Inspirational New Zealand women


These exceptional women are the ones we look up to – the women who have dazzled us with their words and deeds.

Allison Roe


Long-distance runner Allison Roe burst onto the world athletics stage in 1981 when she won both the Boston and New York marathons in record times. But this success was the culmination of years of intensive training and competing in athletics at a high level.

As a girl, she had been involved in cross-country running and was inspired by meeting Olympic gold medallist Peter Snell. She won the national title in 1975 and represented New Zealand internationally at cross country. She continued to race in international cross country before tackling the marathon circuit, with great success.

Sadly, a fall and injury meant Roe could not compete when women's marathon became an event at the 1984 Olympics. However, her international success meant she was in demand for sports promotions and product endorsements and she also had a career as a television sports commentator.

Roe established her own sports event promotion and television production company and has been active in local body politics and on the District Health Board in Auckland's North Shore.

She competes in mountain biking and won gold at the World Masters Games in her age bracket, in 2017. In 2018, she was inducted into the New York Road Runners Hall of Fame.

In this "Trailblazers" profile of her (recorded for commercial radio sports programming to mark the 1993 Suffrage centenary), you can hear coverage of her New York marathon win in 1981.

Read more about Allison Roe:

On the NZ History website

On her own website

Collection reference 15543
Year 1993
Credits Trailblazers, RNZ Sport

Bic Runga

ONZM, Ngāti Kahungunu

Internationally successful singer-songwriter Bic Runga grabbed the attention of music fans in 1996 when, at the age of 20, she released her debut single Drive, which went on to be a Top-10 hit and won her the APRA Silver Scroll for songwriting that year. Her debut album of the same name was released in 1997, with the second single Sway also reaching the Top 10.

Christchurch-born Runga had come to the notice of the recording industry when she took part in the Smokefree Rockquest as a high school student. Music was a big part of her family life, with her Māori father and Chinese-Malaysian mother both coming from musical backgrounds. Her sisters Pearl and Boh are involved in the industry as well.

In August 1997, on the eve of the release of her first album (which she also wrote, arranged and produced), Runga was interviewed live on Radio New Zealand and, as you can hear in this excerpt, interviewer John Campbell was an enthusiastic fan.

Runga's career has continued since then, with her winning multiple awards for her subsequent work. In 2006, she was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to music, and in 2016 she was inducted into the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame.

Find out more about Bic Runga:

Check out Runga's website.

Find out more on Bic Runga's Audioculture profile page.

Collection reference 36894
Year 1997
Credits Interviewer: John Campbell, Top o' the Morning, RNZ National

Dame Alison Holst


A beloved Kiwi icon and the first lady of New Zealand food, the inspirational Dame Alison Holst spent more than 50 years pursuing her passion for cooking – and to the delight of thousands of New Zealanders she generously shared that passion with us!

Here’s How: Alison Holst Cooks launched on television in 1964 and was followed by regular cooking series, one-off specials, radio features, guest appearances, newspaper columns and 99 books. As Helen Leach, emeritus professor of Anthropology at Otago University says of Alison Holst, “she guided New Zealand domestic cooks through a revolution … when we began to embrace the cuisines of other countries … Alison not only made things nice, but practical and doable". Making things doable for the home chef was Holst’s trademark and this endeared her to New Zealanders who twice voted her onto New Zealand’s 'Most Trusted Top 10' (in 2010 and 2014). 

Holst retired from cooking and public life in 2015 – her work is continued by her son and cooking partner, Simon Holst.

In this excerpt from "Femme de la Crème", broadcast on Close Up in 1984, Holst tells how important it is for her to connect with home cooks and to do something interesting and different with the basic ingredients we already have in the cupboard.

Find out more about Dame Alison Holst:

Visit Holst Online – Kiwi Cooking with Simon and Alison Holst. 

Read an article about her work and legacy on 

Read Paula Harris’ “That one time I spent Christmas with Alison Holst”, The Spinoff, December 2018. 

