A 1930s graphic showing the faces of all members of a rugby team.

Our oldest recorded sports broadcast – the All Blacks vs the British Lions, June 21, 1930

22 Jun 2017
The home side featured legendary New Zealand rugby names like George Nepia and Cliff Porter.

By Sarah Johnston

The first test between the All Blacks and the current touring Lions side takes place this Saturday at Eden Park and nearly 90 years ago this week, a similar match took place and entered the history books for several different reasons. 

On June 21st 1930, the All Blacks met a touring British side for their first test at Carisbrook in Dunedin. This tour was the first time the British Isles team started to be called by their nickname “The Lions”, although the name wasn’t officially adopted until the 1950s.

Hero image: The All Blacks team that represented New Zealand in the 1930 Tour of the British Lions.

Newspaper clipping headed 'A Memorable Game'

Otago Daily Times, 22 June 1930 - Courtesy Papers Past

It was shocking weather with driving snow, but still a crowd of 28,000 people turned out. You can listen to Sarah Johnston from Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision talking to RNZ’s Jesse Mulligan about the broadcast of this match or read more below about why this game has gone down in New Zealand media history.

The All Blacks lost the game 3-6, making it New Zealand’s first loss at home to Britain, but it was also the first time an international match had been broadcast here – and it is our oldest sound recording of any New Zealand sports commentary and a pioneering example of local sound film recording.

Newspaper clipping headed 'Last Minute Victory'

Otago Daily Times, 22 June 1930 - Courtesy Papers Past

Radio broadcasting began in New Zealand in 1921 and sports commentaries started being broadcast in 1926, but none of these were able to be recorded because sound recording technology was still fairly immobile.  You could only record by cutting sound onto acetate or lacquer discs and the equipment was not able to be easily taken out of the studio to sporting events.  So all earlier 1920s sports broadcasts simply went out live-to-air and were not recorded.

However in 1929, sound films (the “Talkies”), arrived in New Zealand. A Dunedin silent film cameraman Jack Welsh,  acquired some sound film recording equipment and his experiments with this new technology were significant enough to make news:

“Talkie" Plant Made in Dunedin

Two young Dunedin men have successfully built a “talkie” film recording plant, after months of slow and tedious work. Mr. Jack Welsh, working in his laboratory at Anderson’s Bay, transferred sound, from a gramophone record on to a film. When the first trial of the reproduction was made in the projection-box at a Dunedin theatre, the melody was jumbled and marred, but the results showed that Mr. Welsh was well on the way to discovering a satisfactory method of recording. In Dunedin yesterday another trial of the reproduction was made of speeches recorded in the room on Friday night, and the improvement was remarkable. (Evening Post - 06 Mar 1930, Courtesy Papers Past)

Jack Welsh had already made quite a few silent films of local sports events in the late 1920s, some which you can watch on our website, such as cricket at Carisbrook in 1929. With his new equipment he now made some experimental sound recordings and by June 1930 he was ready to use it to film the test against the British side. 

Providing the sound for his film would be a local minister and rugby referee Reverend A.L. Cantor, who had been a regular rugby commentator for Dunedin radio station 4YA.  Years later in an interview held in our sound collection, he recalled how he took his seat in the Carisbrook broadcasting box, along with his wife, two radio technicians, two Lions players who were on the bench (Welshman T.E. Jones-Davies and Brit Douglas Kendrew), as well as Jack Welsh and his partner J.H. Gault – making it a rather cosy space on a snowy Dunedin day.

A.L. Cantor recalls the test match between New Zealand and the British Isles (Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision - 146483)

The score stayed at 3-all right up until nearly fulltime, but as Rev. Cantor describes, a sensational last minute try by the visiting side caused chaos in the commentary box, when the British player Kendrew could not contain his excitement at seeing his side win.

A.L. Cantor recalls the test match between New Zealand and the British Isles (Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision - 146483)

Unfortunately, the outburst by the over-excited Kendrew (who later became Major-General Sir Douglas Kendrew, Governor of Western Australia) was not recorded as part of Welsh and Gault’s film of New Zealand’s oldest sports commentary, but you can hear part of A.L. Cantor’s commentary and watch excerpts of the game on the film, which Welsh titled “New Zealand Audible Items of Interest.” (Note the All Blacks played in white jerseys, to avoid confusion with the dark blue of the British players.)

'New Zealand Audible Items of Interest'. (Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision)