Gumboots or Wellingtons

Kiwiana – Gumboots 

Having almost waxed lyrical about No 8 wire, recently I pondered what would be the next comparable icon to puzzle non-kiwis.  Someone drew my attention to that other staple of New Zealand rural life – “Gumboots” or wellies in the U.K. and rainboots sometimes in U.S.A.  Gumboots, a work boot anything up to the knee-high are to be seen parked outside nearly every farmhouse backdoor. 

Wellington boots came into being in the early 19th century being the brain child of the Duke of Wellington (of  Waterloo fame).  He had his shoemaker adapt the current fashionable leather Hessian boot into stronger less fancy footwear and hence after the advent of vulcanised rubber – Wellington Boot. 

How did the Wellington boot morph mid century into gumboots.  It may be because they were worn by the Dalmatian Kauri gum diggers as they worked on the marshy gumfields of New Zealand’s Far North.  Alternatively the name may have come after the development of vulcanised rubber by a Mr Hutchinson, mid 19 century sometimes known as rubber gum or gum rubber. 

This workaday item is associated with other New Zealand icons as disparate as a comic character with attendant song and cartoon strip and a New Zealand Olympic Gold Medallist.  

Whilst British galas have their coconut shies, Scotland tossing the caber and USA fairs, heavy truck races, New Zealand has a gumboot throwing competition.  This featured in a recent “Rural Games” where the ladies gumboot throwing competition was won by Valerie Adams, New Zealand’s world shot put champion.  You never know gumboot tossing may become an Olympic sport.  From an Olympic Champion to a cartoon character may seem to be a big leap but here goes.   John Clarke aka Fred Dagg caricatured the New Zealand farmer and farming scene in his cartoon and stage act, Fred Dagg was always portrayed wearing a black singlet (a vest) baggy short and of course gumboots and accompanied by his floppy “dog.” 

The almost anthem of gumboot enthusiasts is “If it weren’t for your gumboots where would we be” borrowed from Billy Connolly’s “If it wisnae fur your wellies,” etc, and the almost gumboot capital of New Zealand is a place called Taihape of gumboot tossing fame. 

It is difficult to wax lyrical about gumboots but I reckon that they are almost as much a staple of kiwi rural life as No 8 wire.

Gumboots on a farm: A New Zealand Classic

 This photo available as a Canvas Print for your Wall! 

Guest Blogger - Susan Hammond

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