The pioneers of our elec­tric­ity in­dus­try

Hamilton Press - - OUT & ABOUT - HIS­TORY

A new doc­u­men­tary se­ries will cel­e­brate the un­sung heroes in­volved in the early stages of New Zealand’s elec­tric­ity in­dus­try.

Pow­er­ing New Zealand is a five-part se­ries un­cov­er­ing the sto­ries of the in­ven­tors and pioneers who made sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tions to New Zealand’s elec­tric­ity in­dus­try. The first episode will pre­miere at an in­dus­try screen­ing at Hamil­ton’s Me­teor The­atre on Novem­ber 21.

The doc­u­men­tary’s cre­ators and hosts are en­ergy ex­perts Stephen Bat­stone and David Reeve. Both say the doc­u­men­tary is a pas­sion project, in­spired by the cast of char­ac­ters in­volved in the early stages of the in­dus­try.

‘‘There were so many sto­ries to tell in this se­ries, and really we could have told many more,’’ said Bat­stone.

‘‘There are some great sto­ries from the past 10 years or so, but the older ones tend to get lost as time goes on. We wanted to bring them to our na­tional con­scious­ness by say­ing, hang on, these peo­ple are ac­tu­ally worth cel­e­brat­ing.’’

The first episode shows how Otago’s boom­ing gold min­ing in­dus­try helped cre­ate New Zealand’s first hy­dro­elec­tric power sta­tion in the 1880s, along with some of the ‘‘for­got­ten innovators’’ who made it hap­pen – George Bullen and Wal­ter Prince.

Bullen in­stalled an elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tor at the bot­tom of a cliff near an Otago min­ing set­tle­ment, creat­ing New Zealand’s first hy­dro­elec­tric power sta­tion. The set­tle­ment be­came known as Bul­len­dale, and the gold min­ing op­er­a­tion was the first in the first in the world to be pow­ered by elec­tric­ity.

Elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer Prince, sent from the UK to in­ves­ti­gate New Zealand’s grow­ing elec­tric light­ing in­dus­try, not only de­signed Bul­len­dale but also built Reefton’s hy­dro­elec­tric power sta­tion.

Reefton be­came the first town in the south­ern hemi­sphere to be lit with elec­tric­ity.

Host­ing the pre­miere screen­ing in Hamil­ton is de­liber- ate, said Bat­stone.

‘‘The Waikato and Bay of Plenty re­gion is a hub for the elec­tric­ity in­dus­try.

‘‘You have big en­ergy com­pa­nies such as Con­tact En­ergy, Trust­power, Ge­n­e­sis En­ergy and Mer­cury En­ergy based there, and many wind, ther­mal, geo­ther­mal and hy­dro­elec­tric power sta­tions in­clud­ing iconic Ara­puni and Wairakei.

‘‘Not to men­tion Waikato is home to some great in­no­va­tive minds, such as the Gal­lagher fam­ily and Lloyd Man­deno, who was a big ad­vo­cate for hy­dro­elec­tric­ity in homes in the 1920s.’’

The Gal­laghers and Man­deno will fea­ture in up­com­ing episodes of the se­ries, along­side other im­por­tant elec­tric­ity mile­stones in­clud­ing the in­ven­tion of the elec­tric wa­ter heater and the de­vel­op­ment of the world­chang­ing elec­tric fence.

Bat­stone hoped peo­ple will feel in­spired and proud of their elec­tric­ity in­dus­try and re­alise how much New Zealand has con­trib­uted to the global un­der­stand­ing of re­new­able en­ergy.

‘‘We can start cel­e­brat­ing the Lloyd Man­denos of the elec­tric­ity world along­side the Thomas Edis­ons.’’

Reeve said the doc­u­men­tary was also an ef­fort to pre­serve his­tory and to in­spire peo­ple about fu­ture pos­si­bil­i­ties in elec­tric­ity.

‘‘When we were re­search­ing we found that even peo­ple in the in­dus­try weren’t aware of this fas­ci­nat­ing her­itage,’’ he said.

‘‘This is prob­a­bly down to the fact that as an in­dus­try, we’re al­ways look­ing for a new in­no­va­tion, the next big thing.

‘‘We want peo­ple to see these sto­ries and see that we have achieved mas­sive things on a global scale be­fore – so what’s to stop us from do­ing that again?’’

Film­mak­ers, Stephen Bat­stone and David Reeve with a pic­ture of Wal­ter Prince.

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