In the early 1970s the Palmerston North local satirist John Clarke invented the comic figure of the black-singletted, gumboot- wearing Fred Dagg.
He was instantly a hit with the New Zealand public and sported a look that is still recognisable to New Zealanders. Fred wore a crumpled hat, black singlet, ripped shorts and gumboots making him a celebration as well as a mockery of the typical “kiwi bloke”.
He appears to be simple but held a charming, humorous and fantastic view of the world. With his subtle humour he wowed the audiences, making such an impression with New Zealand that he has been an icon ever since.
He only ever recorded three hours of television time but
that was enough to charm a nation. The Fred Dagg character allowed John to venture into song with The Gumboot Song, and We Don’t Know How Lucky We Are, just to name a couple. Both songs remain two extremely well known kiwi anthems.
John Clarke moved to Australia in the late 1970’s, but Fred Dagg lives on as an enduring Kiwi icon in New Zealand, even inspiring an annual Gumboot Festival in the farming town of Taihape. Since moving overseas John Clarke has gone on to establish himself as a top script writer and personality and has been involved in film making. He still appears regularly on Australian television doing political satire sketches with actor comedian Bryan Dawe. In the process of this blog we had the awesome opportunity of grabbing John Clarke’s opinion on Palmerston North from when he lived here. And this is what he said...
I was born in Palmerston North in 1948. We lived in Milverton Avenue and I went to College St School. I remember PN with great fondness. Kids developed a sense of independence, possibly because each kid had a bike and you could be part of a squadron or fly solo. There were fewer cars on the road then and I rode out to towns like Ashhurst and Bunnythorpe with friends. I played sport with kids who went on to represent the country. There was a sense of connection with what New Zealand was about because the Manawatu was a rich farming area and the city was growing. It was a fair and even place. The rich did not live on a hill overlooking the harbour, nor the poor in a sunless valley. I hope I still carry the values I developed there.
Spoken by a true icon! His words should encourage any one living in Palmerston North today to be proud of where they are and remember that; until you go elsewhere in the world we often don’t realise how lucky we are!