Monday, December 6, 2010


Apologies for not getting these final blog entries up earlier. We have been very busy planning for, and filming, our documentary. We have now come to the end of this Mantle of the Expert unit of work. Read on to find out what we have been up to over these last few weeks and where we ended up.


This day began with a discussion about how we could use what we had done over the first 4 weeks to make a documentary about the Tangiwai Disaster. We went in to role as the team who works for NZ Documentary Designs. There were lots of ideas shared and a big discussion about what we wanted to include and ideas about how to best sequence the information/events. There was a lot of brainstorming!

Team Planning

It was decided that the documentary would be roughly in 3 sections:

Before the disaster (setting the 1950s/1953 Christmas scene),
The disaster itself and,
Post disaster (including community responses and search and rescue efforts and memorials).

Someone then had the idea to use the poem by Jillian Sullivan, ‘Lilian on the Train to Tangiwai’, to structure the documentary around. Everyone thought this was a great idea and the detailed planning started from there. The poem was divided into its six stanzas and everyone decided on an area they wanted to work on. Small teams then set to work designing specific scenes. Keynote and powerpoint programmes were used to collate images and to write scenes and scripts. More research was done to find specific pieces of information such as details on memorials, newspaper headings about the Boxing Day Match in South Africa, specific images that teams wanted to include etc. Excerpts from letters we had written in role were selected and highlighted, as were sections of Sidney Holland’s speech announcing the disaster on Christmas morning, and the Queen’s speech abut the disaster.

It was a challenging and creative day. There was a lot of information and research to pull together as well as the designing of scenes. Soon the ideas were flowing. People were given roles and scripts and lists of props, to bring in for filming. Everyone was taking the lead in some way and the room was buzzing with creativity and organisation.


The last 3 days of this unit of work were spent preparing scenes and filming. The team managed the whole project and they set themselves high standards. Everyone worked together, at times in small groups and at other times as an entire collective team. There were times for everyone to step up and lead, whether it was directing, filming, or acting. And there were times for everyone to follow, to be a critical audience, set up props for scenes, listen to each other practice lines etc.

Because of time constraints each scene was not able to be practiced to perfection, it was the process that was the most important. Behind every small scene in our documentary was a very high standard of work. In collating the research, designing and planning the scenes, writing the scripts, and organising each set, the teams demonstrated a high level of commitment, creativity, literacy, and self managing skills.

As the teams shared their scenes with each other everyone worked together to think critically about their scenes, adding and changing details as they went so that the scenes best supported their ideas. Feedback was shared and listened to, with everybody actively participating and contributing.

Filming the Scene of Lillian (from the poem) Looking Out the Window Thinking of Christmas

Filming a Model of the Lahar

Filming Xmas Tree Scene: Gathering Around Xmas Tree to Hear Sidney Holland's Announcement of the Disaster

Filming Cyril Ellis Waving Torch

Letters Written in Role Thanking Cyril Ellis for his Heroic Efforts Being Read Aloud as Voice Over

Clarinet Background to Filming of 1950s Images

Bert Sutcliffe Comforting Bob Blair

Banadging Bert Sutcliffe for the Famous Boxing Day Match Scene

Filming a Powerpoint Display of Disaster Images with Guitar Background

Filming the Memorial Wreath Being Dropped in to the Whangaehu River

The Queen's Speech

Filming model of Mt Ruapehu

On our last day together as a group the final scene was shot. Using a list of the 151 victims of the Tangiwai Disaster the team wrote every victim’s name on a small piece of paper in their best writing. Louis then played the guitar while a two people placed the names of each victim on a pile, one at a time. This was filmed as the final scene of our documentary. This small ritual was an idea of one of the working teams and was a powerful and moving end to our work.

We hope that over the next couple of weeks we will be able to share our documentary with our own classes and syndicate.

It has been a wonderful learning journey and everyone has worked very hard on the final product, with passion and professionalism. Well done team!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Day Four

This morning we received a letter from Margaret Ellis, Cyril’s younger sister.

A Letter from Margaret Ellis

She agreed to come in and be interviewed on behalf of her brother, who was now in a retirement home and too frail to make a visit or be interviewed himself. Olivia ‘rang’ her back, in role as one of the research team, and organised for her to visit us in the afternoon.

Next we went in to role as members of the 1954 Elizabethtown community. In role we wrote letters to Cyril Ellis thanking him for his life saving actions on the night of the Tangiwai disaster with reference to family members or friends that he had saved.
We had to think carefully about writing with a formal tone and our choice of words.

Here are excerpts from the letters we wrote in role.

Dear Cyril Ellis

Thank you so much for saving my husband Bruce in such a heroic way. My two kids Alice and John almost lost their father on that dreadful night but thanks to you they didn’t. I will never forget what you have done.


Dear Cyril Ellis

Thank you very much for saving my son Banjo. Banjo and I really appreciate what you did, you’re a hero! My family was lucky to hear he was alive.


Dear Mr Ellis

I need to thank you for saving my mum who was on the train at Tangiwai. On the night of the accident I was waiting at home by myself, my aunty had been looking after me while she was gone but she had already left because she knew my mum was coming home on the train soon. I was waiting at home for a long time and I was really scared. Until finally the door opened and she came in. Me and my mum are so grateful, you’re a hero.


Dear Cyril Ellis,

[…] in this tragic event you only thought about the passengers safety, not once yours, you didn’t do it for your popularity or so people would like you more, you did it for them, that’s why you were awarded the George Medal. I can’t thank you enough for saving my grandad’s life.


Dear Mr Ellis,

I can’t thank you enough for saving my brother Sam. My family is so grateful for your heroic efforts. At my home I was waiting to see my brother and if it hadn’t been for you I wouldn’t have seen him again.


Wednesday 13th of July 1954

Dear Cyrl Ellis

I want to thank you formally for saving my parents’ lives. We were waiting for our parents to come for Christmas. When we heard the news on the radio we were extremely frightened. We thought we would never see them again.


Dear Cyril Ellis.

You have saved so many people, we can’t thank you enough! It was very heroic for you to save all those people.


Dear Mr Ellis,

I am called Rebecca and I am 12 years old. […]

One of the lives you saved was my mother called Julia Aston. My mother and I are very grateful for that. I am writing this letter for the unforgettable action you made. If it wasn’t for you many people would not be alive today including my mother. […] you put everyone’s lives that were in that train before yours!


10 January 1954

I am writing to thank you for saving my father. It is his birthday today and I could not celebrate it with him if you had not done your heroic deeds and waved down the train … My father was a guard and was checking tickets in car y and was only saved by waving your torch.

Yours thankfully,
John Oscar Syiks.


Dear Mr Ellis,

My name is Penelope-Kate Smith. I am writing you this letter to give you all my thanks for saving my younger sister Dehlia in the third to last carriage in that horrid tragedy of what they’re calling “The Tangiwai Rail Disaster”. My family and I want to express our extreme gratitude for you bravery, determination, your quick thinking, and most of all your warm heart. You deserved the George Medal.


Dear Cyril Ellis

Thank you so much for saving my grandson. He was on the last carriage. If you had not waved the train down he would have died.


Dear Cyril Ellis

I would like to thank you for saving my brother in the train accident, we are so thankful for your heroism on that train. To thank you we would like to send a parcel full of goods


Next we sorted through some of the research we had done last week. We highlighted the pieces of information that we felt were more useful than others and identified information that needed checking for accuracy. Next week we will continue with our research to build an accurate and clear record of what happened in the Tangiwai Disaster before embarking on our documentary design.

In the afternoon we met Sarah Marino, a Wellington drama teaching specialist. Sarah came to work with us in role as Margaret Ellis. We talked about how to get into role and how to build belief in our roles, her as Margaret and us as the research team at NZ Documentary Designs.

We then interviewed Sarah in role as Margaret Ellis.

