The following is a small sample of the achievers/accomplishments to come from New Zealand, a country of over-achievers that has more than fifteen sheep for each person and only just reached a population of four million:
- Ernest Rutherford: the "father of nuclear physics" and winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
- Richard Pearse: first man to fly, on or about 31 March 1903 near Waitohi, and unlike the Wright brothers who flew approximately eight months later, Pearse did so without any external funding, support, or assistance as he had to work in secret.
- Edmund Hillary: first man to climb Mount Everest.
- Colin Murdoch: inventor of the disposable syringe.
- William Pickering: as Director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, he was the man behind the USA's first successful rocket launch, that of Explorer I in response to the Soviet launch of Sputnik.
- First to grant female suffrage: in 1893, New Zealand was the first country in the world to give women the right to vote.
- Julius Vogel: the only practising Jew to be head of state of any nation outside of Israel.
- Two consecutive female heads of state: New Zealand is one of only two countries to have two consecutive female heads of state in Jenny Shipley and Helen Clark. (Personally, I don't think this point or the last are of much consequence as it's the quality of the leader that matters, not their gender or religion, but they're interesting facts nonetheless.)
- Alexander Aitken: an astonishing mathematician who was the "greatest mental calculator for whom there is any reliable record", able to multiply two nine-digit numbers in thirty seconds, recite Pi to 707 decimal places, and convert 4/47 to 26 decimal places in four seconds.
- Harold Williams: acknowledged by the Guinness Book of Records as the world's greatest linguist, fluent in more than fifty-eight languages as well as multiple dialects.
- William Atack: first man to use a whistle to control a game of sport, and yes, it was a game of rugby. I don't know about you, but I can't imagine sport without the referee's whistle.
- The All Blacks: indisputably the single greatest rugby union team ever and maybe the greatest sports team of all time. The only nation to even come close to us statistically in the international test arena is South Africa; Australia and the Northern powers look like a pack of pansies in comparison. The first team to play as New Zealand took the field in 1884 and since then, we have won an incredible 84% of our games. I simply can't think of any team in any sport with such an extraordinary record.
- The Finn brothers: Neil and Tim Finn are absolutely two of the greatest and most creative musicians to grace this planet. You may know them from Split Enz or Crowded House, or simply as geniuses able to write some of the best melodic rock you'll ever hear.
- A. L. Beattie and the 4-6-2 'Pacific' steam locomotive wheel formation: arguably the most prolific, popular, and useful arrangement of steam locomotive wheel arrangements is the 4-6-2 (4 leading wheels, 6 driving wheels, 2 trailing wheels), and locomotives with this arrangement belong to the Pacific class. This wheel arrangement was initially built to the specifications created by the Chief Mechanical Engineer of the New Zealand Government Railways, A. L. Beattie, for the class Q locomotive in 1901 and was nicknamed 'Pacific' due to the voyage it had to make from the American manufacturers. Whatever you hear about the 4-6-2 arrangement first being built in 1902 and named 'Pacific' after an American railway is nothing short of bollocks caused by poor Americentric research of railway history.
- The only successful long-term application of the Fell incline and centre rail: the Rimutaka Incline that crossed the Rimutaka Ranges and linked Wellington to the Wairarapa region was the only successful long-term application in the world of John Fell's unique centre-rail design to propel trains up and control trains down exceptionally steep grades that would normally be dangerous and unfeasible (a Fell centre rail also assisted braking on the steep Rewanui branch in Westland on the South Island, but was not a full Fell incline). The Rimutaka Incline operated as a unique marvel of railway engineering from 12 October 1878 to late October 1955, when the line was finally made redundant by a tunnel through the Rimutakas. Plans are afoot to rebuild the legendary Incline as a tourist venture; meanwhile, H 199 is preserved in Featherston as the sole example of a Fell style locomotive in the world.
Some days, I'm so bloody proud of my country.