Taihape, the Gumboot Capital of the World

An idea promoted in 1985 has now developed into much more and this aspect of Taihape provides fun, enjoyment, and a serious sporting activity, with an annual Gumboot Day, activities around the town and the famous Jeff Thomson gumboot sculpture at the Northern entrance to the town.

History of Gumboot Day

To discuss the evolution of GUMBOOT DAY it is necessary to firstly examine the reasons for such a promotion and to examine the problems facing small town communities in Rural New Zealand. By 1985 the effects of the post subsidy era in Agriculture were being felt in town and country alike. This was the time when the Government of the day removed subsidies from agricultural inputs such as fertiliser and drench etc. whilst making our exports more competitive, it at the same time had the effect of reducing incomes thus causing a reduction in the spending ability in small towns such as Taihape. In addition to this, the town was also experiencing the down-sizing of New Zealand Railways. The population of the town fell from 3500 in the early 1960s to about 1800 in 1985. To survive the town needed to take action.

Late in 1984 ‘Taihape Promotions’ held a series of meetings searching for ways and means by which the effects of the imminent downturn might be averted. During one of these brainstorming exercises Pam & David Sykes, Denis Robertson, Martin Little, Henry Fleury and others, decided to build on the ideas of the comedian John Clark who was experiencing considerable success with “The GUMBOOT song". He also referred to the “Taihape University Seat of Joinery". It was decided to attempt to halt the traffic on State Highway One by providing a promotional activity to entice travellers to stop and see what Taihape had to offer. GUMBOOT DAY was born.

It was decided to make the most of the busiest traffic day of the year when the shops would also be open. Consequently, Easter Tuesday was selected, Pam Sykes accepted the position of organiser and on Tuesday 9 April 1985, GUMBOOT DAY was held at Gumboot Park at the northern entrance to the town.

The first GUMBOOT DAY consisted of gumboot throwing, gumboot races, Fred Dagg look-alikes, decorated gumboots and shop window displays providing a day when town and country alike could get together and enjoy themselves whilst at the same time selling the town to the rest of New Zealand.

The second GUMBOOT DAY in 1986 provided an opportunity to develop the Taihape University theme. Degrees in “Gumboot Throwology" were awarded by Michael Abraham the Professor of the University, and Roger Blackiston the Dean. The attempt on the gumboot throwing record has become a fixture for the event. Christine Le Varis coined the term ‘Gumboot Country’ and designed the distinctive logo that has become synonymous with the town and the event.

Since 1985 many novel ideas and themes have been explored. The venue has been changed and also the date but overall concepts remain. Taihape GUMBOOT DAY is a well established promotional activity on both local and overseas calendars, providing both family fun and a serious sporting event - the North Island Boot Throwing Championships. Elizabeth Mortland is President of the NZ Boot Throwing Association (NZBTA), which is affiliated to the International Boot Throwing Association (IBTA).  The World Championships 2016 were held in Kinnula, Finland, on 9-10 July.  Contact Elizabeth in the Talk Up Taihape office. Check our What's On section for the next Gumboot Day in Taihape.

The Gumboot Sculpture

In 1997 Jeff Thomson had a chance meeting with Taihape’s Brown Sugar owners Lee & Charlotte, which resulted in sketches on a serviette of a thrown gumboot being passed on to the Gumboot Country Promotions Inc (GCP) co-ordinator, Jan Byford.  After much discussion with the GCP committee and consultation with Jeff, he was commissioned to build the gumboot as a celebration of the millennium and to identify Taihape’s icon in the most appropriate rural art medium, corrugated iron.  Sponsorship was granted by PowercoTrust & Byfords Construction along with other local businesses and Gumboot Day profits.

Jeff used the Byford Construction yard as the building site, completing this icon for Taihape in August 2000.  The Gumboot was placed in the Outback initially, and with the construction of the new toilet block, the relocation of the Gumboot to SH1 was essential and timely.  It was vital to ensure that this high profile art piece was sited in the best position considering the right elevation and most fitting surrounds. 

With the Council’s policy for public art works the Gumboot sits under Council’s long term care and maintenance. 

To date the Gumboot has interested and intrigued the public from all over the world.  It is photographed, climbed on, sat on and touched by many and now, being at the more accessible site, will continue to provide much interest to SH1 traffic.

In 2015, the Meet n Greet Group added the ‘Taihape’ sign in front of the gumboot so that photographers can always remember where the gumboot is!

See Jan Byford's article for More information on the sculpture.

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