The origin of New Zealand’s can-do attitude

by Rick Roberts
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New Zealand is a land known for many things. The most famous and arguably the most dominant team in the world in the last twenty years is the New Zealand Rugby team known as the All Blacks. The incredible scenery that can be witnessed while watching Lord of the Rings was all shot in New Zealand and the country has become known for its incredible beauty. The kiwi bird calls New Zealand home and is a beautiful and rare flightless bird that has resulted in New Zealand people becoming known as kiwis. The country has a very low population density compared to its GDP meaning that it is an uncrowded yet wealthy place to live. New Zealand is known for all of these things but one thing it is most proud of is its ‘Number 8 wire’ attitude.

A number 8 wire attitude is a term used in New Zealand to refer to the people living there and their approach to life. The people of New Zealand pride themselves on how resourceful they are. Number 8 wire is a grade of wire that is commonly found in New Zealand farms as it is used primarily for fencing off the land. This means that many farmers have rolls of number 8 wire left in their shed and will often use to in clever yet surprising ways to fix other things. This is where the idea of the number 8 wire attitude comes from. To other countries, we may regard it as a MacGyver style approach to fixing things.

This number 8 wire is easy to see when you look at the achievements of the small nation. For a small country to boast the invention of the jet boat, the Bungy jump, the electric fence, the egg beater, and even the pavlova means they are doing something right. In fact, many economists have said that the reason New Zealand outperforms in terms of GDP is because of its innovative spirit and can-do attitude. There is a belief that New Zealand is not just a number 8 wire nation but a very innovative one. 

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This can be seen in more modern examples too. The success of companies like Xero and others shows that kiwi companies can create incredible solutions and compete on the world stage. For one of the best examples of number 8 wire attitude, we must go back in time to world war 2. At that time materials were in short supply as everything was being put towards the war effort around the world. This led the New Zealand Minister of Works at the time to try and design a tank that could function in a war made out of materials that could be easily located. He created the Bob Semple Tank.

The Bob Semple Tank was invented by Bob Semple (hence the name) and was built only from corrugated iron and a recycled tractor base. It was built without any blueprints and so was an incredibly flawed product. For this reason, it was never used in combat or put into mass production but it is still an example that kiwis wear with pride when talking about their number 8 attitude. 

In many ways, the number 8 spirit is simply a ‘Do it Yourself attitude’. Some people fear that New Zealand is losing this innovative approach. Based on patents processed in the last number of years New Zealand is falling down the rankings and some argue that as a nation is becoming too complacent. While there may be some truth in that it is clear from looking at the incredible response that the country had to the coronavirus and the successful defense put in place that when ingenuity is called for the Kiwis can still respond in an incredible sense.

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