Commentary with good humour

Bushcraft commentator Peter Templeton in action during the Browns Sports Day earlier this month.
Bushcraft commentator Peter Templeton in action during the Browns Sports Day earlier this month.

Commentator Peter Templeton reckons three particular qualities have stood him in good stead on the Southland-Otago bushcraft circuit and at shows and sports meetings.

The 66-year-old retired Riverton meatworker said a good sense of humour was imperative, as were a retentive memory and the need to be "a bloody mindreader."

No Southland bushcraft fixture, show or country sports meeting would have been quite the same without him during the past 25 years since he took over the job from "doyen of announcers" Ray O'Connor in the late 1980s.

Bushcraft events have been Templeton's specialty as a commentator during a largely voluntary career, being an extension of his upbringing and his family's sawmilling background in the Alton Valley and Te Tua, near New Zealand's timber capital of Tuatapere.

One of 11 children of Jack (Wapiti) and Bessie Templeton, he chopped competitively "with mixed success" but was more suited to a commentator's role.

His brother Errol, father of Tuatapere police officer Damon Templeton, was a distinguished boxer, the only one to beat Australasian welterweight champion Joey Santos.

"My father represented Southland-Otago for many years as a standing block chopper. Brother Gary was a competitive chopper and my three uncles – Harry, Tom and Allan – further illustrated the family's competitive bushcraft background."

Born in Tuatapere, Templeton recalled the family didn't get electricity in the nearby Alton Valley until he was 4. He first attended the popular Tuatapere New Year's Day sports meeting as a spectator in 1954.

Announcer Colin Frew persuaded him to take over as a commentator, mainly for bushcraft, but also track running in 1988, and he has served as a permanent fixture ever since.

His varying duties as an announcer later involved boxing with Mike Hughes.

Athletics were staged and commentated on at only Tuatapere and Browns. Bushcraft was the highlight of the Tuatapere, Riverton, Mataura, Otautau, Gore, Cromwell and Albert Town fixtures.

Standing and underhand chopping events, single and double sawing, Jack and Jill mixed doubles and Jill and Jill (both women) sawing events were permanent and popular bushcraft fixtures, he said.

Southland was proud of Karen Corbin, of Riverton, as a member of the New Zealand women's team, Templeton said.

Tuatapere and Browns sports meetings closed the fully fledged fixtures circuit that also included cycling, clay targets and Highland dancing.

The Christmas-New Year circuit ended in Southland at Browns on Saturday and moves on to Otago, with shows in Mosgiel, Balclutha and Milton, where only bushcraft is staged, with competitors coming from far and wide under the Southland-Otago banner.

Templeton will never forget TV1 weatherman Jim Hickey on a Flying Visit filming trip to Riverton several years ago.

Hickey asked him what happened if a chopper cut a toe badly. Templeton told him to go to a service station.

"Why a service station? Haven't you got an ambulance?" Hickey queried.

Templeton replied: "You have to go to a service station and order a toe truck."

On another occasion, a West Australian bushcraft team had performed poorly against Southlanders at Gore.

On the second day at Tokanui, Templeton presented the Australians with a big brown bag.

"I told them the bag was full of Viagra and that they needed to harden up to compete with the Southlanders."

Looking back, he took up commentating to explain to the public what was happening, and to profile competitors with background information.

A retentive memory was a commentator's best friend, he said.

"If I read something carefully just once, I have generally got it to later refer to."

Australians Kevin Smith and Jim Larvas were high-profile cutters he admired, so was the North Islander Jock Bentley, a regular in New Zealand teams in the 1970s.

"Jason Wynyard won 130 world sawing titles and won two double-handed world titles with Southland's own Bobby Dowling," he recalled.

The calibre of Southland sawyers was illustrated by Dowling and Danny Minehan, who broke the New Zealand record in the 600mm event at national trials in the North Island before Christmas and were now the New Zealand team's sawing pair for the Sydney Easter Show, he said.

Craig Unahi, a regular in the South Island team to tour Australia, won a South Island standing block championship last year, beating world record holder Adam Lowe, of Hokitika.

Southland-Otago were the present holders of the prestigious Curtin Cup for leading South Island team, winning the trophy for a record sixth time.

"We had six Southlanders – Stu Vaughan, Bobby Dowling, Craig and Steve Unahi, Richard Templeton and Steve Manaena in last year's South Island team. Further, Mike and Tony Carran, Ray Harraway, Geoff Harvey and Kevin Dowling were members of the NZ Veterans team two years ago."

The late Warren Murdoch provided many with a hilarious and memorable mistake at a Tuatapere fixture, Templeton said.

"My father, Jack, was starter for a standing block event. Warren thought it was an underhand chop and began chopping from a three-second handicap with the lowest handicapped standing block starters off 10 seconds," Peter said.

"All the standing block choppers took no part and simply cheered Warren on."

going involvement in woodchopping continues, with the Carran, Hayes, Templeton, Te Au and Dowling families still prominent.

Similarly, Geoff Harvey's lasting bushcraft influence was reflected in his talented sawyer daughter Christine, and sons Liam and Ben in sawing and axe throwing.

The Southland Times' Legends of Sport series aims to profile the people behind the scenes who make sport happen in this province. To nominate someone for a profile, contact ports editor Nathan Burdon on (03) 2111047 or email

The Southland Times