Superimposed text - Innovation.


These transformative women have never been afraid to lead the pack, to be the first.

Iriaka Rātana

OBE, Te Ati Haunui-a-Paparangi

Iriaka Matiu Rātana, the first Māori woman to enter Parliament, was born in 1905 at Hiruharama (Jerusalem) on the Whanganui River.

In the early 1920s, as a young woman with her whānau she visited Rātana Pā, where Tahupōtiki Wiremu Rātana had established his spiritual and healing centre. She joined him and followers on an overseas tour in 1924 and, in 1925, she became his second wife – becoming known as Te Whaeaiti (the little mother). She worked as a leader of the women in the church and after Rātana’s death in 1939, she married Matiu Tahupōtiki Wiremu Rātana – a son from his first wife.

The church had been growing as a political force since the early 1930s, aligned with the Labour Party. Matiu Rātana became the MP for the Western Māori electorate in 1945, and after his death in a car accident in 1949, his widowed, pregnant wife put herself forward as a candidate.

Despite opposition from many sides at a woman taking such a role, Iriaka Rātana was elected with a large majority and became the first Māori woman MP, going on to serve in Parliament for the next 20 years. In this recording from the 1954 election campaign, she makes a radio broadcast in te reo Māori, urging voters to think carefully about their choice on election day.

A lifelong supporter of the Māori Women's Welfare League, Rātana was active in improving living conditions for her people, particularly in relation to housing. She retired from political life in 1969 and passed away in 1981 at the age of 76.

Find out more about Iriaka Rātana:

Read a full biography of Iriaka Rātana on Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. 

View the profile for Iriaka Rātana on

Collection reference 35259
Year 1954
Credits New Zealand Broadcasting Service

Brenda Bell


Radio pioneer Margaret Brenda Bell was born in 1891 on 'Shag Valley' – a remote sheep station in Otago, inland from Moeraki. She and her brother Frank inherited their father's interest in science and early telecommunications and spent their childhood tinkering with homemade crystal sets and picking up Morse Code signals.

After serving overseas during World War One (Brenda was a cook in a military hospital) they both returned to the farm. In 1923, Frank had success making the first overseas amateur radio connection from New Zealand, connecting with an operator in Australia. Then in October 1924, Shag Valley made international headlines when they established the first-ever connection between New Zealand and Britain – a world record in distance – and communicated with a London school teacher, Cecil Goyder. You can hear Brenda recalling the excitement of that moment when they bridged the gap, in this excerpt from a radio programme from 1964.

After Frank began managing the family farm full-time, Brenda took over the radio – becoming the first woman wireless operator in New Zealand. She made the first radio connection between New Zealand and South Africa in 1927. She was also an active member of the Country Women's Institute (CWI) and became a member of the Dominion executive. Just before the outbreak of World War Two she led a CWI group to London to attend a world conference of country women's organisations. Brenda again took up work as a military hospital cook in England during the war.

After returning home, she began working for Dunedin radio station 4YA, which she continued until the 1950s – writing scripts and presenting programmes, often about Otago history. She remained at Shag Valley most of her life, active in many Otago community organisations, and passed away in 1979 at the age of 87.

Listen to one of Brenda Bell's 4YA radio programmes from 1950. 

Read more about Brenda and Frank's pioneering radio work on

Collection reference 236440
Year 1964
Credits RNZ National

Zoë Bell

As a child Zoë Bell had no real idea that she could be a stuntwoman – that is, until her father, a doctor, came home with a phone number procured while treating a stuntman for a head injury. Bell made the call and soon after this innovative woman had her first stunt job – jumping out of a car in Shortland Street. That was in 1992 when Bell was just 14 years old. Since then she has been beaten up, set on fire, thrown out of high-rise buildings, ridden on the bonnet of speeding cars and much, much more.

Bell began regular stunt work on local productions Hercules: the Legendary Journeys and then Xena: Warrior Princess (by season four she was Xena’s stunt double), before moving to Hollywood. Her big break came when she was cast as Uma Thurman’s stunt double in the Tarantino film Kill Bill. Bell’s talents as a stuntwoman were recognised in the 2004 documentary Double Dare, which focuses on her and veteran stuntwoman Jeannie Epper. Since that time Bell has also taken on acting roles, and won numerous awards for her stunt work.

