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84 EVERGREEN Autumn In

84 EVERGREEN Autumn In 1954, The Seekers went into cinema history as the first film with major scenes filmed on location in New Zealand by an overseas studio. Bringing a film crew halfway across the world to a country with limited film-making facilities was a logistical challenge 60 years ago, unlike today where the studio amenities available are world class. The J. Arthur Rank organisation sent 23 personnel from England including actors Jack Hawkins, Laya Raki and Noel Purcell, director Ken Annakin, producer George H. Brown and cameraman Peter Hennessy for the filming which took place during the southern hemisphere summer. Interior scenes had been shot in England before their arrival. New Zealand-born John Guthrie’s novel about the mounting conflict between Maori and British migrants in a small 1820s settlement was the basis for the script by William Fairchild. A film first for New Zealand Forty-three-year-old Jack Hawkins was Britain’s favourite film star when he came to New Zealand for the filming. His genuine modesty, sincerity and easy manner saw him well-liked by the press and the holidaymakers he met during the location filming. Glynis Johns, his screen wife, did not film any of her scenes in New Zealand. She played Marion Southey to his Phillip Wayne. Hawkins had arrived in Auckland from Sydney on 2nd January 1954. “The plane trip (from England) was very tiring,” he said. “I had a wonderful Christmas with my wife and two small sons, one day to do shopping and pack, and I’m sure I have all the wrong clothes for this lovely weather.” He was here “to do a job” and expected little time for relaxation. The role was a physical one for him, seeing him fighting with his fists instead of his brain, as he had in his other films. While filming in England, the Maori extras had taken the

2017 EVERGREEN 85 fighting so seriously that he could not wear a shoe on one foot for 10 days. Hawkins was driven by car from Auckland to Whakatane, two days after his arrival in New Zealand. Going through Hongi’s Track, he stopped at the Wishing Tree to make a wish. “There were carloads of people about who were probably waiting to see the Queen, but they said I would do, which is the nicest compliment I have had for some time,” he said with a smile in his voice. News about the filming of The Seekers was completely overshadowed in New Zealand by the detailed press reporting of Her Majesty’s first royal tour of the country. For many New Zealanders seeing their beautiful young queen in person was the event of a lifetime. Hawkins predicted The Seekers would be a success because “It has a background which hasn’t been seen in films before, and it’s a full-blooded story.” Whakatane’s holidaymakers lost their ready-made entertainment after the crew departed for Rotorua. While filming was taking place at Otarawairere Bay, the cliff track from Ohope Beach had daily pilgrimages of families bringing picnic lunches to eat while they watched the filming. During the lunch breaks they would see men in top hats and white frilly shirts walking along the sand — often wearing bathing shorts below the waist — while poke-

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