1981 - Hitting the Road

In 1981, New Zealand was populated by 3,195,800 people and 69,884,000 sheep. It was an election year and the year the New Zealand Film Archive was established. Punk was fashionable and so were knickerbockers. That year, the feature Goodbye Pork Pie was released, the documentary Patu!, was filmed and the music video Tally Ho screened on local TV.

A box-office success, Goodbye Pork Pie captured New Zealand humour in its affectionate portrayal of kiwi men on the road. Patu!, by contrast, was highly controversial, documenting the very real trauma of New Zealand at war with itself during the Springbok Tour. Different in style to both these, Tally Ho captured the spirit of low-budget filmmaking, and presaged the development of a new film form—the music video.

The making of these films, and their reception, provides a valuable view of New Zealand’s moving image culture in 1981.

Film and TV in ‘81

New Zealand had two television channels in 1981, and approximately 78 percent of licensed television sets were colour sets. Programmes shown in New Zealand that year included American shows like Hill Street Blues, Battlestar Galactica, One Day at a Time and Dallas, as well as locally made shows such as Country Calendar, Mastermind, Ready to Roll, Koha and Under the Mountain.

In between programmes, there was less advertising than today; TV1 played no ads on Fridays, TV2 played no ads on Saturdays and neither channels played ads on Sundays. That year, TV1 was on air for an average of 88 hours a week – about 12 and a half hours a day – while TV2 was on air for about 71 hours a week. The end of each day’s transmission was indicated by a short animation of a kiwi shutting down the television cameras and going to sleep in a satellite dish. Known as ‘the Goodnight Kiwi’, it was much loved by the New Zealand children who were never allowed to stay up and watch him.

For other entertainment, there were 154 cinemas in New Zealand. In 1981, New Zealanders went to the movies an average of 3.87 times a year. Films playing in local cinemas that year included Friday the 13th (1980), Doctor Zhivago (1965) and Life of Brian (1979) and ticket prices to see them in a city like Auckland would have cost an average of $2.40.

New Zealand filmmaking was gaining recognition. Always present in some form, the country’s film industry was now becoming more structured and formalised, primarily due to the establishment of the New Zealand Film Commission in 1978. By the end of 1981, 8 features had been released with the financial support of the Film Commission, including Goodbye Pork Pie.

New Zealand’s music industry was also strong. Television offered a venue for bands to get some exposure, showing local talent alongside the overseas acts. Two key music shows were on air in 1981; Ready to Roll screened the Top 40 hits every weekend, while Radio with Pictures (fronted in 1981 by Karen Hay) offered a late night look at the newest foreign and New Zealand acts. New Zealand singles in the charts that year included Counting the Beat (Swingers), One Step Ahead (Split Enz), Tally Ho (The Clean) and Don’t Fight it Marsha (Blam Blam Blam).

Events of ‘81

February: Underarm bowling
At the end of a one-day cricket match between New Zealand and Australia on 1 February, Australian Captain Greg Chappell orders his brother Trevor to bowl underarm to New Zealand’s tailend batter, Brian McKechnie. The delivery prevents the New Zealand team from attempting the six runs required to tie the game. The incident draws outrage from New Zealanders and prompts Prime Minister Robert Muldoon to express his displeasure to Australian counterpart Malcolm Fraser.

February: “The foyer is like a riot!”
Goodbye Pork Pie is released in New Zealand cinemas on 6 February and is an immediate success. After 10 weeks on screen, the film reaches $1 million in box office takings. When it is screened on New Zealand television some years later, it is watched by 50 percent of the population over 5 years old—1.5 million people.

March: Birth of an Archive
The New Zealand Film Archive is incorporated as an independent Charitable Trust on 9 March. By the end of 1981, the Archive has: become an Official Repository under the Archives Act (1957); observer status at Federation Internationale des Archives du Film; published The Tin Shed, the first book on NZ film history; and employed the first film repairer.

April: A Litany of Lies
On 16 April, the Royal Commission report into the Erebus disaster is released. It states the ‘single effective cause’ of the 1979 crash of Air New Zealand flight 901 was the alteration of flight coordinates in the aircraft navigation system. This was done without the knowledge of the aircrew and resulted in the deaths of 20 crew and 237 passengers. Justice Mahon claims the airline had indulged in a ‘litany of lies’ to cover their guilt. Air New Zealand subsequently appealed the findings.

May: Gumboots and Gaffers
National Film Theatre, London, hosts a season of New Zealand film. Reflecting a spirit of optimism about this country’s slowly growing film industry, the programme is titled ‘New Zealand—Emergence of a New Cinema.’

June: Thank you very much for your kind donation
Telethon ‘81 raises over $5 million for the International Year of Disabled Persons. During 24 hours of televised mayhem for charity, New Zealanders do wacky deeds in community halls and television stations all over the country. Held on the weekend of 27-28 June, Telethon involves 6 venues, 5 mobile studios and 32 cameras. The overseas guests include Kenny Everett, Kamahl, Bill Oddie and Basil Brush.

July: The Tour begins
The South African Springboks Rugby team fly into Auckland on 19 July, precipitating two months of civil protest in New Zealand. Over that period, 1520 people are charged with offences related to anti-tour protests, with the last tour case being held in late 1983.

August: The Dunedin Sound
The Clean release their single Tally Ho, with a live version of Platypus on the flipside. The single spends 7 weeks on the New Zealand charts, reaching No. 19 in September.

November: Old and New Power
The general election on 28 November narrowly returns the National Party to Government and Robert Muldoon as Prime Minister of New Zealand. Of the 92 elected members, 8 are women. They include the new MP for Selwyn, Ruth Richardson and the new MP for Mt Albert, Helen Clark. Both women will later become household names in New Zealand; the former will become synonymous with harsh economic reforms in the 1980s, while the latter will become New Zealand’s first elected woman Prime Minister in 2000.

Miranda Kaye, 2001
Dennis, Jonathan and Jan Bieringa (eds) Film in Aotearoa New Zealand (Victoria UP, Wellington, 1992)
Dix, John, Stranded in Paradise: New Zealand Rock ‘n Roll 1955-1988 (Paradise Publications: Wellington, 1987)
Chapple, Geoff, 1981: The Tour (AH and AW Reed: Wellington, 1984)
Fraser, Bryce, The New Zealand Book of Events (Reed Methuen: Auckland, 1986)
New Zealand Official Yearbook 1982 (Department of Statistics: Wellington, 1982)
The Listener, January—December, 1981

 Watch Now
See a clip from Geoff Murphy’s 1981 classic, Goodbye Pork Pie
Watch the CleanÂ’s breakthrough music video, Tally Ho
See footage from the Springbok rugby tour documentary, Patu!

The Film Archive
Listed below is a small sample of the Film Archive’s extensive collection of resource material relating to New Zealand’s film history and cultural heritage.

If you would like to view these items, or learn more about this topic, please Contact Us.

Related Film & Video
Cowboys of Culture
Rock the Quota
Rangatira: Making Waves - Merata Mita
1981 - A Country at War
Related Books
Listener TV Annual 1981
Stranded in Paradise: New Zealand Rock 'n' Roll 1955-1988
Our Own Image
Film in Aotearoa New Zealand
By Batons and Barbed Wire

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