The Early Years

The early days of Orienteering in New Zealand from 1972 to 1978 were exciting and full of adventure. The sport was new and every experience was like entering a new world.

Some of the factors to contend with were:

- black and white maps
- forests full of gorse and blackberry
- long times
- buckets as controls
- controls hung on trees which moved in the wind making clipping difficult
- dicey control placement
- imaginative mapping
- not much detail
- pace-counting quite often the only way to get to a control
but everyone had fun!

It was recorded in the second ANZ challenge in Nov 1972 (first to be held in New Zealand) that the New Zealand competitors had trouble because it was the first time a fully contoured map was used in New Zealand.

The events were reported on by our great Orienteering sports correspondent and NZOF life member, Ralph King in the New Zealand Herald where he worked.

The following are some of the interesting snippets that happened and were reported in the Herald from 1972-1978:

- Peter Snell (triple gold medal winner, multiple world record holder) was mentioned representing the sponsor, Rothmans - a tabacco supplier - something which would not happen today. Peter has enjoyed a long relationship with New Zealand Orienteering.

- Gordon Pirie (who helped introduce Orienteering to New Zealand) featured in many of the articles as D. A. G. Pirie. He won a Silver Medal in the 5,000 metre race at the 1956 Melbourne Games, and set five official world records (and a dozen or so more unofficial world bests).

- Anne Garrett, a New Zealand cross country representative, was the first women's New Zealand champs winner in 1972.

- Colin Battley, multiple New Zealand elite men's winner, won a bronze medal in the 10000m national track championships.

- Completing the list of fine runners, Val and John Robinson were multiple Orienteering event winners and also New Zealand running representatives as well.

- Margaret Benton in the 1972 champs recorded fastest time but was disqualified for running in reverse order. In another event, two orienteers were also disqualified for taking the first two controls out of order and gaining an advantage of 10 minutes.

- The 1972 ANZ challenge men's course was 6 miles with a climb of 2000ft. Robert Jenner, who just missed out being a reserve for the New Zealand team, had the fastest time.

- In the 1977 NZ champs, husband and wife Dick and Trish Burbidge won the men's and women's titles. Trish was breastfeeding her baby son at the time. Also, husband and wife Tony and Margaret Nicholls won the veterans' titles.

- In the 1972 Auckland champs, Sverre Moen won the intermediate men's title as a 63 year old, one of many fine runs.

- The first few years of the Australia-New Zealand challenge were mainly huge losses to Australia and very long times were recorded. However, New Zealand had a 'handsome' victory in the men's and junior girls classes in 1974 when the event was held in Otakanini Topu - complex sanddune terrain where visibility was very poor and precise navigation rather than speed was required.

- In the formal language of the time, all women were listed with their title (Mrs or Miss). There was no W21A class in these early years, the class was known as W19A.

- In the very first 3 day held during Queen's Birthday, there were only four minutes separating the top 4 men over the three days.

- The strong clubs in the early years were Central (now Auckland), Pupuke and North Shore (now North West), South Auckland (now Counties-Manukau), Pinelands and Bay of Plenty (now unfortunately defunct).

- Some of the attention grabbing headlines were: 'Australian Challenge Formidible', 'Exciting tussle in Forest', 'Girl runner hastened by Shooters?', 'Tough Test in Forest', 'Orienteering Surprise', 'Schoolgirl Orienteer wins Trial', 'N. Z. Victory', 'N. Z. Orienteers Break Australian Run with Handsome Victory'.

By Bryan Teahan