Goodbye Zealandia - Why did the personification of NZ, and lady on the NZ coat of arms, lose favour and popularity with NZ'ers?

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Remember her? Ever heard of her? Once upon a time Zealandia, daughter of Britannia, was the figurehead of our nation. Now she is a forgotten relic, cast aside with the passing of time and consigned to history.

The birth of Zealandia – The Mother Country, Britain (1850-1900)
Britain’s figurehead Britannia had been a familiar sight in New Zealand for centuries, so Britain decided to cement their status as mother country by creating Zealandia, daughter of Britannia. Zealandia was the mother of her smaller nation and her mother symbolised the larger nation. Britannia (seen in the image above) is strongly represented with a trident, flowing dress, helm, lion and Union Jack shield. On the other hand, Zealandia (pictured below) is shown in a simple dress, with one arm outstretched and the other clutching flowers. Zealandia was created by the British to bring a sense of history to her colony and used as a means of strengthening the bond between Britain and New Zealand.


Zealandia’s golden age – Stamps, Statues and a Coat of Arms (1900-1950)

This was Zealandia’s half-century of popularity. In this span she featured on postage stamps from 1901-1909 and was first depicted on the New Zealand coat of arms (in 1911). She appears on the left-hand side of both the 1911-1956 version and the current version, which was redesigned in 1956. She also has three statues dedicated to her around the country, these are in; Symonds Street in Auckland (unveiled 1920), Waimate (unveiled 1904) and Palmerston North (unveiled 1903 and pictured). The statues commemorate the wars that New Zealand soldiers fought (the Waimate and Palmerston stone statues are Second Boer War memorials and the bronze statue in Symonds Street is a New Zealand Wars memorial).


Zealandia’s decline – New Kiwi icons (1950-2000)
Although Zealandia remained on the Coat of Arms following its redesign, this honour also marked the beginning of her decline in usage. In fact, this was to be her last major appearance and honour, as she was gradually overtaken by other symbols in popularity and use. As New Zealand’s own identity evolved, the usage of Zealandia declined. The growing trend of Kiwiana was forcing her further and further back from the eyes of popular culture. Around this period, Zealandia’s status as a figurehead was usurped by other new designs, well-known Kiwi brands and unique New Zealand flora/fauna. These included; the silver fern for sports teams (i.e. the All Blacks), Watties, pavlova, jandals, Koru leaf, Kea bird and other Kiwiana items. Each of these would go on to get their own stamps, statues and celebrations.


Today’s Symbol – The Kiwi (2000-Today)

Replacing Zealandia as the undisputed figurehead and national symbol of our nation is the humble Kiwi bird. The Kiwi has even become our go-to representation of NZ culture, with people who live in New Zealand referred to as Kiwis by people internationally. New Zealander’s accept the nickname and often refer to themselves as ‘Kiwis’ with pride. All this from a hairy nocturnal bird with a long beak and that can’t fly so only eats what it can catch on the forest floor. Check out the Kiwi statues in Otorohonga, Whakatāne and Queenstown.

For more on Zealandia, the Kiwi and other NZ cultural icons and symbols, check out our blog on ‘the stories behind our official and unofficial national symbols of New Zealand’. Or, you can learn more about the Kiwi, its endangered status and why it is so well-known around the world and in New Zealand here.

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