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Published on July 9th, 2014 | by Booknotes Administrator


The Kiwi ABC: an iconic alphabet

Welcome to the alphabet, Kiwi style – where ‘A is for Anzac Day’ not ‘apple’ and jandals, Goldie and zorb get a starring role. This delightful Kiwi take on learning your ABC appears in a nifty little guide to ‘New Zealandness’ by Rosemary Hepözden, Instant Kiwi: New Zealand in a nutshell (New Holland Publishers).

A is for Anzac Day

On 25 April each year, more and more Kiwis willingly stumble out of bed to attend dawn ceremonies to honour those who died fighting in wars overseas. Particularly remembered are those 2721 young soldiers who died during a 9-month campaign against Turkish opponents at Gallipoli in 1915. Their courage and sacrifice under appalling conditions is regarded as the catalyst that forged a uniquely Kiwi sense of identity.

B is for ‘Bring Back Buck’

Don’t be surprised if at any gathering of Kiwi sports lovers you see a sign held up somewhere in the crowd that reads ‘Bring Back Buck’. Wayne ‘Buck’ Shelford captained the All Blacks from 1987 to 1990. During that time, the All Blacks won all their matches except for one draw. When Shelford was dumped from the team in 1990, there was a huge outcry. Despite calls to radio, letters to newspapers, and a proliferation of ‘Bring Back Buck’ signs at sportsgrounds, the selectors remained unmoved, but their decision is still decried today.

C is for cable car

Wellington’s bright red cable cars have been sliding up and down their tracks between Lambton Quay in the CBD and the top entrance of the Botanic Gardens (and one of the best views over Wellington) since 1902. Although the distance is obviously the same, the fare for going uphill is $4 and downhill is $3.50. Along the way there are three stops, including one for the Kelburn campus of Victoria University. In 1926 some 2 million people were transported – more than the population of New Zealand at that time.

D is for dairies

Small convenience stores often located on a street corner, dairies sell everything from magazines and milk to lottery tickets and loo paper.

E is for Edmonds Cookery Book

The Edmonds Cookery Book has sold over 3.45 million copies since it was first published in 1908, making it this country’s best-selling book by a country mile. What started as a promotional tool for the Edmonds brand of baking powder has become the recipe bible for most New Zealand homes. It contains recipes for many unpretentious Kiwi favourites, such as bacon and egg pie and pikelets.

F is for fish and chips, a fast food favourite

Despite stiff competition from Asian takeaways, fish and chips is still one of the country’s favourite fast foods – best eaten on the beach, or in front of the TV on a Friday night. There are industry standards for those who deep-fry the food for us, including the ‘bang and hang’ guideline: ‘After frying, bang or shake the basket vigorously two times. Then hang the basket for at least 20 seconds.’ Check for a list of winning outlets in the annual Best Chip Shop competition.

G is for Goldie

Charles Frederick Goldie was a 19th-century artist whose portraits of Māori dignitaries now fetch fabulous prices. When opera diva Kiri Te Kanawa offered Forty Winks, a portrait of Rutene Te Uamairangi for sale in November 2010, it reached $573,000, the most ever paid for a painting at auction in New Zealand at that time. More recently, in November 2013, a Goldie portrait of Kawhena (also known as Johnny Coffin) was sold at auction for $733,000.

H is for heitiki

The heitiki − more commonly called the ‘tiki’ − is a carved greenstone or bone ornament worn around the neck. A few decades ago, Air New Zealand would issue a plastic version to each passenger, sealed in cellophane, together with a tiny booklet. The practice stopped when heitiki began to be widely acknowledged as taonga (treasured possessions) that didn’t deserve such insensitive commercial exploitation.

I is for the Interislander

The ferry that crosses Cook Strait between Wellington and Picton. The 92-kilometre voyage takes three hours. On a good day, it can be one of the most beautiful ferry rides in the world; during rough weather, bilious passengers would rather be anywhere else on earth.

J is for jandals

An abbreviation of ‘Japanese’ and ‘sandals’, jandals are the favourite rubber footwear of casual Kiwis. The country’s Surf Life Saving association runs an annual fundraising appeal in December called National Jandal Day, when everyone is encouraged to wear their jandals and donate generously to help lifesavers save lives on New Zealand’s beaches.

K is for kiwiana

‘Kiwiana’ is the group name for all those objects and items we regard as representing quintessential New Zealand. For full immersion in the concept of kiwiana, head to Otorohanga, in southern Waikato farm country, just over 50 kilometres from Hamilton. This small, friendly town has been officially declared (by then prime minister Helen Clark) the country’s Kiwiana own, for its celebration of all Kiwi classics, from the Buzzy Bee, pāua and pavlova to Ed Hillary, the haka and hokey pokey ice cream. For a full explanation, visit:

L is for The Lord of the Rings

Directed by Peter Jackson, this trilogy – filmed entirely in New Zealand – went on to win a staggering haul of 17 Oscars. Matamata is home to the Hobbiton movie set, a spin-off attraction. For a list of filming locations, visit:

M is for the Māori Battalion

Formed shortly after the outbreak of World War II, the 28th (Māori) Battalion earned a reputation for unbeatable bravery and spirit, particularly during the Western Desert Campaign in North Africa and on the battlefields of Greece, Crete and Italy. See:

N is for Nuclear Free Zone

On 10 July 1985, the Greenpeace protest ship Rainbow Warrior was blown up in the Auckland harbour by two French secret agents. Their terrorist action cemented in us a very determined anti-nuclear stance that would be enshrined in Nuclear Free Zone legislation within two years. On 12 December 1987, the Rainbow Warrior was scuttled in Matauri Bay in the Bay of Islands and now serves as a dive wreck; visit:

O is for Opo

Opo was a young female bottlenose dolphin much beloved by beachgoers at the Northland holiday resort of Opononi during the summer of 1955–56. She became internationally famous for her playful antics and even had a song written about her. A law was passed to protect all dolphins in the Hokianga Harbour where Opo played, but a day after its introduction, Opo died mysteriously. A statue to her memory still stands at Opononi.

