Tag Archives: Alex Porter


Māori for Beginners

- By Alexandra Porter (Audio Conservator, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision) 

Tēnā koutou katoa
Ko Alexandra Porter tōku ingoa
Nō Ingarani me Kōtarania ōku tīpuna,
I whānau mai ahau i Īnia,
Kei Ōtautahi tōku kāinga ināianei

Ka nui te mihi ki a koutou katoa
Nō reira, he waka eke noa
Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā tātou katoa

Born in India from English and Scottish parents, I emigrated from Ingarani (England) at the age of 20 and apart from a couple of years in Tūranganui-a-Kiwa (Gisborne) and Ōtepoti  (Dunedin) have settled largely in Ōtautahi (Christchurch). I consider Aotearoa home; it is where my son was born (Waitaha, Kāti Māmoe, Kāi Tahu) and where I have been growing roots for the best part of 23 years. It is with a degree of embarrassment then when I admit te reo Māori had been on my list of things to do for far too long.

Fortunately my challenging but inspiring journey of te reo began in March 2016 when support from work and a window in the evening schedule allowed; challenging because my brain is not a great receptor between 6.30-8.30pm, and inspiring because it opened up te ao Māori and has served to strengthen family ties. My son continues to learn te reo at school and takes great satisfaction from correcting my whakahua (pronunciation) and testing me on my mahi kāinga (home work) which I am grateful for, as teenage years advance and the general urge to kōrero with parents can diminish.

In Ōtautahi te reo Māori and tikanga has been something I personally associated mostly with formal or bicultural occasions, scattered within extended whānau gatherings or at work, limited to the beginning and ending of email correspondence. However, one has to start somewhere, and only in daily use have I found any new language sticks. Therefore (thanks to colleague and fellow te reo student, Sarah Johnston) my workplace and home are now covered in pieces of paper to assist this slow process of neuro-linguistic embedding.

Our wonderful kaiako (teacher) and talented kaiwaiata (singer) Antoinette Koko (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāi Tahu) has introduced us to a variety of traditional karakia (prayer) and waiata (song) as part of the curriculum, the latter to which I was initially resistant as singing in any capacity is not my thing. Timely choral bursts do, however, serve to expand her class’ attention span whilst lifting spirits and confidence (it’s a good trick). So when, following the end of the term last year, a friend played me The Alphabet Song from a 1972 vinyl LP produced by the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation I was eager to both share and find out who else had come across it.

A recent and proud addition to his vinyl record collection, the LP titled MAORI for BEGINNERS* by Professor Biggs [1.] (LP cover featured below) was purchased from a Christchurch second-hand store for just a few dollars. The spellbinding first track immediately seized my attention as its melodious vocal pattern of letters was unique to anything I’d heard before.


MAORI for BEGINNERS (New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation, 1972).
MAORI for BEGINNERS (New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation, 1972).


Back at work a search in Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision’s collections database revealed that we had a copy on DAT (Digital Audio Tape), taken from an LP of the same name produced in 1972 – but no original vinyl disc was present in the archive. DATs are high on all sound archive preservation agendas as the format (largely from the late 1980s-early 2000s), developed for storing and backing up data onto magnetic tape, is unfortunately rapidly deteriorating. Now however, following its digitisation, this taonga is available to listen to in its entirety on our online catalogue. Continue reading

Octavius Francis Harwood’s first house, built in the early 1840s (currently under renovation). Photo by Alexandra Porter, January 2016.

Octavius Francis Harwood – A Journey of Family Discovery

By Alexandra Porter (Audio Conservator, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision)

Last year I was digitising a 1948 Mobile Recording Unit oral history, as part of a larger digitisation project. While digitising this item I heard the name Octavius Harwood crop up, in an account by a Mrs McDonald from Waikouaiti. I remembered the name of Octavius Harwood (it’s not a name you forget) from my partner’s whakapapa (genealogy), when we were researching names for our son Elijah fourteen years ago. So I got in touch with taua Natalie, Eli’s grandmother, who lives near Taiaroa Head, on the Otago Peninsula and the Harwood-McDonald story began to unfold.


