A Christchurch family bring history to life in new pioneer show
Hot water, shampoo and a garlic steak.
These are some of the home comforts that Tarnia Smith was looking forward to when filming wrapped on TV ONE’s new pioneer show One Land.
The show follows three modern-day Kiwi families – one Pakeha and two Maori, who are sent back in time to cope with the struggles of daily life in mid 19th Century New Zealand.
Tarnia, a Christchurch midwife, her husband Lindsay a company manager and their four children, Marshall 22, Matthew 20, Nadia 12 and Conrad 10, were the Pakeha family chosen to live as traditional 1850s European settlers in the show.
For nearly six weeks they survived without the trappings of modern life in a tiny beachside crib in the Coromandel. They wore traditional 1850s clothing, bathed in the river, cooked their meals over an open fire, and had little food apart from what they could catch, trade or grow themselves.
“It made us realise how much we take for granted in our regular lives – even the basic things like toilet paper and soap,” Tarnia says.
It was Tarnia who applied to take part in the show when she was “bored and playing on the computer” one evening.
Within a few hours of receiving her email the One Land producers called to ask if they could send someone to Christchurch to interview the family.
“We’re busy people and had doubts about leaving our real lives behind for six weeks to take part in the show but the producers said we were perfect for it and were very persuasive,” she laughs.
Just before filming began the Smiths were flown to Auckland, fitted in their 19th Century wardrobe and asked to hand over their cell phones and money. They were then taken to the show’s location.
“We were literally dumped on a Coromandel beach with an old World War One tent, some chickens and our chests that didn’t contain much more than some flour, sugar rocks, cornflour, broken tools, baking soda to clean our teeth and a couple of diabolical razors.”
The Maori families involved in the show came down from the nearby pa to give the Smiths gifts and a “fantastic” traditional welcome but it wasn’t long before the family started to come to terms with the magnitude of their challenge.
“We realised that we would not be sitting around with the crew for a beer after the day’s filming as we had imagined and that we’d have to work hard for absolutely everything,” says Lindsay, whose do-it-yourself skills proved invaluable throughout the experience. “If we wanted wood, we had to chop it, if we wanted fish we had to catch it.”
Hunger was the family’s biggest concern during the first two weeks until they could start trading for food, harvesting vegetables from the garden and the chickens began to lay eggs.
Eldest sons Marshall and Matthew did their bit to keep the family sustained, becoming experts at fishing with hand-lines from an old rowing boat.
Tarnia says that she found it hard to watch her younger children Nadia and Conrad struggle at times with hunger, although they enjoyed playing with the Maori children from the pa “from daylight till dark”.
Much of Tarnia’s day was consumed with battling the summer heat and flies to prepare the family’s meals on the open fire. She admits that her frustrations boiled over a few times during filming.
“I had a verbal breakdown over the flies, but probably what I really wanted was a good coffee.”
The couple agree that being on the show has given them new-found respect for New Zealand’s early settlers and Maori families and the struggles they faced. They say the experience bonded their family, leaving them with many great memories.
“We lead such busy lives so to get the opportunity to spend six weeks living and working together to overcome these challenges as a family was priceless,” said Tarnia. “We had a few barneys along the way but we also had a lot of laughs and are really proud of what we all achieved together.”
The family has not seen an advanced screening of One Land and along with their extended family and friends are looking forward to it going to air on December 13.
“It’s going to be a bit strange to watch ourselves on television over the next six weeks but also very exciting,” Tarnia says. “Our time on the show was like living in a history book and how often do you get the opportunity to do that?”
By Jo Bailey