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The 1950s

Page 11 – 1958 - key events

Hillary on ice

Arrival at the Pole on tractors

On 4 January 1958 a party led by Edmund Hillary became the first to reach the South Pole overland since Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated journey in 1912. Despite this success, Hillary was criticised for allegedly putting adventure ahead of the expedition’s scientific aims.

Hillary led the New Zealand component of the Commonwealth Trans-Antarctic Expedition (TAE), which was under the overall command of the British explorer Vivian Fuchs. The New Zealanders first set up Scott Base on the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf, 3 km from the US McMurdo Station. In October 1957, driving modified Ferguson farm tractors, the Kiwis headed south to establish food and fuel depots for the British crossing party. Then, against the instructions of the British Ross Sea Committee, they went ‘hell-bent for the Pole – God willing and crevasses permitting’.

Lost in the supermarket


As late as 1959 only 54% of New Zealand households had access to a refrigerator. Most Kiwis did their shopping on an ‘as needed basis’. The local butcher, greengrocer and corner dairy were the most visited shops. The first sign of a change in shopping habits came in June 1958 when the country’s first supermarket opened in Ōtāhuhu, Auckland.

The Foodtown ‘all-convenience’ store offered ‘one stop shopping’, selling meat and produce as well as other grocery items. A local retailer, Tom Ah Chee, had observed retailing trends in the United States and also knew that an increasing number of Kiwis had cars. He figured that if his business offered free car parking, ‘all those cars would belong to my customers’. The rest, as they say, is history.

Ah Chee and his business partners Norm Kent and John Brown could scarcely believe the immediate impact their store had. On opening day most of the stock was gone by lunchtime, and advertisements were broadcast on the local radio station telling people not to come to Foodtown.

Black Budget

Arnold Nordmeyer

In late 1957 New Zealand’s prosperity was disturbed by one of the most severe balance of payments crises of the 20th century. The balance of payments is the net value of New Zealand’s financial transactions with the rest of the world. The new Labour government’s Minister of Finance, Arnold Nordmeyer, responded in 1958 with a Budget that aimed to reduce the demand for imports by increasing taxes on petrol, cars, alcohol and tobacco.

Nordmeyer neither smoked nor drank, and as a result had a reputation as a ‘wowser’. Critics labelled it a ‘black Budget’, and the name stuck. Many traditional Labour voters were angry about what they saw as an attack on their ‘simple pleasures’. National exploited the fallout to win a 12-seat majority in the 1960 general election.

‘Lawdy Miss Clawdy’

Johnny Devlin

The ‘Wanganui Elvis’, Johnny Devlin, was New Zealand’s answer to Elvis Presley. He had his first no. 1 hit with a cover of ‘Lawdy Miss Clawdy’ in June 1958. Recorded at Auckland’s Jive Centre in May, it was released on the Prestige label.

Aficionados slammed the recording quality as ‘awful’, but Auckland teenagers couldn’t get enough of it. When sales topped 2000, radio stations could no longer ignore it. Within a few weeks the disc was at the top of the Lever Hit Parade. By August 10,000 discs had been sold and Devlin was in hot demand. By October he had recorded a dozen new tracks. New Zealand’s first rock ‘n’ roll star had risen.

Other events in 1958:

  • Pioneering heart surgeon Brian Barratt-Boyes undertook New Zealand’s first open heart surgery at Green Lane Hospital in Auckland. The procedure, performed on an 11-year-old girl with a hole in her heart, used a Melrose Heart Lung machine adapted by local technicians.
  • The Pay As You Earn (PAYE) system was introduced for income tax. Previously paid retrospectively as an annual lump sum, income tax would now be deducted from pay fortnightly.
  • The first temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the southern hemisphere was opened in Christchurch.
  • The Auckland Trotting Club held the first night meeting in the country at Alexandra Park on New Year’s Eve with 30,000 punters in attendance.
  • The Wairākei geothermal power station opened. This was the first time that geothermal steam had been used to generate power in New Zealand, and only the second time in the world.
  • The first jet-assisted aircraft to operate in New Zealand began service when NAC introduced Vickers Viscount turboprop aircraft on the Auckland–Christchurch route.

How to cite this page

1958 - key events, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated