Last week I had the pleasure of visiting Sam Neill’s Red Bank Farm in Earnscleugh with one of my tours. The property will no longer be open to the public, so we were very privileged to be one of the last to visit. It was pleasing to be away from the Queenstown bubble for an afternoon and be on a functioning, rural property complete with animals famously named after Mr Neill’s notable friends, including the kunekune- Angelica.
The vineyard produces some fabulous wine of course, and my guests were suitably impressed. Jenny walked us around the property in the scorching Central Otago heat, and after scoffing down a fabulously ripe greengage (getting most of it down my front), we went into the wharenui inspired barn. The simple, open design and the typically New Zealandness of this space is palpable. Mr Neill has filled the hall and restrooms with Kiwi art, and this is simply pride inducing. Of course Mr Neill himself is an example of fine New Zealand art.
I had met him long ago when I was working in a Dunedin bookshop. As I was fumbling around under the counter looking for an eftpos roll, I sensed someone at the till, but this was not the usual feeling of ‘someone is wanting my attention at an inopportune moment’, there was an aura settling over me, a certain mysteriousness. I looked up and saw a tall, slim man, with an ageless countenance and an ease of movement. He looked at me…. “How are you, can you please look up a book for me? I had to send him to another counter and mumbled this at him like a Kmart doorman talking to another elderly woman wanting the Spanx section (I am not good around famous people). He moved off and I watched him disappear between the Harry Potter stand, and the Andris Apse collection.
Mr Neill is arguably one of our best actors, He is perhaps most famous for “Jurassic Park”, “The Piano” and recently “The Hunt for the Wilderpeople” but the man was elementary to the golden years of NZ film during the 70s and 80s. This leads me to my favourite Sam Neil film – “Cinema of Unease”. I played this to my guests as we made our way to the Two Paddocks vineyard. This film outlines the history of NZ film with Sam Neill’s own personal perceptions and memories interwoven through the backdrop of the New Zealand landscape, a landscape laced with roads, roads leading to and from, a road leading us away, or to, a certain darkness.
As a girl growing up in the bottom of the country, at the bottom of the world (cue: Rise and Shine- Pretty Wicked Head), I craved the road. As soon as I was 15 I got my driver’s licence and knew that freedom and opportunities lay ahead, along that dark, asphalt way. We as kiwis have an intimate relationship with ‘the road’. It runs through our land as veins run through ourselves. It is something that exemplifies kiwiness- to get out to go somewhere else. Our film and our art echoes our wanderlust, and visiting Mr Neill’s beautiful property reminded me of this: the uniqueness that is New Zealand and being a New Zealander.