P is for pesky possums

Introduced to this country from Australia in the 1830s, possums have become a nationwide pest: they wreak havoc in the bush by chewing through 7 million tonnes of vegetation each year. To rid ourselves of this scourge, we poison them, bait them and shoot them. We even wrap our utility poles in sheet metal to stop possums climbing them. More creatively, these days we turn possum fur into fashion items such as gloves, hats and socks.

Q is for the Queen’s Birthday Honours

Even though we sometimes think about becoming a republic, we’d never want to give up the holiday we get to celebrate the Queen’s birthday. It takes place on the Monday following the first weekend in June. We also wouldn’t want to give up the Queen’s Birthday Honours, handed out in recognition of good works and good lives. The highest honour that can be awarded is the Order of New Zealand. Current members of the Order include opera singer Kiri Te Kanawa; filmmaker Peter Jackson; first elected female prime minister Helen Clark; and the Queen’s husband, Prince Philip, who was appointed to the Order to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

R is for rugby

The national religion, some say. Newcomers to New Zealand are well advised to add words like ‘ruck’, ‘maul’, ‘scrum’ and ‘lineout’ – together with the reproach ‘Are ya blind, ref?’ – to their vocabulary as soon as possible. We’re passionate about the game, and it only takes an All Black win against Australia, South Africa, France or England for the mood of the entire country to lift. (It’s best not to be around if we lose.)

S is for Shrek

Among the national flock of 31 million, we found a celebrity. Shrek the sheep lived on Bendigo Station in the South Island, where he evaded capture for six years. When Shrek was eventually caught by musterer Ann Scanlan, the 27-kilogram fleece he had grown while in hiding was shorn under the amused gaze of a worldwide television audience. Shrek became an international star. He featured on TV shows, was the subject of three books, toured the country, met the prime minister, and raised $150,000 for charity before he died at the age of 17 in 2011.

T is for tui

A New Zealand native bird with a distinctive white tuft under its throat. Also, a brand of beer ubiquitously promoted with cheeky billboard advertising that features the cynical slogan ‘Yeah, right.’ For example, just before Waitangi Day 2008, Tui erected a billboard that said ‘Muskets, blankets and beads. Sounds like a fair trade… Yeah, right.’

U is for ultraviolet

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is especially harsh in New Zealand, because of our clear skies and low levels of air pollution. Because excess exposure increases the risk of developing melanoma (skin cancer), sunbathing is pretty much a no-no. Instead, each summer the nationwide SunSmart programme tells us to ‘Slip, Slop, Slap and Wrap’: slip on a shirt, slop on the 30+ sunscreen, slap on a hat and wear wraparound sunglasses.

V is for villa

The first mass housing style in New Zealand, the villa is a square-shaped house originally made of native timbers such as rimu, kauri, tōtara and mataī, with a corrugated iron roof. The floorplan is predictable: a series of rooms opening off a large central hall; the kitchen, laundry and bathroom are usually found at the back of the house. A single-bay villa has a bay window on one side and a verandah on the other. The earliest examples of the villa were constructed in the 1880s.

W is for wētā

The wētā is a terrifyingly large insect of the grasshopper family with spiny hind legs, native to New Zealand. An adult wētā weighs around 70g. Weta is also the name of the creative workshop based in Wellington that made the models and designed the special effects in many of Peter Jackson’s movie masterpieces, such as The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

 X is for Xena, Warrior Princess

Xena, Warrior Princess was a 1990s American TV series set in ancient Greece but filmed in New Zealand. It eventually aired in 108 countries around the world. Xena was played by Kiwi actress Lucy Lawless. The ambiguous nature of Xena’s relationship with her sidekick Gabrielle led to Xena becoming a cult icon in the lesbian community worldwide.

Y is for ‘Yeah, nah’

A brilliantly succinct, soothingly noncommittal and classically Kiwi way of saying that you have heard what another person has said, and you might agree – but then again you might not. ‘People don’t think much of the All Blacks’ chances against South Africa this weekend…’ ‘Yeah, nah, she’ll be right.’

Z is for zorb

The zorb is a large transparent sphere with another slightly smaller one inside it. You climb into the inner sphere and roll down a slope at great speed. The layer of air between the two spheres is supposed to protect you from injury as you spin down the slope. Invented by a New Zealander, naturally.


Instant Kiwi 300dpi_smallRosemary Hepözden is a Canadian-born Kiwi who has travelled widely. On her travels she often longed for a pocket-sized guide that would take her beyond the ‘must do’ attractions and right to the core of what it meant to be a local. When she returned to New Zealand from a two-year teaching stint in Turkey, she saw the need for such a book about New Zealand, as she found herself decoding the Kiwi lifestyle for a somewhat startled Turkish man who had accompanied her home. As she lovingly interpreted things Aotearoa, she remembered once again just how cool it is to call yourself a Kiwi. Instant Kiwi: New Zealand in a nutshell distils the essence of that experience.

Extracted from Instant Kiwi: New Zealand in a nutshell by Rosemary Hepözden, published by New Holland, $19.99.

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