[ KIWIANA DISPLAY BOX ]
New Zealanders have long believed that they are blessed with a mysterious quality known as “kiwi ingenuity”. This refers to an alleged ability to make do and invent things with limited resources. It involves varying amounts of cunning and economy, typically requiring a piece of no. 8 gauge fencing wire and what was known in pre-metric days as a “four-by-two” length of timber.
There is, of course, a sound basis to kiwi ingenuity. This country’s early settlers – both Maori and European – all travelled great distances and had to adjust to their strange new homeland. Many were isolated in this corner of the South Pacific and it was simply a matter of “making do” or going without. From the mid 19th century the national economy depended on rural ingenuity extending the New Zealand imagination.
Down on the farm necessity was truly the mother of invention, with empty butter boxes and petrol tins being frequently reconfigured into other handy devices. This was obviously good training, for early 20th century New Zealand produced two of the most remarkable inventors of all.
Some believe that South Canterbury farmer, Richard Pearse, flew his homemade aircraft even before the Wright Brothers took off. And it was a New Zealander, Ernest Rutherford, who was the pioneer of atomic physics. Appropriately, he began his career in a corrugated iron shed at the University of Canterbury.
One of New Zealand’s more recent – and essential – inventions has been the electric fence. It was pioneered in the 1930s by Bill Gallagher of the Hamilton based Gallagher group, when he experimented with a device to stop his horse from scratching itself on the family car.
Another celebrated New Zealand inventor was Mackenzie country sheep station owner, W. F. Hamilton, who among numerous other things developed the now famous jet boat in the 1950s for use in shallow rivers. In a similar vein, the late John Britten developed the revolutionary V1000 motorbike, now on prominent display at Te Papa, the Museum of New Zealand.