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Bert Sutcliffe's own resident cameraman

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Graham reveals his life behind the lens

With his apartment overlooking the whole of Bert Sutcliffe retirement village, resident Graham Orbell has the perfect vantage point to capture special moments on camera.

One of these moments came up recently, when the whole village was lit up like a Christmas tree at night.

Graham set his Canon 5D Mark 4 camera to a 20-second exposure and captured the shot in all its glory, even catching the stars twinkling in the sky.

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The shot was a hit with staff and fellow residents alike, with his next-door neighbour asking if he could get it printed onto a Christmas card.

“The ironic thing is because everything is photoshopped these days no one believes you when people do it for real.

The printer thought the stars had been photoshopped in!” he laughs.

While taking photos is an enjoyable pastime now, Graham enjoyed a lengthy career in film – both moving and still images.

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He had originally worked as an engineer for Tasman Airways out at Whenuapai Airport and when his ambition to eventually become a flight engineer was dashed due to a burst eardrum, he decided to pursue his photography interest instead.

He got a job first as assistant manager then manager at Reynolds Photographic in Queen Street before transferring to their film production side in 1964.

“I filmed commercials but at the weekends I would do things for the tv news,” he says. “TV was fairly new in New Zealand then, only three or four years old, and for the silent stories we would use 16mm wind up Bolex cameras.

“They would only run for three minutes before you had to change the film. Other heavier cameras had to be used if you wanted sound but you couldn’t go outside unless you had a really long extension cord because they had to be plugged in!”

Graham continued to indulge in his love of still photography and jumped at the chance to do the publicity shots for all the NZBC drama productions, a busy role that lasted for six years.

Another opportunity soon presented itself – working as a cameraman for what would become TVNZ, a role he enjoyed for the next two decades.

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He went on assignments all around the South Pacific and as far afield as Malaysia, Japan, Mongolia, the USA and Canada, something that sparked a love of travel that both he and his wife Leonie still pursue.

There were many highlights, including filming Dylan Tait’s interviews with Johnny Cash and BB King, and various visits by the royal family, notably Charles and Diana at Waitangi, but one rather scary moment was almost getting arrested in Rarotonga during the Winebox Inquiry.

After police viewed the offending footage – around two minutes filmed around some office buildings at the centre of the controversy – Graham was free to go.

Another controversy, this time during the second coup in Fiji, saw Graham and the reporter deported from the country.

“The first flight out was a Qantas flight to Honolulu so we had to suffer on Waikiki Beach for four days!” laughs Graham.

In 1997, at the age of 58, Graham was made redundant, but using his redundancy money he set himself up as a freelance cameraman and he continued to work for TVNZ, foreign TV channels and NZ corporates – in between travelling stints – until 2016.

A favourite destination is Canada where their younger daughter Kerry settled with her husband Angus and had two children. Sadly, Kerry passed away in December 2015 following a return of breast cancer but the couple still regularly visit their grandchildren and son-in-law.

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In 2016 Graham and Leonie began the process of selling their house of 53 years in Birkenhead in order to move into Bert Sutcliffe, the location being ideal for visiting their other daughter Louise and her three children who live nearby in Hillcrest.

Graham had filmed a story on retirement villages for tv programme The Nation, interviewing Ryman’s CEO and touring some of the villages. He liked what he saw!

“Not having lawns to mow, drains to fix and roofs to paint really appealed, and the fact we could still travel too. You just tell the office and you lock up and go!”

He sent Leonie along to investigate and was thrilled when she returned with news: “She came back and said ‘I’ve bought an apartment!’”

Their spacious apartment has a large deck area that overlooks the central bowling green and is in waving distance from their good friends Sherryl and Graeme who are set to move into the newly-finished Crowe block in February!

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Now a few months after moving in, Graham has plans to print off some of his incredible shots from his travels to decorate the apartment and explore the world of photography even more. (You can see them on his Graham.Orbell Instagram account).

“There’s always new things to learn,” he says. “But for years I have done what other people have wanted me to do, now I quite like doing what I want to do – and with no deadlines!”

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