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.