In this extract from a Close Up interview, recorded when she was in Aotearoa promoting Double Dare, Bell practices a few stunts on reporter Haydn Jones while talking about her career.

Watch more about Zoë Bell:

Driver distractions with Zoë Bell, television commercial for Auckland Transport, 2019

Zoë Bell talks to the Hollywood Reporter about her early career. 

Read more about Zoë Bell:

Kiwi stuntwoman Zoë Bell talks Taika, Tarantino and saving ugly animals

Collection reference TZP605422
Year 2004
Credits Reporter: Haydn Jones

Shirley Maddock


When television arrived in Aotearoa in 1960, there was no real infrastructure for the new medium. Fortunately, the innovative Shirley Maddock stepped in. At the time a scriptwriter, announcer and researcher with Radio New Zealand, Maddock had some television experience and soon became our first television news writer, our first television interviewer and then, our first woman producer. 

It wasn’t until 1965 however, with a documentary called A Capital Move, that Maddock was allowed to use the credit title “Producer”. Until then the role of Producer was considered a male domain and even though she was already actively producing, she had to make do with the credit line “devised, written and arranged by”.

For Maddock, television was an opportunity to reflect New Zealand and to show us who we are. She realised early on that people love to see the places and the people they know. To that end she produced groundbreaking historical documentary series such as Islands of the Gulf (1964) and The Tall Trees and the Gold (1966). Maddock’s interest in New Zealand history wasn’t limited to television, she also produced a number of books and in 1999 received a New Zealand Order of Merit for services to radio and television broadcasting and New Zealand historical literature.

In 2018 Shirley Maddock’s daughter, Elisabeth Easther remade Islands of the Gulf – in an interview at that time she remarked, “There was no other woman doing what she did. She didn't need a role model, she became one".

In this excerpt from a Sounds Historical radio documentary by Jim Sullivan, Shirley Maddock talks about recording and safeguarding New Zealand stories and about gaining the Producer title.

Find out more about Shirley Maddock:

Read this blog about The Uncertain Season, a programme made by Shirley Maddock.

Read about The remaking of Islands of the Gulf.

See Shirley Maddock’s biography on NZ On Screen.

Collection reference 11505
Year 1993
Credits Interviewer: Jim Sullivan, Sounds Historical, RNZ National

Sylvia Ashton-Warner


Teacher and writer Sylvia Ashton-Warner MBE, developed new approaches to teaching children which are still influential in New Zealand teacher training today. In the 1930s, she and her husband Keith Henderson, who was also a teacher, began working in primary schools in rural New Zealand which were part of the system of 'native' schools, whose students were largely Māori.

After suffering some mental health problems, Ashton-Warner began writing and also started developing her theories about encouraging creativity in children. The couple taught around the East Coast of the North Island and in settlements on the Whanganui River. 

Ashton-Warner published several articles but in 1958 her first novel, Spinster, was released and became a best-seller internationally. It is a fictional account of a passionate and artistic teacher developing her teaching scheme, while working with Māori children in a remote rural school. It was later made into a feature film starring Shirley MacLaine.

She continued writing all her life publishing several more novels as well as short stories and books on her educational theories. She taught teachers in Canada and the United States and in 1979 published her autobiography, which was also turned into the feature film Sylvia

In this excerpt from a 1966 radio interview she explains that the personal statement and convictions of an author are more important in fiction than the subject matter or setting.

Find out more about Sylvia Ashton-Warner:

Watch a 1978 television interview with Sylvia Ashton-Warner

Listen to memories from one of her Pipiriki pupils.

Read about Sylvia Ashton-Warner on Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand

View the profile for Sylvia Ashton-Warner by the New Zealand Book Council

Collection reference 5268
Year 1966
Credits RNZ National

Sarsha-Leigh Douglas

Ngāti Maru, Te Arawa, Ngāti Raukawa, Ngāti Kahungunu

Sarsha-Leigh Douglas is an innovative woman who has combined her interests in Te Ao Māori, politics and punk. What’s more she has done so in way that makes these improbable bedfellows a likely fit! Within punk Douglas found egalitarian philosophies and an ethos of freedom and autonomy that resonated with indigenous ways of seeing the world. 

The result?, as well as playing in four bands and experimenting with te reo Māori in songs Douglas also has a Masters Degree in Māori Punkology and a thesis Outcasts and Orchestrators: Finding Indigeneity in Aotearoa Punk Culture.