Collection reference TZP10535
Year 1986
Credits: Director: Elizabeth Raizis; Producer: Mark Westmoreland; Reporter: Ted Sheehan

Selina Tusitala Marsh


The fast-talking Pasifika Poet Laureate, Dr Selina Tusitala Marsh was the first person of Pacific Island descent to graduate with a PhD in English from Auckland University, where she now lectures. She creates inspirational poetry that embraces contemporary issues and breaks traditional stereotypes of what a poet should be. Her spoken word poetry draws on her Samoan heritage and oral traditions of the Pacific.

Tusitala Marsh’s poetry is often in response to others' pigeonholing and stereotyping, especially of Pacific Islanders. She encourages readers to embrace the best of all “their many parts”. As Nicky Pellegrino wrote in the NZ Herald, “For Marsh, poetry is an inclusive rather that elitist art form". 

Tusitala Marsh has received many awards for her poetry. Her first collection – Fast Talking PI – made the Top 5 Bestsellers List soon after publication and won the 2010 NZSA Jessie MacKay Best First Book Award for Poetry and Best First Book at the 2010 New Zealand Book Awards. She was named Commonwealth Poet 2015 and Poet Laureate for 2017 to 2019.

This excerpt from Tagata Pasifika is from the launch of Selina Tusitala Marsh’s first book of poetry, Fast Talking PI.

Find out more about Selina Tusitala Marsh:

View the Selina Tusitala Marsh page on Pasifika Poetry. 

See the Selina Tusitala Marsh page on the NZ Book Council website. 

Watch 'New Zealand, the Lucky Country', a TEDx talk by Selina Tusitala Marsh. 

Check out Aotearoa Reads: "NZ poet Selina Tusitala Marsh visits (and sasses) the Queen". 

Listen to Unity – a Tusitala Marsh piece.

Listen to a Kathryn Ryan, RNZ interview with Tusitala Marsh. 

Search for Selina Tusitala Marsh on Youtube. 

Collection reference TZP366229
Year 2009
Credits Director/Reporter: Nikki Si'ulepa

Mabel Bowden Howard

Mabel Howard was the first woman to be appointed as a cabinet minister in New Zealand. Born in Australia she moved to Christchurch as a child after the death of her mother. Her father was involved in Labour politics and entered Parliament but passed away in 1939. Howard had followed in his footsteps as a trade unionist and was very active in community organisations and also sat on the Christchurch City Council for several terms through the 1930s and 1960s.

She was elected as MP for Christchurch East in a by-election in 1943. She worked in Parliament on many issues affecting women, including social welfare, consumer protection and equal pay. After re-election, in 1947 she was appointed as Minister of Health and Child Welfare. Her exuberant personality saw her wave two pairs of women's bloomers in the House during a debate about inconsistent sizing in the garment industry – an action for which she is often best remembered today. 

She maintained an open door in her electorate office and was well-known for taking a personal interest in her constituents and helping with their problems. Howard was very fond of cats and was for many years president of the SPCA in Christchurch. In the 1957 Labour government she succeeded in passing the Animals Protection Act. In this excerpt from a biographical radio programme she recalls that her election in 1943 was to her, "much more exciting than being appointed to Cabinet".

Find out more about Mabel Howard:

Watch a 1947 film of Mabel Howard after her appointment to Cabinet.

Listen to the full 1954 radio interview with Howard.

Collection reference 32257
Year 1954
Credits Portrait from Life, RNZ National

Sheila Natusch


Naturalist, writer and illustrator, Sheila Natusch was an inspirational woman who approached everything with gusto and positivity. Whether it was swimming with seals at Red Rocks, publishing over 30 titles, or cycling 1,200 km from Picton to Bluff on a 1958-style bicycle, Natusch didn’t lose energy on negative ideas or disliking something or hating someone – she just didn’t have the time to waste. She thoroughly enjoyed everything! 

