Richard Weatherly is an entertaining storyteller. He’s certainly one of a kind. One of life’s unforgettable characters. Former director of the New Zealand International Film Festival and, more recently, proprietor of the Swamp Palace cinema in the Oruru Community Hall, he speaks with reverence for his past and the past of picture theatres in New Zealand. This Voices from the North interview is as much about Twentieth Century New Zealand history as it is about Richard. When I say proprietor of the Swamp Palace I mean all of the following: cinema director, manager, projectionist, ticket-seller, sweets dispenser and ‘sit on the balcony railing tell you about the film’ Richard Weatherly.put up fierce competition to cinemas. Of course this was followed by television and, more recently multiplexes sprang up, signalling the end for many of the traditional picture theatres.

Richard points out that in the mid 50s New Zealand was listed in the Guinness Book of Records. There were more cinema seats here per head of population than in any other country in the world. The average New Zealander went out to the movies two-and-a-half times a week.

The Swamp Palace

This is a warmly nostalgic and informative interview, harkening back to a bygone era that existed not so very long ago when projectionists roamed the land, bringing films and sometimes projection equipment to small motion picture theatres all over the country, including the Oruru Hall and the Mangonui Hall right here in our little part of New Zealand.

Richard gives a detailed overview of censorship, from its beginning in the Great War in 1916 to the huge range of ratings Richard grew up with in the 50s and 60s: G, Y, A, R13, R16, R18, R21 and S. An S (special) certificate could be awarded by the national censor to a film with unusual qualities. The Sound of Music was released in New Zealand with an S rating: Especially suitable for family entertainment. The famous early 60s documentary Sky Above  Mud Below, filming the exploits of a French couple amongst the forgotten nude to semi-nude tribes of Papua New Guinea received an S rating which stated: Nudity and native customs may prove embarrassing to young women.  As Richard points out, the film was hugely successful with young women. They sat stoically throughout the filming until a young tribes-woman was shown nursing a child on one breast and a pig on the other!

The interview was enormously educational for me, as I grew up in the 60s and 70s in Canada, a different time and place altogether. Richard speaks of the dress codes that existed in cinemas and of the days of permanent reserves of seats in Auckland—in which the patron paid for a specific seat whether they showed up or not. And these were the days of the pubs closing at 6.00 pm so evening pictures had little competition.

This began to change in the 50s when radio—the likes of Selwyn Toogood with his It’s in the Bagprogramme—put up fierce competition to cinemas. Of course this was followed by television and, more recently multiplexes sprang up, signalling the end for many of the traditional picture theatres.

I encourage you to listen to the complete interview below. Richard tells of the safety on the Auckland buses for children (without their parents), the joy of the Sunday drive, visa versa parties and much more. All and all, this is a highly entertaining and informative interview with selections of music from Janice Joplin and Grace Slicks.

Link to 2002 article about Richard’s exploits with Lord of the Rings

And a link to an article of when Richard left the area.

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Radio host, inspirational speaker and health educator John Haines is the author of In Search of Simplicity: A True Story that Changes Lives and the recently released Beyond the Search, books to lift the spirit and touch the heart. See http://www.JohnHainesBooks.com

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