald

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