Watch as Sarsha-Leigh Douglas talks to Marae reporter, Yvonne Tahana.

Find out more about Sarsha-Leigh Douglas:

Read an interview with Sarsha-Leigh Douglas on The Spinoff.

View Douglas's thesis. 

Collection reference TZP452935
Year 2014
Credits Presenter: Miriama Kamo; Reporter: Yvonne Tahana

Karyn Hay

Karyn Hay began working with TVNZ at a time when elocution lessons were mandatory for all public broadcast announcers. After securing her position on Radio with Pictures she attended her first lesson. Whether the teacher thought she was unteachable, or he just liked the sound of her Kiwi tones isn’t known, but he suggested she sounded just fine and that her voice would be the making of her. His advice was prescient and Hay became widely known for her innovation in bringing a New Zealand accent onto television and into our lounge rooms. 

Karyn Hay is also a successful novelist, a Frank Sargeson Fellow, director and producer, and is currently the host of Lately on Radio New Zealand.

Listen to Karyn Hay announce the line up for a 1981 episode of Radio with Pictures.

Find out more about Karyn Hay:

Read more about Karyn Hay on Wikipedia.

View Karen Hay's NZ On Screen biography.

Watch this Karyn Hay Bata Bullet ad from our Sellebration exhibition

Collection reference TZP97550
Year 1981
Credits Producer: Tony Holden; Presenter: Karyn Hay

Dr Michelle Dickinson (Nanogirl)

MNZM, aka Nanogirl

Nanogirl, the innovative alter-ego of scientist and nanotechnologist Dr Michelle Dickinson, has a mission to inspire, educate and empower. 

A science-savvy female, Nanogirl battles classroom boredom – she makes science fun and uses her engineering skills to solve challenges in her life. Michelle Dickinson created Nanogirl to break stereotypes and to show that science isn’t a boring subject. Her innovative thinking has really paid off – Nanogirl not only visits classrooms around the country, she also has a live show and a street style show. Look out for Nanogirl in your neighbourhood!

In this One News excerpt we see Nanogirl, experiments and all-round science fun.

Find out more about Dr Michelle Dickinson and Nanogirl:

Watch Dickinson explain nanotechnology as Nanogirl on YouTube. 

Find out more about Nanogirl on Dickinson's website.

Listen to Nanogirl's Great Science Adventures podcast for kids on RNZ.

Collection reference TZP458636
Year 2015
Credits Reporter: Dean Butler

Hinewehi Mohi

MNZM, Ngāti Kahungunu

It was innovative thinking that led singer Hinewehi Mohi to establish the Raukatauri Music Therapy Centre in 2004. Named for her daughter, Hineraukatauri, who was born with severe cerebral palsy, Mohi recognised how music helped her daughter. 

The centre acknowledges our innate responsiveness to music and uses music therapies to provide a vehicle to assist with growth and development. Since 2004, the Raukatauri Music Therapy Centre has helped thousands of people and has expanded, opening its first Regional Centre in the Hawke’s Bay in 2018.

This One News report was broadcast the day the Raukatauri Music Therapy Centre opened in 2004.

Find out more about Hinewehi Mohi:

Visit the Raukatauri Music Therapy Centre.

Read the NZ Herald's 12 Questions with Hinewehi Mohi.

Collection reference TZP286363
Year 2004
Credits Reporter: Rawdon Christie

Sophie Pascoe


Swimmer Sophie Pascoe is the trailblazing, standard-bearer for Para sport in Aotearoa. 

Competing in her first Paralympics in Beijing (2008) when she was just 15 years old, Pascoe was the youngest New Zealand competitor. Her goal was to come home with a gold medal – a dream she’d held since she was ten – instead she came home with three golds and a sliver! 

Sophie Pascoe has now competed at three Paralympics, most recently in Rio (2016) where she won five medals and broke a world record. She now holds 15 Paralympic medals (nine gold) and is a multiple world champion.

Pascoe was named flag bearer for the New Zealand team at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in 2018.

Watch this profile of Sophie Pascoe broadcast on Close Up ahead of the 2008 Beijing Paralympics.

Find out more about Sophie Pascoe and her para swimming success. 

Collection reference TZP355985
Year 2008
Credits Reporter: Jendy Harper

Elizabeth Yates

Elizabeth Yates was the sensation of the British Empire in 1893 when she was elected Mayor of Onehunga – the first woman in the Empire to hold such a high office. 