Born on Stewart Island, Sheila Natusch was shipped to the mainland to attend school at Southland Girls’ High and later moved to Dunedin to Teacher's College and Otago University where she became lifelong friends with fellow student Janet Frame (who is featured in the 'Luminous' women in this exhibition). 

Natusch lived most of her adult life in an austere cottage on Wellington’s South Coast, where she swam in the sea everyday – whatever the weather.

Watch the opening scenes from the 2017 feature documentary No Ordinary Sheila.

Find out more about Sheila Natusch:

Watch the No Ordinary Sheila trailer.  

Listen to RNZ Collections about Sheila Natusch. 

Read Bess Mason's, “Naturalist blessed with an inquiring mind".

Collection reference F279529
Year 2017
Credits Director: Hugh Macdonald; Producer/Script: Christine Dann; Talent: Sheila Natusch

Te Kumeroa Ngoingoi Pēwhairangi

QSM, Ngāti Porou, Te Whānau-a-Ruataupare

Ngoi Pēwhairangi is well-known as the composer who collaborated with Prince Tui Teka and Māui Dalvanius Prime and created classic hits such as "E Ipo" and the Pātea Māori Club’s "Poi E". Composition was, however, just one area where this inspirational woman excelled. Pēwhairangi was a key figure in rebuilding Māori confidence in their art, culture and crafts from the mid-1960s. Able to motivate and inspire people of all ages and ethnicities Pēwhairangi was groomed by her aunt, Tuīni Ngāwai in performance, composition and leadership from a young age. 

The accomplishments of Ngoi Pēwhairangi include being: a kapa haka expert and judge, a foundation member of Ngā Puna Waihanga (Māori Writers and Artists Association), Tairāwhiti representative on the Māori and Pacific Arts Council, a script writer and advisor for the groundbreaking television series Tangata Whenua and an advisor to the National Council for Adult Education. She worked with Kāterina Mataira to develop the language programme Te Ataarangi. 

Known as a cultural bridge builder, she was "revered for her unrelenting work for the advancement of the Māori language and culture and the development of her ideal of a bicultural nation in which Pākehā would help to ensure the survival of the Māori language".(Tania M Ka’ai, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography)

Watch this excerpt from Waiora – Waiata Rongonui, a tribute to Te Kumeroa Ngoingoi Pēwhairangi which was recorded live at Pākirikiri Marae, Tokomaru Bay, after her death in 1985.

Find out more about Ngoi Pēwhairangi:

View her profile on the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography.

Read about Ngoi Pēwhairangi on Audio Culture

See her biography on The Tāmata Toiere website.

Watch the video of the song she co-wrote – "Poi E" being sung by the Patea Maori Club

Listen to this waiata written in tribute to Ngoi Pēwhairangi by Māui Dalvanius Prime and the Tokomaru Bay Collective, sung by the Pātea Māori Club and Annie Crummer. 

Collection reference F279529
Year 1985
Credits Production: Te Waiora Trust

Leah Bell and Waimarama Anderson

Ngāti Uekaha, Ngāti Maniapoto

In 2014, after learning about the 1864 Battle of Ōrākau between Māori and British troops, a group of students from Ōtorohanga College began a campaign calling for a day to nationally recognise the New Zealand Wars of the 19th century. 

Led by Waimarama Anderson, Leah Bell and Zac Henry, the students gathered a petition of 13,000 signatures calling for a national day of commemoration.

In 2016, Leah Bell presented the petition to the Māori Affairs Select Committee at Parliament – as you can hear in this radio programme excerpt. On 9 March 2018, the first-ever, national New Zealand Wars commemoration was held at Waitangi, with the Ōtorohanga students taking part in the ceremonies.

Listen to a radio interview with Waimarama Anderson and Leah Bell on RNZ. 

Watch as the petition is presented to Parliament.

