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 faced some criticism 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. In October 1957, driving modified Ferguson farm tractors, they 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’.
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, ‘then 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.
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 measures 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 tried to reduce demand for imports by increasing the excise duties on petrol, cars, alcohol and tobacco.
Nordmeyer himself neither smoked nor drank and as a result earned a reputation as a ‘wowser’. When critics labelled it a ‘black Budget’, the name stuck. Many traditional Labour voters were angry about what they saw as an attack on the ‘simple pleasures of life’. National was able to exploit the fallout to full advantage in the 1960 general election.
The ‘Wanganui Elvis’, Johnny Devlin, was New Zealand’s answer to Elvis Presley. He had his first number one hit with a cover of ‘Lawdy Miss Clawdy’ in June 1958. It was recorded at the Jive Centre in May and released on the Prestige label.
The recording quality was considered to be ‘awful’ by the experts 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 records 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 arrived.