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Gumboots, ‘Buzzy Bee’ toys, marching girls, a meringue dessert, shell ashtrays, and a cookbook may not seem terribly important objects. But to many Kiwis (New Zealanders), such things assume vital importance as major icons of Kiwiana! What is Kiwiana? It could be described as all the weird and wonderful quirky things from years gone by that contribute to our sense of nationhood — our kiwi identity.
What is a Kiwi?
To understand Kiwiana, it’s important to first know what exactly a kiwi is. A kiwi is a flightless nocturnal native bird, and the national bird of New Zealand. It has a long beak with nostrils on the end, and fossicks about at night feeding on small insects. However, over the years, New Zealanders have become known as ‘Kiwis’ as well. There is a ‘kiwi’ sense of humour, a kiwi ‘do-it-yourself’ attitude, and Kiwiana means the things that contribute to our sense of being Kiwi. Just to confuse you, the kiwifruit is often called a ‘kiwi’ in Europe and America and ‘Kiwi’ nugget (shoe polish) is known throughout the world, although it is an Australian invention!
The Kiwifruit, often simply called a ‘kiwi’ is of Chinese origin, but grows throughout New Zealand. It was originally called a ‘Chinese Gooseberry’ by New Zealanders, but when New Zealand started to export the fruit, it was decided to give them a better name. ‘Kiwifruit’ was the choice, because it would associate the fruit with New Zealand. The choice was timely, and New Zealand enjoyed record exports during the worldwide Kiwifruit boom. While kiwifruit are now grown throughout the world, you can always tell if a kiwifruit is from New Zealand, as it will be branded ‘Zespri’.
The Birds and the Buzzy Bees
The ‘Buzzy Bee’ — not the live one, but the toy — is probably the most famous single piece of Kiwiana. But it’s not just the bright red and yellow colours that make Buzzy Bee so attractive to Kiwis, who are far more used to the greens and browns of their native bush. As you pull the toy, the wings of Buzzy Bee rotate, making a wonderful loud clicking sound.
This dessert was invented as a tribute to the Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, who toured New Zealand and Australia in 1926. Pavlova is made of meringue and cream and is usually topped with kiwifruit.
The pavlova has long been at the centre of a trans-Tasman argument. Both New Zealanders and Australians steadfastly maintain they invented it. The first appearance of the recipe in written form was in a New Zealand cookbook in the early 1930s. Surely it is obvious that a Swiss-style meringue cake covered in ‘Chinese gooseberries’ and named after a Russian ballerina can only be a New Zealand invention!
Paua (pronounced par-wah) is a close relative of abalone and comes in a beautiful shell. Maori used the shiny shell for eyes in carvings of various creatures. Whole paua shells are used for ashtrays and other containers, and pieces of paua shell are used for making jewellery, butterflies, coasters, 21st birthday keys and a variety of other objects and souvenirs.
Edmonds Cookbook — Sure to Sell
More copies of this book, published by the makers of Edmonds ‘Sure to Rise’ Baking Powder, have been sold than any other book in New Zealand. Few New Zealand children would leave home without buying or borrowing their mother’s copy of this kiwi culinary bible.
No 8 Wire
Kiwis are famous for their ingenuity and self-sufficiency. It is said that Kiwis can create amazing things — all they need is ‘a piece of Number 8 wire’. No 8 wire is a certain gauge of wire that was incredibly popular for use as fencing wire around New Zealand’s many farms. Ironically, until 1963, it was imported from other countries. Because No. 8 wire was widely available, it was used for a variety of tasks, and it has become a symbol of kiwi adaptability.
L & P — National Soft Drink
L & P stands for Lemon and Paeroa, New Zealand’s most famous soft drink. It was invented in 1904 after its maker tasted some mineral water near the town of Paeroa, and mixed it with lemon to make a particularly refreshing drink. L & P was originally called Paeroa and Lemon, though the name was later reversed, and then shorted to L & P. This drink is still popular throughout New Zealand today.
Where Do You Find Kiwiana?
Most second-hand and souvenir shops have a good stock of Kiwiana, but if you want the real thing, go to one of the thousands of garage sales that are held throughout New Zealand every weekend.A range of wacky and weird objects helps define what it is to be a New Zealander, or 'Kiwi'. These wonderful things are known simply as - 'Kiwiana'.