Story: Kiwi

Page 5. A kiwi country: 1930s–2000s

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After the First World War, the kiwi continued to flourish as an emblem at home. When the Reserve Bank released the first New Zealand currency in 1934, the two-shilling coin, and the 10-shilling and one-pound notes all featured the bird. In the 1930s, when the Department of Health promoted eating fruit, a poster was addressed to a ‘healthy Kiwi’.

During the Second World War, foreign people were once again describing the New Zealand soldiers they met as Kiwis. The nickname of the flightless bird was apparently accepted by all except young airmen aspiring to fly. There was a famous Kiwi Concert Party to entertain the troops, and the armed forces rugby team that toured Britain successfully just after the war was known as the Kiwis.

How to say keewee

In the First World War New Zealand soldiers were known as Kiwis, but this was sometimes humorously pronounced ‘kye-wyes’ (imitating the New Zealand vowels). Some American marines in New Zealand during the Second World War talked about the ‘K-one-W-ones’.

A kiwi way of life

Between the 1940s and the 1980s, the kiwi was confirmed as the symbol of a nation and its people. Kiwi ‘blokes’ and ‘sheilas’ ate Kiwi brand bacon (promoted by a huge fibreglass kiwi), gambled on the Golden Kiwi lottery, followed the Kiwi rugby league team, watched television until the animated ‘Goodnight Kiwi’ told them to go to bed, were ruled in the 1960s by a prime minister dubbed ‘Kiwi Keith’ Holyoake, spoke a version of English some called kiwi, and exulted when a racehorse called Kiwi won the Melbourne Cup in 1983. Unlike the rest of the world, the one thing they did not call ‘kiwi’ was kiwifruit, the new name, introduced in 1959, for what New Zealanders called Chinese gooseberries (Actinidia deliciosa).

Radical economic reforms in the late 1980s took the kiwi into new contexts. When the currency was floated in 1985, it was labelled the ‘kiwi’. Government businesses were privatised, and the taxpayer retained a Kiwi Share. In 2002 a new government-owned bank was named Kiwibank. Although the Golden Kiwi lottery ended in 1989, it was quickly replaced by a new gambling game, Instant Kiwi. No less than 57 books of children’s fiction about kiwi have been published, all but one since the 1960s.

By the 2000s, the bird was struggling for survival in the wild. But with the countless slogans and signs in the city, New Zealand was indeed a land of kiwi.

How to cite this page:

Jock Phillips, 'Kiwi - A kiwi country: 1930s–2000s', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 11 December 2023)

Story by Jock Phillips, published 24 Sep 2007, reviewed & revised 15 May 2015