May 24, 2015

Dave Veart's New Zealand Toy Story at AWF15

Tim Kidd tells us about the seriously fun session he attended, as our AWF15 coverage continues. 


Perfect names for toy companies. Names I remember from the tag on a cloth cat, whose stomach unzipped to accommodate a hot water bottle, and from the underside of the pocket-sized yellow bulldozers that I seem to have found in every sandpit I ever came across, as kid or adult.


In the heyday of New Zealand toy manufacturing, these companies and others made fun things for boys and girls to play with. Dave Veart’s book Hello Girls and Boys! A New Zealand Toy Story is a history of toys in New Zealand and it tells the story of these manufacturers and much more besides.

I went to Veart’s session, one of the Writers Festival's Weekend Gallery Series, and was impressed with what a smart and entertaining speaker he was. Of course toys are a fun subject, and there were so many great images to look at -- beautiful paper dolls, amazing Meccano sets, two boys driving their homemade go-kart down the road at rush hour!-- but Veart, with his archaeologist background, knew how to extract the full story every time. His book is one of those social histories told through the prism of a given subject, and it seems like the feeling of a particular time and place really is funneled, unfiltered, into the things that children play with-- and way ahead of what adults might be seeing.

Veart went back to the early days of New Zealand and the wonderful toys Maori children would play with – kites, knucklebones, spinning tops that raced over complicated tracks –did I hear him say they had tops that could climb trees? Not sure; I hope so.

In the 19th century, New Zealand children were apparently notorious for being particularly wild -- "lots of kids, lots of wild space, not much adult control". The neighbourhood I live in would have been like that a hundred or so years ago, but now I think it is the exact opposite. A great photo of these wild children shows them dressed up as pirates and soldiers and other things fun and jaunty, but then there’s one kid who is swathed in what looks like matted sheep wool. Is he some kind of castaway figure ? A wild man? I don’t know. It looks fun though. The toy of choice for these kids: the Pampas pocket knife (I’m pretty sure my Dad has one). Sharpen pencils, cut fruit and, crucially, make your own shanghai. Again, pretty sure none of the kids at our local primary school are knife-wielders.

Fifty years later and kids were more civilised and played with trains and Meccano and dolls houses. They became the town planners of the future. There was a picture of a modernist doll’s house that I really loved. Some hep dolls in the fifties got themselves a swinging pad one Christmas. I am pretty jealous of anyone who got one of those.

After the Second World War, import restrictions meant that the local toy industry flourished, but by the eighties that had all changed and toy companies folded one by one. I remember when I was in primary school in the early eighties, how suddenly there were these amazing futuristic toys – Zoids, Transformers, and all the other robo-hydrid toys. At the time, as a kid, it seemed like the greatest time for toys. But now I’m sad about those small, singular things that disappeared.

Like the story of Johnny Prowse who ran North Shore Toys. His factory was located opposite a primary school. A lot of employees were parents of students and worked school hours. I like that there is a particular group of adults who still remember what it felt like to finish school every day and walk across the road to the toy factory where Mum or Dad worked. Even better, there was a space at the factory for employees' preschool children - the kapok room!

As an adult, looking back, I think I’d surely trade my Optimus Prime, much as I loved it, for a memory of playing in that room.

-- Tim

Auckland Writers Festival

Ditulis Oleh : Karen Craig // 18:26


  1. What a lovely overview of New Zealand's toy story. I'm keen to read the book now!


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