Mrs McDonald, of Palmerston North, interviewed by the New Zealand Broadcasting Service, 29 September 1948


Octavius Francis Harwood, born in Stepney Green, England, was the eighth of ten children to Robert Harwood, a sea captain, and Mary (nee Soutter) – whose family owned the company, Soutter ships. After a classical education Harwood followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the mariner’s life, which led him to Sydney in May 1837. There he met George Weller of the infamous and well-established Australasian whaling and trading brothers, and in the following year sailed on to New Zealand to take up the role of storekeeper and clerk at their Ōtākou station [1] . Continue reading

Brian Cosnett (technician), Leo Fowler (producer), Geoff Haggett (commentator) and Dick Miller (technician) pose with the faithful “Gertie,” the Mobile Unit recording truck, in 1947 or 1948 (Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision collection).

Coromandel Yodellers and the Royal Navy – New Digitisations from the Mobile Unit Project

By Sarah Johnston, Camilla Wheeler and Alex Porter (Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision)

One of Ngā Taonga Sound and Vision’s current projects is digitising and fully describing the nearly 1,000 acetate records in the New Zealand Broadcasting Service Mobile Unit Collection. These were recorded between 1945 and 1949 all over New Zealand. The project will take the best part of the next year, with the work being carried out by audio conservator Alex Porterand cataloguer Camilla Wheeler. You can hear Sarah talking to RNZ’s Jesse Mulligan about the project here or listen to the recordings in full below.

The Mobile Unit collection is an eclectic assortment of music and oral history style recordings, made by the forerunner to RNZ, the NZ Broadcasting Service immediately after World War II.

The collection was recognised last year as being a significant national treasure of documentary heritage and entered into UNESCO’s Memory of the World register.

Brian Cosnett (technician), Leo Fowler (producer), Geoff Haggett (commentator) and Dick Miller (technician) pose with the faithful “Gertie,” the Mobile Unit recording truck, in 1947 or 1948 (Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision collection).
Brian Cosnett (technician), Leo Fowler (producer), Geoff Haggett (commentator) and Dick Miller (technician) pose with the faithful “Gertie,” the Mobile Unit recording truck, in 1947 or 1948 (Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision collection).

The unit was a mobile recording truck (affectionately known as “Gertie”) kitted out with disc cutting equipment and microphones on very long cables. It toured the country recording people who would normally have never been able to get near a radio station studio, which in the 1940s were still largely limited to the main centres.

The purpose initially was for the truck and its crew to go out and record musical talent from the provinces, that could then be used in broadcast programmes for the radio – sort of an early New Zealand’s Got Talent. However, the scope of their mission broadened when the broadcasters realised the wealth of oral histories the old people of the towns they visited could contribute, and so we have a lot of wonderful recorded memories in the collection, reaching back to the 1870s and earlier.

In 1948 the unit was in Coromandel township and recorded three tracks in Māori and English sung by a local group, the Brown Sisters.  Here are Tangiura and Te Waimarie Brown singing a country number by Tex Morton, “Outlaw Rocky Ned,” as well as two waiata Māori, “Tōia mai” and “Koutou katoa rā.”

Songs performed by The Brown Sisters (Mobile Unit, Coromandel, 1948)

At the end of last year, the eclectic nature of the Mobile Unit recordings was made very apparent as Alex and Cam completed work on a large number of discs recorded around Wellington in November and December 1945, when the Royal Navy aircraft carrier and two British destroyers visited New Zealand.

British aircraft carrier Indefatigable, Wellington Harbour. Raine, William Hall, 1892-1955. Ref: 1/4-020662-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23204493
British aircraft carrier Indefatigable, Wellington Harbour. Raine, William Hall, 1892-1955. Ref: 1/4-020662-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23204493

Broadcasters were possibly testing out the new Mobile Unit truck and its equipment, as there are many hours of recordings made onboard the ship, describing equipment and manoeuvres (you hear planes taking off and landing) and interviews with officers and sailors about their roles on board.  More unusual are recordings which reflect something of life in Wellington in 1945.  Here is an interview with a Mrs Innes, who was running the Home Hospitality Bureau, which had to find local billets for the ship’s crew. (We think the phone conversations were probably staged for the recording, but it is still fascinating listening.) Continue reading


NZBS Mobile Unit Collection: Tahakopa Sawmill

Audio Conservator Alex Porter is currently working on a project to digitise and describe the New Zealand Broadcasting Service Mobile Unit Collection. The project will take the best part of the next year, during this time Alex and her colleague Camilla will listen to every part of the collection. In this blog post Alex shares interesting snippets of audio she has come across this week, recorded by the Mobile Unit at the Tahakopa timber mill, in the Catlins.

