Slice of Heaven

Our exhibit Boots, Bullet and Balls from last year was extremely popular. It tied together two important aspects of New Zealand’s history and identity – the First World War and rugby. Neither originated here, but both have made a massive impact on our country.

A common theme or belief is that New Zealand’s nationhood, its sense of identity, was forged on the blood-stained fields of Gallipoli and other areas of conflict, particularly during World War One.

The theory goes that warfare combined with the almost tribal aspects of rugby in the first half of last century, and through them New Zealand became a unique country, not just another colonial outpost.

However, for many ‘Home’ was still the place their ancestors had come from.

I can recall my confusion as a young child when people I knew to be New Zealanders talked longingly of ‘Home’ – England usually.

What did they mean?  It was as if they had a foot in both camps – a proud New Zealander but still with that strong tie to another country and culture. Reflected in funny attributes, such as a dogged persistence that meant Christmas just wasn’t right without hot meat and plum duff.

1. Bob and Eunice Tarbotton and the kids.png

In many respects our independence did not really fully develop, until the second great conflict in the 1940s, when northern transport routes were closed and New Zealand had to turn their Kiwi can-do attitude to supplying domestic needs, everything from clothing and ceramics to industrial components.

Later still, with Britain having joined the ECC (the European Economic Community), Kiwi farmers had to develop new links to export markets and finally we began to see ourselves as Kiwi.

Welcoming ‘foreign’ people (i.e. not from the UK), to our shores, and with a steady influx of peoples from the Pacific, we soon transformed ourselves into a multifaceted nation with new faces and new ideas. Not just a baby England, or even a younger sibling to Australia, we became Kiwi Aotearoa New Zealand, celebrating our own heroes and making our own icons.

‘Kiwiness’ was celebrated in an interesting exhibit last year, in an unlikely and quirky way. Called Sounds Like Us, the exhibition came from Radio New Zealand (whose sounds has underpinned much of our history) and was brought to life by Weta Workshop (a Kiwi icon in its own right) through sounds and models of radios in the shape of things essentially New Zealand.

The exhibition was on during the Kiwi holidays last year – a time when long, hot days just scream for putting on your jandals (not  those Aussie thongs!), having fish and chips on the beach, or maybe a hokey pokey ice cream, and watching, playing – or listening to – the cricket.

2. Fairton school children at Sharplin Falls, 1988.png

For holidays one might or pack up the tent or caravan and head out into the bush, or maybe invite your mates around for a BBQ on the back lawn or deck. These are stuff of which our summers are made.

Some of those notions were depicted in the exhibition as well as things people hold dear as being special to New Zealand – the controversial pavlova (who really invented it?), splitting the atom, rugby (of course), gumboots and family.

It was a fun exhibition, full of colour and creativity, something we as Kiwis pride ourselves on.  As part of the exhibition, we asked people what special events or activities they held to be essentially Kiwi, or important in the developing story that makes us unique.

3. Picnic at the river..png

A year on, we still wonder about what people consider to be unique about us as a whole.  Is it our position at the bottom (or maybe top?) of the globe that makes us have to try harder and therefore, succeed in international fields?  Is it the injection of so many cultures with various backgrounds and ideas that has enabled us to do the impossible or improbable? How much does our environment play in developing who we are?

Popular as always were our creative activities, which were part of the exhibition. We gave visitors the chance to make their own icon radio model to take home or put onto display.

We hope children used to getting immediate news via television, laptop or twitter, can to understand the massive impact radio once had in our lives.  Most important news came via the air waves with a faceless voice giving us an eye witness account of what celebration, tragedy, or even momentous sporting victory was happening down the road or on the other side of the world.

4. Walter Lylian’s cows being hand milked in 1915..png

By Kathleen Stringer



  1. Bob and Eunice Tarbotton and the kids outside their caravan. Ashburton had its own caravan club that arranged outings and events.
  2. Fairton school children at Sharplin Falls, 1988.
  3. Picnic at the river.
  4. Walter Lylian’s cows being hand milked in 1915.

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