Kiwi Culture Explained 3 – What is Kiwiana? Iconic Kiwi Things International Students Should Know About, Even in 2019
In this blog we explore some common items of ‘Kiwiana’ – iconic Kiwi items that have become famous in NZ over many years, so much so that they are now ingrained in Kiwi culture. A few of these things have already been mentioned in our blogs on the best NZ gifts and souvenirs to take home for friends and family and at Christmas, so if you want to find out more about the items and potentially taking a piece of Kiwiana home for yourself or a loved one, we recommended that you check those blogs out.
Buzzy bee toys
Clicking along since 1930, these brightly coloured toys, which are pulled on wheels by growing toddlers have earned a place in the hearts of a nation. Starting life as a wooden toy, the Buzzy Bee now has an animated TV show and lays claim to the title of New Zealand’s most famous children’s toy. The current owner of the toy is Lion Rock Ventures (since 2004), but the toy is originally credited to toy and wood craftsman Maurice Schlesinger, via Playcraft Products, and was first made in Auckland in the late 1930’s. When Mr. Schlesinger became ill, traveling salesman Hec Ramsey took the Bee to his brother Jon Ramsey’s workshop. And it was here that the ‘Buzzy Bee and friends’ brand became the one we know today, with Mary Lou dolls, Dorable Duck, Richard Rabbit and others being designed and trademarked there.
Kia ora is the Māori (and Kiwi) way of saying hello. NZ is a multi-lingual country, and our three national languages are English, Māori and Sign. Kia ora is pronounced Ki-ao-ra – for examples on how to pronounce it we recommend this video. This may also be accompanied by a handshake and a hongi (a traditional Maori greeting in which people press their noses together). Kia ora is a hello that comes from the heart.
These boots are designed for the country and are the pride of farmers everywhere. They were created using rubber to keep the mud out and your feet dry. Originally thought of by the 1st Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley in the 19th century the ‘Wellington’ was created by the Duke’s shoemaker in the early 1800’s. They became so popular in England that everyone had them in the 1840’s. They were made of calfskin leather and were treated with wax to make them waterproof. The boot also came up to the knee. In 1852 Charles Goodyear (now a tire manufacturer) developed a process to produce rubber and Hiriam Hutchinson (an American inventor) established Aigle wellington boot company in France.
In the mid to late 19th century (1840-1890’s) Kauri gumdigging had also taken off in New Zealand, with workers looking for gum in swamps that could then be used to make varnish and was exported to London and America in the mid 1840’s. From 1850 to 1950, gum exports totalled 450,000 tonnes, and from 1850 to 1900 gum was Auckland’s main export – ahead of gold, wool and kauri timber. Workers would wear long rubber boots when digging to keep the mud and gum from getting onto their legs and skin. This is how New Zealander’s gave them the name ‘gumboots’, rather than ‘Wellies’, as they are known internationally.
In 1910 George Skellerup, a Danish Australian, opened his first retail store in Christchurch, New Zealand. From this store Skellerup sold rubber and tires that quickly became popular throughout the country. More stores were created and the Skellerup brand expanded.
In 1958, staff at Marathon Rubber Footwear in Christchurch (a Skellerup brand) decided to create a shorter ‘Red Band gumboot’ rather than a traditional boot that was above the knee. The idea took off and New Zealanders have embraced the twist on the classic boot ever since. Although the Christchurch factory closed in the 1980’s, the manufacture of red band boots continues in China today. And these gumboots are stocked across the country. Gumboots remain a Kiwi icon, having become part of our popular culture. Everyone knows what they are, and most people own a pair.
Perhaps Kiwi comedian Fred Dagg put it best when he said: “if it weren’t for your gumboots where would you be?”.
Some countries call them ‘flip flops’, while in others they are called ‘thongs’, but here in New Zealand we say ‘jandals’. Simple and effective footwear, like the gumboot they are also made of rubber, but unlike the gumboot these are made to simply keep the soles of your feet protected while opening the tops of your feet to the elements. Best worn in the summer when the weather is hot, the footwear is known as a ‘jandal’, which is a combination of the words ‘Japanese’ and ‘sandal’. The footwear was named and trademarked in 1957 by businessman Morris Yock in 1957 and manufactured/distributed by Morris Yock and son Anthony. After Jandals Ltd originally sourced rubber from Hong Kong, Skellerup took over the supply of raw materials and then purchased the business completely in 1987. Current trademark owners are Gentex (NZ) Ltd.
The ‘silver fern’ (Cyathea dealbata), or ponga in te reo Māori, is endemic to NZ. The underside of this fern frond is part of New Zealand’s national identity and has been for centuries. Often white, sometimes silver, the symbol of the fern has been embraced by New Zealand’s national sports teams and the NZDF (New Zealand Defence Force). The fern is stitched into the uniforms of all the prominent sports teams in New Zealand, including the; All Blacks, Black Ferns, Silver Ferns, All Whites, Football Ferns, Tall Blacks and others. To ‘wear the fern’ means you are representing your nation and is an achievement to be proud of.
Pāua is a type of abalone unique to NZ. Found only in Aotearoa, these sea snails are a traditional delicacy and its colourful shell is used for decoration and ornamentation. Pāua is the Māori name given to the sea snail and the shell which they occupy and leave behind. There are actually three species of NZ Pāua; Blackfoot Pāua (Haliotis iris), Queen Pāua (also known as Silver Pāua, Yellow Foot Pāua, Hihiwa & Karariwha and its scientific name Haliotis australis) and Virgin Pāua (Haliotis virginea). Pāua shells make great jewellery and pāua pearls are also sought after.
A NZ institution from 1934 until today, everyone knows about Watties canned and frozen foods. Creators Jim Wattie and Harold Carr created something truly special when the two friends noticed that fresh produce was being wasted due to high transportation costs. Since they first began canning gooseberries, plums and peaches in 1934, to growing and canning peas and tomatoes in 1936, the business has continued to grow and become ingrained in Kiwi culture. Watties was most famous for its Wattie’s Tomato Sauce, Baked Beans and Spaghetti. In 1966 Jim Wattie was knighted for services to the food industry, and in 1992 Goodman Fielder Wattie Ltd was purchased by H.J. Heinz. Today Heinz Watties has two factories, with one located in Hastings producing canned fruit and vegetables, frozen vegetables, baked beans, spaghetti, soups, sauces and organic vegetables and the other located in Christchurch and producing frozen, dehydrated and freeze-dried vegetable products.
Four Square supermarkets
Open for business since 1924 and instantly recognisable thanks to the 1950 Foodstuffs advertising departments ‘Cheeky Charlie’ Four Square man becoming part of the brand identity, as well as renowned NZ artist Dick Frizells art prints inspired by him. You will know one of these stores by its distinctive green and yellow colouring, logo and smiling mascot giving you the ‘thumbs-up’.
The Longest Drink in Town
Chances are, if you’ve had a milkshake from a dairy (local shop) in New Zealand then its been out of one of these iconic cups. Most corner dairies have stocked these cups since the mid 1950’s and they have been manufacturing the cups from Henderson, Auckland, since 1962. They are owned by Huhtamaki Oyj, a Finnish company.
Otorohanga (Kiwiana town)
Located 45 minutes from Hamilton and just two hours from Auckland, Otorohanga has been NZ’s official Kiwiana town since 2002. Pay a visit to the Kiwiana town if you want to see all the items mentioned above and other Kiwi objects, people and moments in history celebrated in one place!
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 Carl Walrond, 'Kauri gum and gum digging - The industry', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/kauri-gum-and-gum-digging/page-4 (accessed 21 May 2019).