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Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Hunt for the Wilder Typer

Barry Crump at his Olivetti Lettera 22 portable typewriter
and his then partner, fellow writer Jean Watson, on a fishing trawler
off the North Queensland Coast in late 1962. During their two years in Northern Australia, Crump also went crocodile hunting in the Gulf of Carpentaria.
We managed to catch a movie yesterday, for what seemed like the first time in ages. Happily, the opportunity - amid more pressing grandchild-minding duties - arose while the critically acclaimed New Zealand movie Hunt for the Wilderpeople was still playing at, appropriately enough, Manuka. The last time we were there, a month or so ago, people were queuing out the door to get to see Hunt's Canberra opening. It had broken box office records in its homeland and reviewers on both sides of the "dutch" were raving about it, one saying it was the best movie he'd ever seen. Even the Hollywood Reporter called it "a deliciously good time at the movies". 
Barry Crump at his Olivetti Lettera 22.
Far from being "delicious", our expectations far exceeded the experience. But we found it well filmed and at least moderately entertaining (its 100 per cent score on the Tomatometer, with an average rating of 8 out of 10, and an audience score of 92 per cent, do seem a tad over the top). What delighted me most, however, was to notice, as the credits rolled, that the filmscript was based on a book by one of my favourite New Zealand authors, Barry Crump. His 1986 novel Wild Pork and Watercress was one with which I wasn't familiar, and so I hadn't realised the movie had a connection with Crump until it ended. Watching the movie, I had been thinking it may well have been inspired in part by The Loner, a well-received book written in 1974 by a friend of mine, Ivan Agnew (who, by the way, used a burgundy Imperial Good Companion 6). There's doubtless still a good movie to be made from Ivan's book.
It now seems highly likely to me that Hunt for the Wilderpeople (and obviously the Wild Pork book) may be based in some part on Crump's fateful experiences when he and a fellow hunter, George Johnston, ran bush camps for boys. During these, in August 1969, five teenagers drowned in Lake Matahina after a Land Rover ran off the road. Both Crump and Johnston were charged with manslaughter, and although the charges were eventually dropped, Crump became the focus of public disapproval - as is the case with Hector Faulkner ("Uncle Hec"), played by the ever reliable Sam Neill in Hunt for the Wilderpeople. As unquestionably a great actor, one is left wondering whether Neill's star quality alone tends to overshadow the role of the boy as the intended central character, Julian Dennison as Ricky. The "real bad egg" Māori youngster may be based on one, or many, of Crump's bush camp students, but Uncle Hec is definitely a haunted man (once jailed for manslaughter). Hec is most clearly based on Crump himself.
Notwithstanding the 1969 incident, Crump's output of semi-autobiographical comic novels, based on his image as a rugged outdoors man, went on unabated. His books have sold more than a million copies in New Zealand alone. In all, from 1960's A Good Keen Man, Crump wrote 24 books in the same taut, no-nonsense prose that celebrated bush virtues and rugged individualism.
Above, the real Barry Crump carries a wild boar, and below, as Hector Faulkner, Sam Neill reenacts the shot for Hunt of the Wilderpeople.
John Barrie (not Barry) Crump was born on at Papatoetoe on May 16, 1935, the son of a share-milking couple. Like the character Ricky Baker, Crump was not interested in school, preferring to let his imagination run free, fuelled by reading adventure classics such as Jack London’s Call of the Wild, Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick and R.M. Ballantyne’s Coral Island. In the 1950s, Crump worked as an itinerant farm hand and bushworker in areas as diverse as the Kaimanawa forest and my own old stamping ground, South Westland. From 1952 he served as a government deer culler in the rugged forest area of the Urewera region. He was to claim that he never stayed anywhere for longer than three months, but he carried his Olivetti Lettera 22 portable typewriter wherever he went.
Barry Crump died at Tauranga hospital on July 3, 1996, aged 61, after suffering a heart attack. 

1 comment:

Joe V said...

A fascinating story, thank you.