A frequently heard phrase when New Zealanders are involved in problem solving situations is “She’ll be right”. It is often said in tones of pride, alongside “Kiwi's have a number eight wire mentality”.
What is number eight wire and why does it define New Zealanders personality?
Number eight wire is a 0.16 inch or 4 mm diameter gauge wire used for years in fencing on remote sheep farms, so most farmers had roles of it on hand. They tended to use it for all sorts of mechanical or structural repairs in keeping with New Zealand do-it-yourself mentality -to mend gates, saddles, and lace boots on the spot.
Then the phrase number eight wire mentality came to be used to describe, on the spot repairs, with a system of using the nearest available materials; not necessarily the most appropriate materials.
Number eight wire might be used for first aid on tractors, spades, car doors, or making do with straw to tie jackets, and tyres to repair gumboots. All of these could be described as evidence of the number eight wire mentality!
Funnily enough, for something that was almost a New Zealand icon, until 1963, all number eight wire was imported!! Nevertheless, number eight wire came to represent the ingenuity and resourcefulness of New Zealanders.
The phrase “a number eight wire mentality” then came into being to note an ability to create or repair machinery, with whatever scrap metal was on hand (not always number eight wire).
Not only were the sheep farms themselves remote and hence a distance from commercial outlets where farm supplies could be replenished, but New Zealand itself is a distance from other countries (except perhaps Australia). Folk had to invent substitutes for goods they couldn't easily obtain, unless they imported them.
The number eight wire mentality was a perceived competitive advantage in a pioneering world, but the she’ll be right attitude often lead to compromise and making do! In the present global economy, excellence in engineering and similar fields is expected to always be better than just good enough.
Kiwis are still noted for the ingenuity and self-sufficiency, and have a deserved reputation as do-it-yourselfers!
As the number eight wire fades into folklore, what will be the new universal sticking plaster (band-aid)?
Guest Blogger - Susan Hammond