Interviewing Sarah in role as Margaret Ellis

Margaret talked about how Cyril had been affected by the events of that night and how it had affected the whole family. As we interviewed Maragret Ellis we recognised the letters we had written in role in the morning that she shared with us, thank you letters that Cyril had kept all these years. While we had prepared questions ahead of time as the interview progressed it was great to see everyone coming up with probing questions on the spot to find out more about details Margaret shared. There was a lot of careful listening and building on what each other, and Margaret, was sharing. Margaret gave us lots of information that we will be able to use in our documentary as well as information that she wished to keep private but was happy to share in order to provide some more background to the Cyril Ellis story. Next week we will have to think carefully about what information we use and how we use it.

After interviewing Margaret we had a discussion about what we thought Margaret was like.

It was great to see everyone picking up on body language and noticing the things that Margaret didn’t say as much as what she did tell us.

Her nervousness was noted by the way she sat forward on the chair, the way she corrected herself a few times. Her age was noted by the way she moved and needed help getting out of the chair. It was noted that she was very protective of family matters. A lot of us felt some emotional response to what she shared and felt as if we were part of a real interview.

We then had a go at being in the hot seat ourselves. Louis, Jared, Emma, and Rose had a go at being interviewed in role as townspeople from Elizabethtown, who knew of Cyril Ellis and his heroic actions. In the hot seat they were able to develop their character and share how they felt about the Tangiwai Disaster and how they felt about what Cyril had done. This was a fun challenging activity, responding and staying in role in response to the questions, and everyone did really well! The rest of us are keen to have a go at being in the hot seat next week.

Louis in the Hotseat as someone from Elizabethtown

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Day Three


1950s Images

This morning we put ourselves in the shoes of passengers preparing for a train trip on Christmas Eve 1953 from Wellington to Auckland. We each created a character description in our minds of a passenger that might have been on the train. We decided on who our passenger was, their name, how old they were, whether they were male or female, who they were travelling to see, what things they could have had in their suitcase, and a thought that may have been going through their head as they boarded the train with their suitcase. There was a lot of attention to detail. We used a number of picture cards to get us started that included some Christmas Card designs of 1953, some photos of New Zealand families on summer holidays, an image of a box brownie camera, photos of a 1953 children’s Christmas party, a1953 advertisement for a watchmaker advertising watches as the perfect Christmas present, and pictures of men and women’s fashion. Names of popular books, board games, record titles etc were researched and described in detail as part of the luggage. Some of us wrote letters and Christmas cards that their passenger was also carrying in their suitcase. We will publish this work as images of suitcases with the items drawn on next week.

Here are some of the thoughts of the passengers that were created:

“I can’t wait to meet the new baby in the family. Bob and Holly will be excited to meet their new baby cousin”


“I am so excited. I can’t wait to get back home from work”


“I can’t wait to see the look on my mother’s face when she sees my new baby Rosemary”


“I can’t wait to see the look on their faces when I’m home! I just miss them heaps. I’m looking forward to the trip as much as they will like the toys I got them”


“I can’t wait to see Nana again”


“I can’t wait to introduce my mum and dad to my new son in Auckland. Wow, it’s been a whole year”


“Do I have to move away from my friends? At Christmas too. That Chirstmas party Nick planned was going to be so fun


“I can’t wait to see my new grandson. I hope he likes my bear. And I hope that John hasn’t been on the sweets again, I don’t understand why he eats so many sweets…. and he better have been looking after Ellie and Rosa.”


“I wonder what my new baby cousin Mia looks like. I can’t wait”.


“I can’t wait to show them the new jewellery I’ve got for Christmas. And I wonder how they will react when they see their presents?”


“I can’t wait until I get to meet my sister and my nieces. I wonder what they’ll look like? I haven’t seen them in about a whole year. I really hope they enjoy the Christmas presents I bought. We are going to have so much fun tomorrow!”


We shared with each other the items we had chosen to pack in our passenger’s suitcase and read aloud the thought to see if we could guess the details of each passenger for example their gender and age.


Next we had a very focussed research session in the library. We all worked together to research the Tangiwai Disaster using websites, books, atlases, newspaper articles, sound clips and even some video footage. We collated all the information we found on to a central whiteboard. Everyone worked together to confirm or correct each other’s information and to build on what each other had found. The collective research effort was fantastic!