A strong supporter of the suffrage movement, Yates was the first woman to cast her vote in the Onehunga Electorate in the general election on 28 November 1893 (the first in which New Zealand women could vote) and the following day she was elected Mayor. During her year-long tenure, this innovative woman liquidated the borough debt, established a sinking fund, upgraded roads, footpaths and sanitation and reorganised the fire brigade.

Watch this footage of Elizabeth Yates re-enacting a speech she would have given to the Onehunga Borough Council.

Find out more about Elizabeth Yates:

Read more about Elizabeth Yates on

Read the full Dictionary of New Zealand Biography entry for Elizabeth Yates.

Collection reference F90103
Year 1900
Credits Camera: Enos Silvanus Pegler

Carmen Rupe

Ngāti Maniapoto

Carmen Rupe, better known as 'Carmen', moved to Wellington in the late 1960s. At a time when homosexuality was still outlawed in Aotearoa, this innovative woman established a number of sexually tolerant venues and was a spokesperson challenging sexual discrimination and prejudice. She often spoke to the press, after one interview where she suggested some MPs were gay or bisexual, Carmen was summoned by the Prime Minister, Robert Muldoon to appear before the Parliamentary Privileges Committee. 

Carmen’s lifestyle and beliefs were revolutionary to many – a vivacious performer, businesswoman, brothel keeper, LGBT rights and HIV/AIDS activist – she has become a cultural icon and role model.

In this extract from the documentary Carmen, Rupe talks about being summoned to the Privileges Committee.

Find out more about Carmen Rupe:

Listen toan interview with Carmen.

Read more about Carmen.

View Carmen's biography on the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Collection reference F8772
Year 1989
Credits Director/Producer: Geoff Stevens

Hon Luamanuvao Dame Winnie Laban


In the 1999 General Election, Luamanuvao Winnie Laban became our first Pacific Island woman MP. Elected on the Labour List, she won the Mana electorate in 2002 and held it until 2010, when she retired from politics to take up the newly established position of Assistant Vice-Chancellor (Pasifika) at Victoria University of Wellington. 

An innovative woman of the Pacific and a proud New Zealander, Luamanuvao believes that through storytelling, we grow in our understanding of each other and can celebrate the richness and increasing diversity of our multicultural nation.

In this extract from her Valedictory Speech, upon leaving Parliament, Luamanuvao compares the monocultural New Zealand of her youth with our increasingly multicultural society. Courtesy of Parliament TV.

Read more about Luamanuvao Dame Winnie Laban

Collection reference N/A
Year 2010
Credits Production: Parliament TV

Lisa Taouma

From script writing to producing and directing, Lisa Taouma’s innovative career has increased the presence of Pasifika on television and online. Working for Tagata Pasifika, Tauoma brought Polyfest to mainstream television and later produced Fresh – a New Zealand youth series for Pacific Islanders. 

In 2014, she established – a hub for Pacific moving image content, which she describes as "prompting connectivity and conversations for Pacificans around the world" – a phrase that could also be used to describe her own career. 

In 2015, Lisa Taouma received the Special Recognition Award at the Creative New Zealand Arts Pasifika Awards.

In this clip from a Tagata Pasifika profile, Tauoma talks about her short film Talk of the Town and how she deliberately looks for stories about people who aren’t usually represented.

Watch the NZ On Screen screentalk with Lisa Taouma

Collection reference TZP165324
Year 1995
Credits Director/Reporter: Osone Okesene

Dame Jane Campion


Trailblazing director Jane Campion is the only woman to have won the prestigious Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. What’s more, she is one of only four women ever nominated for the Best Director Oscar since the first Academy Awards in 1929 (in 1994 when she was nominated for The Piano, 348 men and two women had been nominated for Best Director!). 

She won an Oscar in 1994 for Best Original Screenplay for The Piano. Campion’s films have all been from a female point-of-view – she is a role model and an inspiration for women filmmakers around the globe.

In this interview recorded just before the 1994 Academy Awards, Jane Campion talks to Ian Fraser about the Oscars, filmmaking, feminism and Hollywood.

Find out more about Dame Jane Campion:

Explore articles about and interviews with Jane Campion published in The Guardian

Read about Campion at NZ On Screen

View Jane Campion's profile at The Arts Foundation

Collection reference F230195
Year 1994
Credits Presenter: Ian Fraser