The photo above was taken by Rex Macdonald, Hugh's father, in the late 1920s at Port Craig on the edge of Fiordland.

The line of history ...

 

In 1990 Hugh approached his former National Film Unit colleagues David Sims and Kit Rollings with the idea of making a series of social and technological history documentaries featuring stories from the early days of European colonisation of New Zealand. They formed Memory Line Productions and made seven films between 1990 and 2008.

 

These six films have a connecting line running through them – a rail line. The social history of the people who built the lines, operated the trains, dug the coal and cut the logs that were carried on them, travelled on them and served those who travelled on them, is well covered with archival and contemporary footage. Rail technologies that are mostly gone but are still remembered (and sometimes recreated) with pride and affection are also central to the films. So are the dramatic places where the rail lines were built and operated, including the bleak Denniston plateau on the West Coast of the South Island, and the lush forests of the North Island.

 

Each Memory Line film tells a complete story of a particular time, place and way of life; while the series as a whole provides a unique insight into life in New Zealand in the age of coal and steam.

On Denniston

A Memory Line film

 

The Denniston Incline was one of the great creations of the age of coal and was known to many as an eighth wonder of the world. Opened in 1879 to transport coal from the mines of the 600 metre high Denniston Plateau on the West Coast of the South Island, the Incline plummeted a total of 516 metres (1,694 feet) in 1,670 metres (1.04 miles), with some sections having gradients steeper than 1 in 1.3.

 

On Denniston features the last (and most exciting) film ever made of the Incline in action, shot in 1967 just before the Incline closed forever. It is taken from the film After Ninety Years, which Hugh Macdonald directed for the National Film Unit. Operating the Incline was a dangerous job, as was mining the coal which it carried, and the film includes the stories and reminiscences of the men who kept the coal trucks full and running. The women who lived in one of the three villages on the Denniston Plateau, caring for the men and their children in very challenging circumstances, also have tales of  the happiness and hardship of existence on this isolated rocky cliff top in the clouds.

 

Price $24.95 NZD

plus $5 shipping in NZ

$12 shipping international

Rails in the Wilderness

A Memory Line film

 

For around a century (1850s-1950s) native forest logging was a major industry in New Zealand. In the early twentieth century steam-powered and geared locomotives (“lokeys”) running on steel railway lines replaced horse and bullock teams for hauling logs on bush tramways.

 

Using rare archival footage shot in the forests of Northland, the King Country, Coromandel, Southland and the West Coast of the South Island, and contemporary interviews with men and women who lived and worked in the bush from the 1930s to 1950s,   Rails in the Wilderness shows how the job was done, using local skill and ingenuity to build the lokeys and their rails, to cut, haul and load the logs and transport them to the railheads, and to cook and care for people in the wet, wet forest. Speaking of times that will never come again, and places that have been utterly transformed, some of the interviewees share bitter-sweet memories of what was gained and lost by their efforts.

 

Rimutaka Incline

A Memory Line film

 

The Rimutaka Range between the provinces of Wellington and Wairarapa presented a great challenge to the British colonists wanting to move people and goods between the two places. Existing railway technology was not suited to the steep gradients of these rugged hills. A unique solution was found in 1878 – the locomotive designed by John Fell expressly for such conditions. It was used briefly in England and Brazil, but nowhere else and never for as long as in New Zealand, where for 77 years it was the key to getting trains up and down the Rimutaka Incline.

 

The story of the building of the incline railway and the Fell locos, and operating the train service in all weathers, is told with rare archival footage, supplemented by the memories of a fitter, a driver and a fireman who worked on the locos before they were retired from service in 1955. They visit the now abandoned track and the settlement of Cross Creek, and recall how things were in their heyday.

 

North Island Main Trunk

A Memory LIne Film

 

The construction of New Zealand's North Island Main Trunk Line proved such a challenge that nearly 40 years elapsed before the North and South sections finally met in 1908. Passing through rugged mountain country, over massive ravines and around the base of two active volcanoes, the line was forged by remarkable feats

of railway engineering. One is the famous Raurimu Spiral, where the rail climbs 700 feet in 7 miles and today remains in use on its original formation.

 

With high quality archive colour and B & W film never before seen publicly, including the Tangiwai Disaster, this is the story of a unique 425 mile stretch of railway, and the people whose lives it dominated.

 

Here are legends and stories of the railway men and women - colourful anecdotes of the refreshment rooms, of smuggling liquor into dry areas, tales of tragedy and humour. The romance of a pioneering life-line which created new towns and brought development and prosperity to the entire North Island.

 

Main Trunk Century

A Memory Line Film

 

On the 7th of August 1908 the first passenger train, the 11-car Parliamentary Special carried Prime Minister Sir Joseph Ward and other parliamentarians north from Wellington to see the American Great White Fleet at Auckland. However, the track was barely complete with some cuttings having vertical batters and some unballasted sections of track. Prime Minister Ward drove the last spike on the 6th of November 1908. The 'Last Spike' monument is at Manganui-o-te-Ao near Pokaka.

 

Some of the greatest engineering achievements include the famous Raurimu Spiral (described as an 'engineering miracle') which allows trains to manage the steep grade from the Whanganui River valley onto the Volcanic Plateau. Nine major viaducts were constructed - five of which are over 70 metres high. The rail link was an economic lifeline for the North Island and opened up the centre of the North Island for European settlement and investment. It heralded the golden age of rail transport within New Zealand and established Auckland and Wellington as the country's leading cities.

 

Total Steam

A Memory Line Film

 

It's before the advent of diesels and New Zealand Railways are dominated by

huge black locomotives, panting steel dinosaurs that breathe smoke and fire. You will enter the lost world of TOTAL STEAM.

 

Live the spectacle of steam and snow on the trans alpine railway through the Southern Alps and the tortuous route of the North Island Main Trunk Line.

 

Take an exciting ride on the South Island Limited Express between Invercargill and Christchurch as it races at speeds of up to 75 miles per hour, or lurch at walking pace on a "bush lokey" along a tramway into a remote forest in Westland.

 

Potter around the quaint branch railways of the Waikato Coalfields and the smoky shunting yards at Auckland station where suburban trains connect with tramcars into Queen Street.

 

Travel sedately behind a Baldwin loco dating back to 1901 on the "Hokitika Mixed" or hitch a free ride on a freight train from Frankton to the Bay of Plenty through the spectacular Karangahake Gorge and its notorious tunnel, hated by engine crews.

 

Make a nostalgic trip on a rural branchline into New Zealand's heartland then take in the breathtaking scenery on the Country's only railway journey by water on the historic steamship "Earnslaw".

 

Brought to life in sharp brilliant colour with a painstakingly recreated sound effects track, entertaining anecdotes from the men and woman of the time add a personal touch to this tribute to the great era of TOTAL STEAM.

Price $24.95 NZD

plus $5 shipping in NZ

$12 shipping international

Price $24.95 NZD

plus $5 shipping in NZ

$12 shipping international

Price $24.95 NZD

plus $5 shipping in NZ

$12 shipping international

Price $24.95 NZD

plus $5 shipping in NZ

$12 shipping international

Price $24.95 NZD

plus $5 shipping in NZ

$12 shipping international