The Tahakopa Sawmill was located 10km from the township of Tahakopa, in the isolated bush of the Catlins District, Otago. Situated right at the end of the Catlins River branch railway line, specifically built to manage the logging industry, the Tahakopa timber mill was one of many mills felling red and black pine, tōtara, and kāmahi trees from both state and privately owned forestlands.

In this recording from November 1948, an unidentified New Zealand Broadcasting Service announcer introduces the mill and interviews Mr Ab Griffin, Manager of the Harg and Company Sawmill, Tahakopa:


This clip features an NZBS commentary – with sound effects – of a tree being felled, recorded on the same occasion:


 - By Alex Porter (Audio Conservator, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision)


Learn more about the New Zealand Broadcasting Service Mobile Unit and Alex and Camilla’s work with this collection here.


Audio excerpts from Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision’s Radio Collection, all rights reserved. To enquire about re-use of these items please contact sound@ngataonga.org.nz


Preserving the Mobile Unit Collection

In September this year Audio Conservator Alex Porter and Cataloguer Camilla Wheeler embarked on a project to digitise and describe the New Zealand Broadcasting Service Mobile Unit Collection. The project will take the best part of the next year, and in this time Alex and Camilla will listen to every part of the collection.

The Mobile Unit was one of the first mobile recording units in New Zealand. The origins of the Mobile Unit itself are as fascinating as the contents of the collection. Set up after the Second World War, the purpose was initially to go out and record musical talent from the provinces for use in broadcast programmes for the radio – an early New Zealand’s Got Talent or X Factor. However, the scope of the mission broadened when the sound recordists realised the wealth of oral histories the old people of the towns they visited could contribute.


In post-war New Zealand, it was important to create radio programmes which had a patriotic appeal and showcased the best our country had to offer in order to increase morale. However, with limited budget and radio stations only existing in a few main centres,  broadcasters were restricted to recording people, bands and choirs who could come into the studio. Professor Shelley, Director of Broadcasting, “had an idea that the country was simply ridden with talent which never got an opportunity of getting near a microphone”[1] and directed producer Leo Fowler to establish the Mobile Unit recording team. The brief was to record “the bands, the choirs, the school choirs, and the thousands of individual artists [in the provinces] who were just waiting to provide the Broadcasting Service with some new talent.”[2]

The bands and choirs they had been sent to record were often only available to record in the evenings, as they were made up of working men and women. This left the recording team with spare time in the day, during which they made calls on the local elderly and invited them to record their memories. Very quickly, they realised that here was the real gold. In the 1940s there were people alive who remembered the New Zealand wars in Waikato and Taranaki, and the gold rushes in Coromandel and Central Otago, with memories going as far back as the 1860s. The result was that these oral histories, which were initially the by-product of the project, came to be the focus of the Mobile Unit. The collection contains some of the oldest recorded memories of New Zealand, including some of the earliest recorded te reo speakers. Leo Fowler had good relations with Māori and made an effort to seek out te reo speakers and kaumātua.

The Mobile Unit vehicle itself – “Gerty,” as she was called – was “one of the mobile control towers belonging to the Air Force … [and] had four hydraulic jacks put on it, one at each corner”[3]. The purpose of the jacks was to make sure the van was absolutely level, no matter where it was parked. This was because the two 16” disc recorders it was equipped with were very sensitive to any movement. As well as the recording equipment, speakers and microphones, the van also contained an operating desk, interview table and general workbench. It had “five [or six] drums of cable so that you could record at considerable distances and [use up to] four or five microphones”[4] at a time.

Listen to Geoff Hagget, Mobile Recording Unit Announcer (1947), as he describes the truck and crew in an NZBC interview, 17 April, 1973:

The resultant Mobile Unit Collection is one of the richest resources of oral history in New Zealand. It was recognised by UNESCO last year and inscribed onto the UNESCO Memory of the World register.

