Like everyone else who used Kiwi shoe polish down the years, I had assumed it was a New Zealand product. It even had a photograph of New Zealand’s flightless bird on its lid. Well, we were all wrong. It is an Australian polish, and this rather lavish volume by the late Keith Dunstan certainly proves that point. So the origin of the name and why? William Ramsay, who invented the polish “married a girl from Oamaru in New Zealand”. She was known within the family as Kiwi Annie, and William named his new product after his wife. William died young, but his widow and their son, Thomas, took over the business, gradually conquering the world. Thomas kept diaries and notes about everything, and it is from these primary sources that Keith Dunstan has found gold. He obviously had a great time, romping his way through this remarkable family, and giving us a glorious book about such an unlikely subject as boot polish. Keith died in 2013, but he finished his final draft, luckily for us.
The great boost in sales, and appreciation, came from the war of 1914-1918, when Australian boots were seen to be in much better shape than those of other troops. The secret was, according to all reports, Kiwi boot polish. The other enormous help to sales were the advertisements, many of which
grace this book. Any reader of advanced years will remember them, and enjoy seeing them again. My favourite definitely is the depiction of a smart young woman, whose whirling skirt is made up of the letters K.I.W.I.
She surely does make “smart shoes smarter”. As Keith Dunstan’s last hurrah, KIWI could not be more triumphant.
KIWI by KEITH DUNSTAN PUBLISHED by ALLEN & UNWIN for a recommended $49.99