Research Team at Work


On the Train to Tangiwai
By Jillian Sullivan

All night the river wept,
Moving in its dream world state,
All night, the train approached the bridge
While Lillian slept.

As she woke she shifted in her space,
She thought of Christmas, turned,
And caught her smile in the glass –
The last time she would see her face.

For all night long, the mountain stirred,
The crater broke,
And mud swept down – a lahar bound
For Tangiwai.

Lillian thinks of family, gifts,
Of how the tree will look, what they will eat,
But water takes the bridge, and only one man sees
Too late the treacherous rift.

And there, as Lillian dozes, sleeps again,
Fury explodes in water, bridge, rock, train –
The detonating of so many dreams,
The hopeless collision of nature and machine…

The river slides by now, as ever,
The mountain broods, another song to sing,
And on my finger, I wear
Lillian’s ring.

Next we read this poem about the Tangiwai Disaster that Olivia had brought in to share. It was great timing following our research session and we were able to understand the detail of the poem. We recognised the reference to ‘weeping waters’, the meaning of Tanigwai, in the first line of the poem. We knew the mountain that stirred was Mt Ruapehu and the ash wall of the crater breaking away. We recognised Lillian’s thoughts as similar to the thoughts of our own passenger character descriptions we had written earlier. We wondered if the one man who saw ‘too late the treachorous rift’ was Cyril Ellis or Charlie Parker, the driver of the train. We thought the line ‘the hopeless collision of nature and machine’ was a particularly powerful line to describe the natural disaster of the Lahar washing the train (the machine) away. The last line of the poem made us think of all the people involved in the tragedy, not just the victims but the families and descendents of the victims.


In the afternoon we thought about who we might approach, as New Zealand Documentary Designers, to get some more first hand accounts of the Tangiwai Disaster. From our research Cyril Ellis had been highlighted as a hero of the event and it was decided that we write to him to request an interview. This is the shared letter that was written:

Dear Mr Ellis,

We are New Zealand documentary design experts who are currently creating a documentary about the Tangiwai disaster. We feel that your role in this tragic event was very important to the country. We think you are a fantastic New Zealand hero so we would like to interview you about your life saving actions and what is was like to experience the disaster first hand. We would really appreciate it if you could send us a response.

Warm regards,

The Principle Research Team at New Zealand Documentary Designs.

Hopefully next week we will get to ‘meet’ Cyril Ellis (a teacher in role) and interview him to get some more information for our documentary.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Day Two


"Wake up...guess what....!"

"I can't believe it....!"

This morning we worked in small groups to create freeze frames to show the moment we heard a piece of exciting news on the radio. We learnt that in the 1950s families gathered around the radio for evening entertainment, and to hear the news. Each group decided what news they were hearing, either Edmund Hillary reaching the peak of Everest or Yvette Williams winning her gold medal in the 1952 Olympics. Each group came up with a caption for their freeze and spoke aloud thoughts in their head as they listened to the exciting national news.


Next we worked as one group to create a map of a New Zealand country town in the 1950s. We decided to call it Elizabethtown (after the Queen!).

Elizabethtown Station and Railway Cottages for Railway Workers including the Station Master, the Porter, the Guard, and the Signalmen.

Moffat Farm

Elizabethtown War Memorial

General Store and Doctor's House

Community Hall, Church, and Cemetry

Longdon Farm


We ended our day going into role as members of the Elizabethtown community. We imagined that we travelled as a community by train to a neighbouring community for a shared picnic and organised sports and races. We then listened to conversations happening amongst small groups of picnickers.

We listened as people of Elizabethtown talked about the Queen’s arrival in New Zealand, upcoming Christmas preparations, the sports events they had competed in, how life on their farm was going, the neighbour’s excellent apple pie and so on…

Groups of People in the Communtiy at the Picnic

We then wrote letters in role imagining it was the end of the picnic day and we were writing news back to friends or family who still lived in Britain. Here are some excerpts from the letters we wrote.


