Te Radar pitches up to Kawau Island in a dinghy, hops out on the sand and, bright orange Hutchwilco lifejacket still hugging his torso, shakes hands with Governor George Grey, who bought the island in 1862.

Just when we thought we finally had him pinned - he's New Zealand's Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall! - Te Radar's Chequered History (Saturday nights on TVNZ1) has come along and recast the jack-of-all-trades as a folksy Kiwi time-traveller who pops up at various moments in the nation's history to retell some of our lesser-known stories.

Te Radar celebrates the true stories of the history that history tried to forget. Photo / TVNZ1
Te Radar celebrates the true stories of the history that history tried to forget. Photo / TVNZ1

In the presenter's own words, the show's brief is to celebrate the "true stories of the history that history tried to forget." It's not aiming to be

The Penguin History of New Zealand

- more like a really good toilet book.

Advertisement

That means instead of getting stuck into explaining the Governor's role in the New Zealand wars, for example, Te Radar delivered a snappy two-minute overview of his shambolic attempts to introduce various exotic creatures (possums, wallabies, monkeys, zebras...) to his Hauraki Gulf island paradise in the 1860s.

Before arriving at Governor Gray's place, the time-hopping host had been in 1931 with a motorcycle-riding youth called Johnny Wray. Through a mix of re-enactment and animation (often a cheerful combination of the two) we learned the unlikely story of how this bloke built his own boat out of salvaged timber, old bolts and fencing wire. And that was just the start of it.

Wray's story provided the spine of the episode - later, he ended up cruising around the Pacific, which later still saw him author the non-fiction classic South Seas Vagabonds.

Before arriving at Governor Gray's place, the time-hopping host had been in 1931 with a motorcycle-riding youth called Johnny Wray. Photo / TVNZ1
Before arriving at Governor Gray's place, the time-hopping host had been in 1931 with a motorcycle-riding youth called Johnny Wray. Photo / TVNZ1

Then in 1988 a woman called Debbie Lewis bought his old homemade boat and, with next-to-no sailing experience, set off on an around-the-world voyage with her son. Back in the present day, she delivered this perfect laconic quote: "The more ya know, the more it stops ya doin' stuff."

In between all this we were introduced to the likes of Henry Swan, the Auckland lawyer who in 1901 sailed in the other direction to Wray and set up all the way down Henderson Creek, where Swan's Arch stands to this day.

Te Radar introduced to the likes of Henry Swan, the Auckland lawyer who in 1901 sailed in the other direction to Wray. Photo / TVNZ1
Te Radar introduced to the likes of Henry Swan, the Auckland lawyer who in 1901 sailed in the other direction to Wray. Photo / TVNZ1

Or what about and Emily Siedeberg, New Zealand's first female medical graduate, who (among other pioneering career achievements) ended up delivering Janet Frame (played by a baby in an orange wig).

In a half-hour the episode told eight different stories, all loosely connected by a common theme (this one was 'Beautiful Dreamers'). They weren't the most detailed or thorough accounts, but the full stories are all out there for those who want to know more.

Te Radar with Emily Siedeberg, New Zealand's first female medical graduate. Photo / TVNZ1
Te Radar with Emily Siedeberg, New Zealand's first female medical graduate. Photo / TVNZ1

What

Te Radar's Chequered Past

did, and did well, was find entertaining and inventive ways of shining a light on them.

The result was an idiosyncratic and interesting patchwork of slightly obscure New Zealand history - one which you could tell had a great deal of care and attention put into every stitch.