The Kiwi takes flight

The Kiwi takes flight

This hook explores how the concept of being “a Kiwi” rather than “a lion cub” contributed to a sense of national identity and belonging

“The Situation in Egypt” from the Auckland Weekly News(external link)

“The Situation in Egypt” from the Auckland Weekly News, 11 February 1915, page 35. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries. AWNS-19150211-35-2.


It may seem strange to a modern viewer that the cartoonist who created the image above needed to write N.Z. on the kiwi, but at the time of the First World War the kiwi was only just emerging as a symbol of the New Zealand national identity. 

The kiwi had been used as a trademark for various New Zealand products since the 1850s and in 1898 was also included in the first set of New Zealand pictorial stamps. In the early 1900s, cartoonists began to use the kiwi as a symbol for New Zealand, for example in a New Zealand Free Lance cartoon celebrating a rugby victory of 29–0 over an Anglo-Welsh team. The cartoon shows a kiwi growing in size after the victory. Cartoonist Trevor Lloyd, who worked for the Auckland Weekly News and the New Zealand Herald, also used a kiwi to represent a New Zealand rugby team but not as often as a moa. Other symbols of New Zealand from that time include a fern, a small boy, and a lion cub. The lion cub symbol reflects a belief then held by many Pākehā New Zealanders that New Zealand was a child of Britain (the lion). 

It was not until after the First World War that the term kiwi was used to refer to New Zealanders. In fact, until 1917, New Zealanders were often referred to as diggers or Pig Islanders. Other names for New Zealanders were Enzedders, Maorilanders, colonials, and fernleaves. 

By identifying themselves as kiwis rather than lion cubs, Pākehā New Zealanders began to develop a sense of national identity separate to that of Britain. The question remains whether the seeds of an independent national identity were forged on the battlefields of Gallipoli or on the rugby fields of Britain in the early 1900s. 

Possible discussion questions 

What does it mean to be Kiwi? 

Is a national identity important? Compare what the consequences of a weak and a strong national identity might be. 

What has influenced the evolution of the New Zealand national identity? How might it be different 100 years from now? 

Which has had the bigger impact on New Zealand identity: rugby or the First World War?

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