First published in New Zealand TV Weekly December 5, 1966.

By Shirley Maddock

First woman appointed to the staff of AKTV2 in 1960. Born in Auckland, educated in Wellington; spent three years in British repertory theatre. In 1954 joined NZBS doing women's programmes for the commercial division. Went to US in 1958 and sent radio programmes back to NZBS and worked on television documentaries in New York. Has written a novel With Genily Smiling Jaws and recently completed her second book, Islands of the Gulf. Miss Maddock is married to a Hamilton doctor.

"We trekked from island to island, by sail-boat and on land, if we weren't bumping about in a Landrover we were trudging on foot, equipment on our backs" TV producer Shirley Maddock found it rough going making “Islands of the Gulf”.

A television documentary is not unlike an iceberg; only a little breaks the surface-the submerged nine- tenths is in the mass of research and writing, filming, editing and recording -even the hours you spend waiting for the rain to stop or stubborn cloud to shift.

When you come to film a place, you see it in several dimensions. If you are a complete stranger, what you bring back has the vivid tang of first sight as make-weight for the inevitable lack of depth. When you know the landscape and the people better, then you try to distil their essential qualities so that the picture you have built up in your mind's eye is one that your audience will eventually share. You are not dealing with actors in a studio; you are eaves- dropping on real people going about the real affairs of daily life. You plan, as far as it is possible to plan the unrehearsed, and you must also have the courage to throw away the plan if something better, but unexpected, turns up.

My work in New Zealand television began almost from its inception. I was the first woman appointed to the staff of AKTV2 when it began a regular programme service in June 1960. In those days we did everything live and if that life were faltering through inexperience and misadventure, what we attempted was full of the zest which all pioneers share. You had to be a jack-of-all-trades- I wrote the newsreel, the continuity for each transmission, took my turn as announcer and interviewer and produced some tentative pieces on architecture, art and William Shakespeare.

Television was a year old when I turned to the greater mobility of film. Early topics were shot fairly close to home in Auckland and the first long trip away was when Don Whyte and I made The House and The Flagstaff in the Bay of Islands. In this we matched the landscape of the present with the identical scene as the earliest travellers painted it -for instance, Augustus Earle's Entrance to the Bay of Islands painted in 1827 from what we know as Flagstaff Hill above Russell.

At the time, January 1963, I had already done much of the research for a programme on Gallipoli which was mounted entirely on stills. The Distant Shore was a difficult task. It began, as everything does, as a brief list on one piece of paper. This grew to a mountain of books and documents weighing half a ton from which I selected the 400 pictures we eventually used. The whole project lasted some months and of all the programmes I have done it was the hardest to put aside. The futile tragedy, the extraordinary courage of Turk and Allied soldier alike and the fact that the actions were fought on the classical battlefields of antiquity, gripped my imagination and feelings. I never saw the initial broadcast as had been sent to Australia to make six documentaries about Sydney. This was a job of much lighter texture and it brought the added bonus of working with the ABC and a crew of wide experience and skill.

From the biggest city in the southern hemisphere to a small community in Northland was a satisfying contrast. Its name was Puhoi, a valley still farmed by descendants of emigrants who came there in 1863 from Bohemia.

Don Whyte, with whom I have worked on most of my films, and I spent much time there. The particular image we had of Puhoi was some- times to be found in actuality, sometimes not. There was an elusive quality that made it a European as well as a New Zealand village-you saw it in the thicket of oaks grown from Bohemian acorns, in the names on the gravestones and the shrine with Christ on the Cross set at the entrance to the village.

Islands of the Gulf came the following summer. It began modestly as one programme and ended up as five. We trekked from island to island by amphibian aircraft, by launch, by sailboat, and on land, if we weren't bumping about in a Landrover, we were trudging on foot, equipment on our backs. I don't think I have ever been fitter. The last three years' tasks would make an Outward Bound course as tame as a Sunday School picnic.

Islands recently made the unusual switch of film into book, and was published by Collins in October 1966. This meant that Don Whyte and I repeated our travels about the islands to get the illustrations, and as well, widen the original format by including the north-east coast and the Coromandel Peninsula.

The book did not follow immediately on the heels of the television series. In between was A Far Cry, an hour-long documentary on the National Women's Hospital in Auckland. Very different territory for us-and the natural climax was the birth of a baby whose first cry must make her the youngest performer ever on New Zealand television screens.

The Tall Trees and the Gold went into its planning stages as soon as A Far Cry was finished, but its course was full of interruptions. I went on leave to write Islands of the Gulf and when I returned to Channel 2 I was despatched to Wellington to make A Capital Move, a centennial piece marking the transfer of government from Auckland to Wellington. I felt a slightly wry pleasure that an Auckland producer had been invited to Wellington for the job.

In August, I took up the threads once again of The Tall Trees and the Gold. It was a sour and dismal month matched by an equally sodden spring.

The films had started off in embryo as a study of the mining days on the Coromandel Peninsula, but kauri was so much allied with northern gold mining that it seemed logical the two should be treated together. Our itinerary was adapted to include the diminished kauri forests of the north and the old timber towns. When you have finished a documentary like this, seven months work, you see the landscape ever afterwards as you filmed it, every detail of light and shade in the weather indelibly etched in memory. Surprisingly the film surmounted the rain; cloud and the flat, pewterish light gave Don Whyte's work the quality of an engraving. In the north, we were not looking for a summer country of beaches and holiday- makers, we were looking for the past and raising its ghosts.

Tall Trees was also a landmark for me, in that it was begun not long before I was married and was completed some months after. So for a while, in the jargon of my trade, there must be a "natural break". In television this is where commercials are fitted into programmes. In my case, it is the arrival of our first baby. I have plans for other programmes-the Maori Wars for one. Another is about Captain Cook and the French explorers contemporary with him-a project timed perhaps for 1969, the bi-centenary of his coming here.

Until recently I was the only woman producer in New Zealand television and people have often asked if working in a male world had its problems. I never found it to be so, being a woman was more often an advantage and I have never been restricted to "womanly" topics in programme material. Probably the only chore being a woman entailed was that my crew have always had a touching faith that, even in the loneliest backwater, I would see that they were fed!

I feel very strongly that television should reflect the country of its origin. As New Zealanders, we are increasingly aware of ourselves and of the need for a background of our own traditions and sense of our own history. We have wasted opportunities to hear about it first-hand from people who remember the early days, and I don't think our generation will leave such an enduring picture as those first-timers did. We don't write letters or keep diaries; the telephone and telegram have done way with the necessity.

So in some twenty programmes, we have listened to those surviving from the last colonial days, searched for the recollections of those who have died; and we have tried to catch if only by the coat-tails, a little of the flavour of times now irrevocably gone.

If we have succeeded only in part, then six lively and hard working years have been most satisfyingly spent.

Comments powered by CComment