Consider the kiwi, the national bird of a small pair of volcanic islands flung out onto the Pacific like an inverted exclamation mark.
No poised swan or lavish peacock graces the coins and tourist keyrings of New Zealand; neither loudmouthed Tui nor acrobatic kingfisher is the feathered friend causing the tourists to, er, flock. The folk of the land worked with what was available locally – a small timid brown bird with a distinctive spindly beak and large awkward feet, that looks as though it finds all the attention excruciatingly embarrassing.
Appearing in photos like the sulky teenager of the avian world, the kiwi is precious because endangered and unique to the nation fighting to establish an identity distinct from its glamorous older sister across the sea.
Fragile and shy, it avoids eye contact with the faces and cameras thrust daily into its beak. But despite, or perhaps because of, its unassuming nature, it has become a much-loved part of New Zealand’s identity – the people have even named themselves after the little creature.
When someone finally got around to asking the kiwi about its rise to stardom, it muttered that it was trying to become extinct on purpose so as to have some peace and quiet, and that it would accept payment for the interview in cigarettes. Dave was his name. Eventually he made a break for freedom and now dwells behind the bins at pak-n-save and doesn’t talk to anyone.