Dear Mum,

It’s Christmas Eve and I’m missing you so much but if I went back to Britain I’d probably miss my new cottage. The new cottage I have moved into is so perfect. It’s right next to the river and has a stream running through the garden to a pond in the middle. […] On the other side of the street from my cottage is a big meadow with lots of buttercups and a hill in the middle with a weeping willow tree on top. I have learnt to make chains from the buttercups and enjoy going for picnics on the hill. Just on the other side of the river is Moffat Farm. Hannah Moffat lives there and owns it and we are becoming great friends.

I have used the money you gave me before I left to buy some ducks, some chickens, and some fruit trees to grow an orchard. I am making a decent amount of money selling eggs and fruit to the other people who live in Elizabethtown. […]

Now it’s Christmas Eve I’m finding things really strange, like did you know that here on the other side of the world Christmas is in summer! […]


Dear Alexandria,

Today is Christmas Eve and the children are so excited and it’s quite obvious they will not sleep easily tonight.

We had a very enjoyable picnic with Charlottetown just yesterday. I made some of my famous apple pie. We travelled there by train. At the picnic there were a lot of interesting games lots of which were very exciting.

I saw the Queen in the paper and I was astonished at how beautiful she was.

Best Wishes, Zara.


Dear Rory,

Yesterday I went to the community picnic. It was Rosa’s first train ride. There was a rugby game and Elizabethtown won.

Did you know that on the radio Her Royal Highness said she will be coming to Elizabethtown!

Farm life is good. Lincoln’s sheep wool is great, we are a lot richer now.

Love from your sister Hannah.


Dear Marie Shamon,

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. How are you? I’m more than happy, yesterday we met another town and we had a great time, the place was called Charlottetown. We had sports games, picnics, races like egg and spoon racing and sack races. […]


Dear Cousin Heather,

Our community had a magnificent picnic at Charlottetown today. The children did sack races. The only horrid thing was that the Charlottetown rugby team cheated! It was horrifying! Although we still won. But apart from that the picnic was splendid!

When I went to the railway station I heard from my friend, who had returned from seeing the Queen, that she looked like an angel in a long white evening gown.

Best Wishes, Emma


Dear Alex.
Merry Christmas. It’s been awhile since I’ve written to you. Life here is great and yesterday I went to a community picnic, it was fantastic. We had lots of games and food, we even had a rugby game. We talked about the Queen’s arrival. […]

From your best friend David


Dear Norman,

Things have been going great. I hope the same with you too. […] All the women are working so hard making food and the kids are leaping with joy. […]

Yesterday the community had a huge picnic. I came first in the sack race and had a nice relaxing sleep afterwards.

Edmund Hillary, a New Zealander, climbed Mt Everest earlier this year, amazing right?

Hope to hear from you soon,
From your great friend


To cousins and family,

For Christmas I might have silly putty, or a Frisbee, a hula hoop, or a Mr Potato Head! Dad is farming as always, mum is putting candles up and my older brother Jack is cutting down the Christmas tree and putting it in place. […]

Best wishes, Olivia

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Day One

This morning a group of twelve year 5 and 6 students at Muritai School came together for their first day of an 8 week enrichment programme. These students will be coming together one day a week to learn through Mantle of the Expert. They will create belief in a fictional company called 'NZ Documentary Designs' and their roles as principal researchers and documentary designers. We are going to be investigating the early 1950s and the Tangiwai Disaster. This blog will record our learning journey. To check out more about 'Mantle of the Expert' see the links on the right hand side of this blog page.


The first thing we did this morning after welcomes, introductions, and some warm up games, was to co-construct some goals about what we will be doing over the next 8 weeks. This is what we came up with together:

To be involved in a different way of learning called Mantle of the Expert
To do some drama
To learn to work in role
To have belief in our roles and to create a story together.
To learn about the Tangiwai disaster including the people who were involved, the place where it happened, and the science behind the Lahar that caused the tragedy.
To be creative and inquiring
To have the chance to make decisions about how we do things – like adults in real jobs
To learn how to work as a group, learn when to lead and when to follow
To have fun


“It’s 8 o’clock in the morning and there is a group of people who will be starting a new job this morning. They are all at their houses packing their bags for their first day at work…they open their bags and start to pack the things they will need on their first day.