The original recordings are on lacquer discs, and are kept in archival crates in Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision’s audio archive in Christchurch. The collection was preserved in the early 2000s onto CD, which was the medium of choice at the time. However, we have since realised that CDs have a finite shelf life and therefore it is important that we preserve this valuable collection in digital format as well.

As part of the project, we will be making full descriptions of the recordings in our catalogue records. Please check back in the future to see what gems we have uncovered.

- By Alex Porter and Camilla Wheeler, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Read updates on preserving the Mobile Unit Collection


[1] Leo Fowler: Reminiscences on the Mobile Recording Unit. Transcript. Mobile Unit Collection, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Geoff Haggett: NZBS Mobile Unit. [Audio], Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision.

[4] Fowler

“Scruff,” a Short Film In-The-Making

Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision Audio Conservator Alex Porter has hidden talents. Outside of her day job as an archivist, she has an impressive career as a filmmaker. A few of the films she has directed include: Super8man (2007), a comic short film inspired by Richard Bach’s book Johnathan Livingstone Seagull and exploring the world of an amateur filmmaker; A Sense of Place (2008), a fantastical observation of fine wine and art; and N or Nor W, Study of a Canterbury Wind (2011), which looks at a Canterbury Nor’ wester from the perspective of a young girl living in the 1950s (we exhibited this film here at the archive in 2013).

In this blog post she puts on her producer’s cap, and shares a new filmmaking project she’s working on with Ed Lust.

Scruff Director Ed Lust, with D.O.P. Sabin Holloway, on location at a flat in Sumner, Christchurch. (Photo by Alex Porter).


I was stoked when Ed Lust [1] asked if I would produce his short film, Scruff, because pretty much everything Ed does is cool and generally involves cosmic wonder. We met during postgraduate years at the University of Canterbury in 2009: he was completing his MFA, and I was starting my Hons. A fact was established in my mind when I saw Ed’s final submission that this man stood apart from the crowd; not only because he was gay (in both senses of the word), but because he was in the business of making and creating great art across disciplines, prolifically and seamlessly. We have shared a couple of road trips and exhibition spaces over the last few years and generally founded a loose sort of working exchange which brings me to the now, the project at hand: Scruff, the short film.

We are coming up to two years on from where we began with a New Zealand Film Commission Fresh Short grant, and have one more weekend of drama to go before the production can be fully realised from script to screen, project this baby into post, to master and apply to festivals. Anyone who has ever had a hand in making a short (but works full-time in their other field of interest) will know [2], really know this is just how the timeline rolls sometimes — and let it be known Ed is also a full-time archivist [3]. Scruff is a personal story; it’s a coming of age tale that pushes open the edges of envelopes, wide. Follow this link to hear Ed’s story, see his Boosted campaign and witness his bold approach as he stands naked [4], putting himself on the line.

Boosted!? I hear you cry, hasn’t he had enough support already? As his producer I say no, he needs a little more, actually one weekend of production costs more. Fellow film lovers, it is time to stand up and join the faithful posse of family and friends, the existing support of Christchurch’s “we help people like Ed because we believe in them” network collective and other available squeezed-dry resources. Follow the link, hear his plea and create an opportunity to be part of the love, if all you do is “like” or “share” his message, God Bless you anyway [5].


Alex Porter

Friend and Producer fighting to represent filmmaking in Christchurch


Ed looking happy with the way things are going. (Photo by Alex Porter).
Ed looking happy with the way things are going. (Photo by Alex Porter).

Continue reading

Awatea Ship to Shore

- By Alex Porter (Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision Audio Conservator)

This ship to shore recording is possibly the first example of its kind to have been heard over the New Zealand radio waves, recorded on 31 August 1936. A handful of crew on board the Union Steam Ship Company’s new trans-Tasman Liner, the Awatea, are interviewed prior to their arrival in Wellington on 3 September 1936.

Track 01:

Track 02:

Audio  from the Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision Radio Collection, all rights reserved. To enquire about re-use of this item please contact sound@ngataonga.org.nz


Publicity poster for the Awatea. Courtesy of Cruising the Past.
Publicity poster promoting the Awatea. Courtesy of Cruising the Past.

