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Launch of the book

Issue date: 
Thursday, 24 October 1991
The Hon Dame Catherine Tizard, GCMG, GCVO, DBE, QSO

The poor old kiwi has had a bad press.

When I looked up references to the kiwi, in addition to all those about the "inarticulate kiwi", invariably referring to the New Zealand male person, usually made by intellectual British females or sometimes males, there were a number about the real kiwi, the bird.

Most would make Jim Jolly, if not all of us here tonight, cringe. For most were about eating kiwis.

One we shall entitle Kiwi la carte, from 1888, noted:

"Last Sunday I dined on stewed kiwi at the hut of a lonely gold digger, who, besides the three cooked for dinner, had four other fat kiwis hanging on the wall, to serve through the week. My host informed me that he varied his bill of fare with wekas and kakapos." Now, that reference to kakapos really will make all of us blanche.

Arthur Harper, the noted mountaineer, explorer and naturalist, wrote that:

"The kiwi is passable when one is hungry though personally I do not like him, but being more nutritious than savoury, it is not to be despised, and is almost nice when boiled with piki-piki fern and rice."

Perhaps one can almost forgive Mr Harper on another occasion when he noted:

"I have little to say regarding this bird, as I have only seen two of them and being pushed with hunger I ate the pair of them. Under the circumstances I would have eaten the last of the dodos. It is all very well for Science lifting up its hands in horror at what I once heard called gluttony, but let Science tramp through the Westland bush of swamps for two or three days without food and find out what hunger is. Besides, at the time, which was many years ago, I was not aware that it was an almost extinct bird. Had I known so, I would at least have skinned it and kept the head and feet"! (My exclamation mark.)

Mr Harper later redeemed himself and maybe salved his own conscience by becoming President of the Forest and Bird Protection Society.

A colleague of Mr Harper's, Charles Edward Douglas, wrote of the kiwi:

"Altogether the kiwi, except in a museum as one of the last of the pre-Adamites, is of neither use nor ornament. His intelligence is on about the same level as a spider, and it seems almost impossible to develop it. No doubt like every living thing it has its uses in creation, but as his work is done in the dark, it is not apparent enough for people to give him any credit for it."

I am telling you of these tales of the past not so that we can pat ourselves on the back and say, "But we are not like that today," but really to make the point how much has changed and how "Kiwi - A Secret Life" is a symbol of that significant change in attitude and interest.

When I went to school, which was quite a few years ago now, I learned about English birds, English trees, and probably knew more about the swallow or the barn owl than the kiwi or the weka.

There were no text books as I recall, about New Zealand fauna and flora, and nothing aimed at the senior student or the general interested reader.

It is indeed surprising that the bird that is our national symbol has occasioned such little serious investigation, but instead has had to suffer from the slings and arrows of outrageous mockery - a bird that can't fly, only comes out in the dark, is solitary and shy - that is, a bird that doesn't seem like a real bird.

But as Mr Jolly asks in his book, what about the adjectives of "bold", "agile", "patient", "deft", "fast-running"? And as someone who has come to know the kiwi intimately after many years of study, he says it is a marvel of nature - wonderfully adapted to life on the forest floor.

I'm not going to tell you any more of what is in the book, because you should read it for yourselves and I'm sure that Mr Jolly and the New Zealand National Heritage Foundation also want to sell some copies.

I am a member of the board of the National Heritage Foundation and it is a responsibility in which I take a special interest. In the short time the Foundation has been established - since February 1988 - it has made a significant contribution to the study of our national heritage.

It has done so through programmes and promotions such as "Moa's Ark", with the amazing David Bellamy, the campaign to control and remove Old Man's Beard, the development of school resources, the Environmental Education Conference in August, and the university course at Massey - a pretty commendable record after only three and a half years.

I am delighted to know that the book we are launching tonight will be the first in a series. If they follow the example set by "Kiwi", they will be attractive, well-illustrated and very authoritative.

As my predecessor, Sir Paul Reeves, notes in the foreword to "Kiwi - A Secret Life", Jim Jolly has brought to the book something of his passion for the kiwi and it is that feeling that I hope we can convey to our young people who will come to know our unique national bird as they grow and learn, and all the rest of us who need to catch up on the kiwi.

Last updated: 
Friday, 9 January 2009

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