Kiwi and the Lion

New Zealanders became Kiwis more by evolution than by edict, although there were various attempts to impose other symbols on us. Before the turn of the 20th century, symbols for New Zealand included fern leaves, a small boy, a young lion cub, and even a moa. We were En-Zedders, Maorilanders or Fernleaves, Pig Islanders, or even worse Colonials.

After we become a Dominion in 1907, ceasing to be a colony of Great Britain, our national coat of arms chose to sport the silver fern as our emblem.

As the kiwi began to retreat further into the bush, its image began to appear as an emblem in the second half of the 19th century. It was used as a trademark for veterinary medicines, seeds, drugs, varnishes, insurance, and on Bank of New Zealand notes. When the first New Zealand pictorial stamps were issued in 1898, the kiwi was on the sixpenny stamp.

In 1887 the new Auckland University College featured on their Coat of Arms three kiwis. Students of the University in 1905, began publishing a magazine called "The Kiwi" which survived until the mid 1960s.

The Kiwi symbol began to be recognised internationally in 1906 when Kiwi Shoe Polish was launched in Melbourne by a man with a New Zealand born wife. The polish was widely marketed in Britain and the USA during World War I and later.

The evolution of our identity as Kiwis had more threads. In 1905, the Westminster Gazette printed a cartoon of the kiwi and kangaroo going to a colonial conference. In the same year, the New Zealand All Blacks beat England at rugby. To mark the occasion, Trevor Lloyd in the New Zealand Herald drew the first of many cartoons in which New Zealand was symbolised by a kiwi.

But it is was the New Zealand military which came to make the kiwi their own. The kiwi as an emblem first appeared late last century in New Zealand regimental badges. Badges of the South Canterbury Battalion in 1886 and the Hastings Rifle Volunteers in 1887 both featured kiwis. Later, kiwis appeared in a great number of military badges.

New Zealand's servicemen were by and large country boys, farm boys. They would have been very familiar the bird as they were still very numerous in rural areas around the turn of the 20th century. Perhaps it appealed to their sense of humour to take on the identity of a bird where the male had a glorious far reaching call and the female just growled, where the female laid a huge egg which the male incubated. It sounded all too much like married life to the New Zealand male. And they were such aggressive scrappy birds with their strong legs and sharp claws they would take on anything and anyone. The soldiers made the bird their own.

During the First World War, New Zealanders carved a giant kiwi on the chalk hill above Sling Camp in England. In Flanders during the war, the name "Kiwi" for New Zealand soldiers came into general use. By the Second World War, the Kiwi was synonymous with New Zealand Servicemen overseas. During the war, the Kiwi Concert Party toured many battle areas. The Kiwi, New Zealand Army, Football Team which toured the British Isles, France and Germany in 1945-46 also enhanced the emblem's popularity.

So it grew until even a Chinese gooseberry became a Kiwi.

Sub Species:

Song of the:  —  North Island Brown Kiwi

 Viking Sevenseas

Other common names:  — 

Description:  — 

Endemic bird

Where to find:  — 


Illustration description: — 


Trevor Lloyd cartoon: this is claimed to be the first time New Zealand was represented as a kiwi. The occasion was the victory of the New Zealand rugby team, the All Blacks, over England in December 1905.

Trevor Lloyd cartoon: Te Hongi, hands across the sea, for the US Great White Fleet visit to NZ, 1908

Early postcard of Sling Camp,an annexe of Bulford Camp in Wiltshire, U.K.

Reference(s): — 


Oliver, W.R.B., New Zealand Birds, 1955.

Page date & version: — 


Thursday, 4 July 2019; ver2009v1


©  2005    Narena Olliver,    new zealand birds limited,     Greytown, New Zealand.