The audio was preserved from two tracks of a 16” laquer disc housed in the Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision Radio Collection. The first includes a test radio telephone link made between an unidentified 2YA announcer (referred to as “Mr Announcer”), the telephone exchange and the shipping vessel located somewhere in the Pacific. The second continues contact with the effervescent Commander, Captain A.H. Davey, who briefly describes the voyage from the UK through the Panama Canal and Pacific – where they encountered a three hour electrical storm, much to his delight. Captain Davey introduces the Chief Engineer, Mr Lockeheart, and the Chief Steward, Mr Cooper, as questions are posed by “members of the travelling public” (an unidentified man, young boy and woman) also speaking from 2YA’s studios, Wellington. The Ship’s Wireless Operator, Mr Jones, and 2YA announcer conclude the interviews by exchanging information about the radio telephone procedure establishing their connection. Continue reading

Vincent Ward, As He Was in 1990

Alex Porter (SANTK Preservation Archivist) was lucky enough to meet Vincent Ward when he received his Honorary Doctorate at The University of Canterbury recently (click here to read about her experience meeting Ward and what she took away from his talk).

After hearing Ward speak, Alex was inspired to reflect on Ward’s career as it is recorded in the Sound Archives Ngā Taonga Kōrero collection. She came across this 1990 Morning Report interview. Presenter Geoff Robinson talks to Ward about Edge of the Earth - his then in-progress book on the film industry, his New Zealand roots and their influence on his films. At this point his career was already in full swing – Ward released Vigil in 1984 and The Navigator: A Medieval Odessey in 1988. Here Ward mentions “My Father’s Hands,” a theme and iconography that has been meaningful to him across his life and career – and which would later become the title of his Honorary Doctorate speech.

Click below to the listen to the interview.

[Archival audio from Sound Archives Ngā Taonga Kōrero. Any re-use of this audio is a breach of Copyright. To request a copy of the recording, contact SANTK.]

Ward speaking during celebrations for his Honorary Doctorate.
Ward speaking during celebrations for his Honorary Doctorate.

The World According to Ward

- By Alex Porter (SANTK Preservation Archivist)

Whilst my colleagues hustled Christchurch crowds on April 14th to get their smart phone pics of the Royals in Latimer Square, I hit the arterial route to meet Vincent Ward for morning tea at Canterbury Uni. On first sight I found immediate empathy for the man who appeared a sort of overall dark and silver grey wrapped in woolly scarf and was most gratefully introduced to our Film School saviour trying to brush my insomnia, hormones and bad hair aside. Guests included Professor Simpson – Head of the School of Fine Arts in Ward’s day – whose eloquence and forthright engagement Ward acknowledged and still rather endearingly preceded him, and  Morris Askew – essentially founder and Head of Film School during Ward’s years at university and to whom he showed great respect, not to mention an array of lecturers, students, heads and bods from the Christchurch gallery (and archive) collective.

University of Canterbury


Post-quake Canterbury University has had to make some acute structural changes as they attempt to meet the expectations of the counting house. Ward’s welcome and reciprocal speech certainly served well to reframe and project a positive light on changing times. Ward applauded the University’s new umbrella, titled The School of Humanities and Creative Arts, a flagship for The School of Fine Arts, Music, Film Theory and Cultural Studies departments and a creative compilation that actively reflects current industry and enterprise, anchoring students in the real world. From where I was sitting Ward expressed a genuine enthusiasm to engage his skills, industry links and international connections in efforts to raise the university’s profile and in turn, student numbers.

To mark his Honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts Ward gave a lecture titled “My Father’s Hands” later that evening, which was received with appropriate excitement and matched enthusiasm from a well attended audience. Beginning the talk with a wonderful black and white photograph and “That’s me and my dad” Ward explained how he used to constantly draw his father’s scarred, burnt hands – which were part of a major injury inflicted during his service in Syria during WWII. Ward told his father’s life story, a compelling and sad narrative of unrealised aspirations, a story he embodied in these scarred hands. Ward drew an analogy between them and the farm’s terrain, the isolated, burnt and roughed hilly landscape that was made beautiful through sheer sweat, grit and determination. Selected photographs, film stills, pre-production drawings and gallery installation documentation prompted discussion on fate, moments and cinematic motif, production tales and artistic insight into his multi-disciplinary work to date. Continue reading