Gaylene Preston
The Year That:

1977

I turned 30 and came back to New Zealand after seven years living in Britain. It was Christmas week and summer but the night I arrived in Wellington, there was a raging southerly. I was picked up by my sister's boyfriend and, as we drove from the airport through the Mount Vic tunnel, the rain was going up the windscreen wipers. It was like being Shackleton at the Pole. I thought: "I must remember never to live in this godforsaken town."

My sister Jan was touring with Split Enz. She was in Red Mole and they were the opening act, doing topless fire-eating and stilt-walking. I'd never seen anything like it. I couldn't put my finger on it. It wasn't good It wasn't bad. It was weird. The last thing I'd seen in London was Maria Muldaur at Ronnie Scott's.

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And every now and then, I'd come across something wondrous and familiar from my childhood that I could relate to, like lamp-posts, Morris Minors and revolving clotheslines.
Jan said: "What are you doing to do?" It was just a big question mark. I'd lived very happily away all that time, but the hills had called me. I'd come home but it wasn't familiar. That's an understatement. It was like being on an acid trip without the acid.

There were lots of things I could do: cartooning, photography. I was a trained art therapist and I'd done drama therapy at Brixton College of Further Education.

I wanted to be part of a creative group, but I didn't want to work in an institution. I went to see John O'Shea at Pacific Films in my Ossie Clark trousers and boots with rainbows painted on them. I didn't look like anyone else there. I had some feminist cartoons that were acerbic but not very funny and an 8mm home movie. John suggested I go to Avalon and make television with their women's unit and I said: "The only thing I know for sure at this juncture is no more institutions for me."

And I didn't know he hated Avalon because they were shutting him out. He invited me to join Pacific Films as an art director and to try out all the departments. I went out with Rory O'Shea once as the camera assistant. I had to do the clapperboard and carry the gear and I was hopeless at both.

I'd transitioned from an urban commune in Stockwell where the politics of housework was discussed daily to being the only woman on the crew, in the van with the boys. And they called me Bruce. I took that in the spirit in which it was meant – I was in the gang. I don't know if I'd have coped so well if I hadn't had the years of living around the women's liberation movement.

Then I met Barry Barclay at a party and he said: "What do you want to do?"

I said: "I'd like to be a cinematographer, but I can't carry the gear. I don't know if I can hack it."

Then I thought: I'll own up.

I said: "I guess I'd really like to direct."

And that was the first time I'd said that to anyone. He didn't laugh.

"How old are you?"

"I've just turned 30."

"You're old enough," he said. "You better get on with it."

So I did.

As told to Paul Little