The lawnmower – the great New Zealand love affair

A lawnmower was an indispensable piece of equipment for the New Zealand homeowner for much of the 20th century, and a piece of equipment for which New Zealand men in particular have formed a kind of reluctant affection – perhaps more so than any other country in the world. (Though we as New Zealanders take our lawn for granted, many people in even the developed world have only a court-yard garden at most.) The traditional quarter-acre section, ubiquitous until the 1980s, but now subdivided into near-oblivion, was comprised largely of lawn, and the lawn mower was an essential tool for keeping the lawn (or perhaps more accurately in many cases – grass and weeds) under control. Lawn-mowing was the obligatory weekend task that could not be overlooked – even if Dad (because, lets face it, it was generally his job) was able to avoid the other tasks and sneak off to the rugby/cricket/fishing.

Masport, the Auckland-based manufacturing company founded in 1910, manufactured the first commercial New Zealand-made petrol-powered lawnmower in 1938, but this is likely to have stayed beyond the reach of most New Zealand households well into the 1950s and 60s. Many households used handmowers (a commonly sold commodity from the early 1900s – see this 1906 advertisement for 21 shilling lawn mowers in the Otautau Standard and Wallace County Chronicle) well into the 1980s. However, some pioneering (and very likely rather wealthy) homeowners were using motor mowers before they became popularised. Pictured is “Mr Tasker” mowing the lawns in his beautiful garden in 1923 (somewhere in the Wanganui district). Though this looks more like an ornate piece of sculpture (see larger image) than a working piece of machinery, judging from the immaculate state of his garden it appears to be doing the job. On the other hand, the (unknown) fellow pushing the handmower circa 1920, appears quite happy with his more humble piece of machinery – and is suitably dressed for the task!

Nowadays, not satisfied with a humble push mower, many Kiwi men aspire to having a ride-on mower – no matter how small their patch of grass may be. This much joked-about aspiration inspired the classic 1997 Lotto ad [view by clicking here].

[Photos not to be reproduced without permission from Alexander Turnbull Library. Refs 1/1-016188-G and 1/2-077674-G (Click here to see larger photo and zoom in), Photographer: Isaac Henry Bowen Jefarres]

If you have any memories of your family’s first motor mower or indeed any stories of the now critically endangered quarter-acre section, we would like to hear from you! Click on the envelope on the right-hand side and send us an email, or alternatively you can post a comment.

2 thoughts on “The lawnmower – the great New Zealand love affair

  1. Some interesting comments about Lawnmowers in NZ.
    We had a 1/4 acre, 2 bedroom Statehouse in Kipling St Johnsonville. Very steep terraced land at the back. My job as the ‘Man’ of the house at 12 or so was to mow the lawns and cut the hedges. My Mother bought a Morrison 4 stroke Motor-mower in the early 1960’s, for our property. Probably a good old Tecumseh engine!A hard engine to pull start! I remember I had to check the oil in the crankcase regularly. After using it successfully to cut the front lawn and the back lawn under the clothesline many times. I ventured one day to cut down the long grass up on the first terrace. I had cleared out a lot of wood and wirenetting, as there used to be a chook house up there.But when I forced the mower into the long grass once too often, I stalled the mower very suddenly with an almighty bang ! I checked the mower, and pulled all the grass & WIRENETTING out from under the blade, and tried to start it up again. All it would do is make a clanking noise. When I told Mum when she got home from work I got a real roasting and a clip around the ear.
    She got it repaired; I had snapped the crankshaft when it snagged some netting I didn’t see and stopped suddenly, and it cost almost as much to repair as to buy a new one. I was told not to do the top areas again ! I had to use a scythe or clippers from then on. Later on, her friend Jim, the Star boarder, who looked after the house for her as she got older, did the same thing! So in 1974 she bought a Masport 2 stroke,from Bill Wetzel in Porirua, one of my clients at the time. Much better suited for the sloping land, and as it turned out the best mower I have ever known. An Alloy body that didn’t rust like the Morrison, and a very powerful engine that only needed the correct mix of petrol and oil to run effortlessly. It was used on her land until she died in 1987.And then I inherited it from the estate, and it lasted until 2007! When my wife and I bought a section in Waikanae, the neighbours were amazed (and amused)when I literally threw this mower on top of 1 metre high blackberry bushes to mow them down to the ground; lots of blade sharpening needed there.It survived everything, and did service well beyond normal expectations. Eventually it died,and was retired with a worn piston and grooved bore. But the body was still ok! This was an amazing machine. A friend of ours Peter Krinkel, who had a mowershop, was happy to take it off our hands when we moved house, as he rebuilt it and sold it again. He agreed about the abilities of this NZ Icon.
    I may be able to locate some photos of the land this mower helped to clear if wanted.

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