Primary school children eating apples in 1944.

An Apple a Day…

10 Feb 2016
The story of our favourite fruit and the huge export industry that has grown up around it.

By Sarah Johnston

The early months of the year are harvest time in the Hawke’s Bay, Nelson, and other apple-growing regions of New Zealand. You can hear me talking to RNZ’s Jesse Mulligan about the recordings held by Ngā Taonga or you can listen to the full recordings below.

In 1940, during World War II, the New Zealand apple harvest was unable to be exported in such quantities as usual, because of the war affecting international shipping.  So there were something close to a million extra cases of apples that needed to be consumed domestically! To get Kiwis eating more apples, radio promotions such as a national apple-pie recipe competition were held and school children were encouraged to take at least one apple with them to school every day. Another competition was held to find a song to promote apples, and it was won by Ivan Perrin, who came came up with new lyrics to an old tune.¹  Here is one version of his winning “New Zealand Apple Song,” performed by Theo Walters’ Personality Band. The female vocalist is not identified on the disc, but may be Jean McPherson, New Zealand’s “Sweetheart of the Forces.”

Hero image: Primary school children eating apples. (John Dobree Pascoe, 1944 - National Library)

'The New Zealand Apple Song' - Theo Walters’ Personality Band (1940).

Poster of two red apples hanging from a branch, with arrangement of text top and bottom. Includes logo of silver fern with "New Zealand" in scroll across it. (1940-60s)

'New Zealand Apples' (Coloured photolithograph c1940-1960 - National Library).

A rendition of Perrin’s “Apple Song” was also recorded by the children of Wellington’s Lyall Bay School and became hugely popular. An article in The Listener in March 1940 printed the lyrics “in response to many requests” and noted the daily playing of the song at 8.15am on commercial ZB radio stations, along with the ringing of a school bell, had become “a Dominion-wide signal for school kiddies to be on their way”.²

Any time is apple time
Whether you’re 9 or 99
Here’s a healthy golden rule
Take an apple each day to school
Munch it, crunch it
Call for more
Crunch it, munch it
Eat it right down ‘til you reach the core
Any time is apple time
Whether it’s wet or whether it’s fine
Don’t neglect this daily rule
Take some apples with you to school.

Sadly, the original Lyall Bay School recording no longer exists, although a performance was re-recorded for a school reunion in 2002.

Later in the 1950s, a “New Apple Song” was also commissioned as a radio promotion to keep up apple consumption. Here it is sung by New Zealand baritone Stewart Harvey.

'The New Apple Song' - Stewart Harvey (1950s).

A 1935 poster  Shows a hand reaching up to pluck an apple from a branch on which are several other apples. At the right is a full wooden case of apples.

'For Health & Economy, Buy Your Apples By the Case' (Chromolithograph 1935 - National Library).

Today an international army of backpackers, travellers and Pacific workers on temporary permits help to pick, sort and pack the apple harvest. But back in the 1950s it was an all-Kiwi workforce. In those days, apples were individually wrapped in tissue paper and packed into wooden crates for shipping. Apple-packing was quite an art and in 1955 a National Apple Packing Contest was held to highlight this skill. It was covered in a weekly radio news programme called Radio Digest:

In 1992 RNZ’s Spectrum programme visited the apple harvest in Hawke’s Bay and producer Jerome Cvitanovich interviewed growers, pickers and packers. Despite the hard work and ever-present danger of frost and hail destroying the crop, most of the interviewees seemed very enthusiastic about the lifestyle.

'It’s all go now' - Spectrum 759 (1992).


  1. Peter Downes and Peter Harcourt. Voices in the Air: Radio Broadcasting in New Zealand. Methuen: Radio New Zealand, 1976. p. 129. 
  2. The New Zealand Listener, 29 March 1940. p. 47

Audio clips are from Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision’s Radio Collection, all rights reserved. To enquire about re-use of these items please contact us.