I wonder what thoughts these people have as they pack their bags….”

Photos of the students frozen at a moment when they were packing their bags. When they were shoulder tapped they spoke aloud a thought that was running through their heads in role.

The spoken aloud thoughts:

“I really hope my new boss isn’t strict”

“Oh no, where’s my laptop?”

“I wonder if this top goes well with these pants…I want to make a good impression”

“I wonder where my phone is?”

“I’m nervous”

“I hope they have snacks at the office”

“I’m late”

“I shouldn’t have slept in”

“do I look good in green?”

“I hope I don’t mess up”


Fictional Staff Notice Board: Newspaper articles, Qantas Film and Television awards for winning documentaries, ratings information, letters from companies wanting to advertise during screening of documentary, and letters from the public in response to documentaries made by 'NZ Documentary Designs'.

Fictional DVDs made by NZ Documentary Designs.

The next thing we did was explore a fictional company space to look for clues about what kind of company it was, what kinds of people worked there, what kinds of work the people who came here everyday did, and whether the people who worked there were good at their jobs.

We learnt that this space belonged to a group of researchers who worked for a company called 'New Zealand Documentary Designs'. We learnt that this company valued intelligent research, creativity, honesty and accuracy of facts, unique research, ability to present information that was interesting to both young and old audiences. We also learnt that this company made award winning documentaries on interesting topics. The team that worked here was of a very high calibre!

We then agreed to believe, that in the story we create over the next 8 weeks, we are going to be stepping into role as this team.


In the afternoon we came together for a discussion/'think tank' around the following question:

Is there such a thing as a New Zealander today?

Here are some of the thoughts that were shared:

“yes there is. New Zealanders are people who are born here”
“also people with New Zealand citizenship”
“it also has to do with blood relations, if you are born overseas but your parents are from New Zealand you would still be a New Zealander”
“having different cultures and races in New Zealand doesn’t mean you are not a New Zealander, that is what makes us unique and different”
“Paul Henry got in lots of trouble because he said ‘is the next Governor General going to look like a New Zealander’ – it was really rude”
“it was an embarrassment for New Zealand”
“he had to apologise to India”
“you can’t look like a New Zealander cos we all look different”

“New Zealanders speak a certain type of English that is different from other countries that speak English – kiwi English”
“we sound different”
“we have an accent”
“we have lazy, short vowels”

“we are different because we are a small country, we have a small population”
“we are quite a new country we don’t have big towers and castles”

“people can tell you are a New Zealander by the way you act”
“New Zealanders are easy going”
“New Zealander is a term for someone who represents New Zealand”
“we lead the world in dairy”
“A New Zealander split the atom and climbed Mount Everest first”
“we were the first country where women could vote”
“There was Yvette Williams who was a famous sportswoman in the 1950s”
“There is Valerie Adams, she throws her discuss 20 metres and the next closest is 16 metres”
“Ryan Nelson is one of the best soccer players in the world"


To finish up we looked at an article written by Joy Cowley who ponders the answer to a question that an American professor once asked her:

“You have such a small population,” he said, “and yet if you take the top ten names in the world in any field – sport, medicine, education, music, whatever-one name will be a New Zealander. How do you explain this?"

Joy Cowley says:
“I can think of a number of contributing factors: isolation, a small population, a pioneer-do-it-yourself attitude, opportunity. But the main indicator for excellence it an education system that encourages creative thinking” (From 'Education Aotearoa' Spring Issue)

Lots of food for thought! Next week we are going to begin work on our first job as principal researchers for our company 'New Zealand Documentary Designs'. We will be exploring the early 1950s to see if we can unearth any New Zealand heroes or heroic events. Having discussed whether there is such a thing as a New Zealander today we will consider whether there was such a thing as a New Zealander in the 1950s.