Collection reference 288151
Year 2016
Credits Reporter: Rhys Lyon, Today in Parliament, RNZ National

Beatrice Faumuina


Beatrice Faumuina’s sporting career included competing at four Commonwealth and four Olympic games. Her inspirational career isn’t just in the world of discus however. After retiring from sport in 2011, she became the inaugural Chief Executive of BEST Pasifika Leadership Academy and Charitable Foundation. There she was able to realise an ambition to see Pacific people supported and encouraged into success. 

Faumuina is the recipient of the Halberg Award, the New Zealand Order of Merit, is the 2015 winner of the World Class New Zealand Award and is a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador. 

Beatrice Faumuina is currently the Trade Commissioner and Consul General in New York.

Watch an extract from the launch of the BEST Pasifika Leadership Academy and Charitable Foundation reported on Tagata Pasifika on 29 September 2011.

Find out more about Beatrice Faumuina:

Read more about Beatrice Faumuina on the Samoan Bios website.

Read the text of Faumuina’s speech at the launch of BEST Pasifika Leadership Academy and Charitable Foundation. 

See more about Faumuina on

Catalogue Reference: P405477

Year: 2011

Credits: Reporter: Marama Papau

Dame Valerie Adams


When she was just fourteen Valerie Adams won the Under-18 National Junior Shot Put Championship. Ever since Adams’ career has been an inspiration. She is the third woman ever to win world championships at the youth, junior and senior level of an athletics event, and the first woman to win four consecutive individual titles at the IAAF World Championships. She was the IAAF world female athlete of the year for 2014. 

Adams has three gold and two silver medals from Commonwealth Games and has two gold and one silver medal from the Olympic Games. Not only that, from August 2010 to July 2015, she had a winning streak of 56 wins at elite-level competitions. Her personal best throws, 21.24 metres outdoors and 20.98 indoors, are Oceanian, Commonwealth and New Zealand national records.

Watch this extract from Holmes that profiles the 14-year-old Valerie Adams.

Find out more about Dame Valerie Adams:

View her athlete profile on the New Zealand Olympics website

Read more about Dame Valerie Adams on Wikipedia

Collection reference TZP210402
Year 1999
Credits Reporter: Ian Sinclair

Parris Goebel (Parri$)

Parris Goebel (known professionally as Parri$) has been inspiring the world through dance from a young age. Her dance crew, The Royal Family, were World Hip Hop Dance Champions for three years (2011, 2012, 2013). She has worked with famous artists from Janet Jackson, Jennifer Lopez and Rihanna to iKon and G-Dragon. 

A dancer, choreographer, singer, director and actor Goebel was named Young New Zealander of the Year in 2014. One of her notable successes was choreographing the video for Justin Bieber’s song "Sorry", which in February 2018 was the 7th-most-viewed video on YouTube – reaching close to 3 billion views and which was nominated for an MTV Video Music Award! 

Parris Goebel inspires girls to be themselves and show the world something new – as she says, “we already have Beyoncé”.

Goebel released her autobiography Young Queen: the Story of a Girl who Conquered the World in 2018.

Watch this excerpt from a Sunday profile of Parris Goebel.

Find out more about Parris Goebel: 

Read about Parris Goebel on E-Tangata.

Read an NZ Herald article – '12 questions with Parris Goebel'.

Listen to an RNZ interview with Parris Goebel

Collection reference TZP462567
Year 2015
Credits: Reporter: Erin Conroy

Eliza McCartney

Eliza McCartney began pole vaulting in 2011 at the age of 14 and by 2012 she had won not only the New Zealand Secondary School Championships, but also the National Youth (under 18) title. By 2014, the inspirational athlete was New Zealand’s Young Sportswoman of the Year! 

Initially training for the 2020 Olympics, McCartney’s ability saw her compete in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 – where she won bronze and became the youngest Olympic medallist in the women’s pole vault and only the fourth New Zealand Olympic medallist in a field event. 

In 2018, McCartney won silver at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games and, in Germany, in June she recorded her personal best of 4.92 metres, which ranks her as the fourth highest female vaulter in history.

Watch this One News profile of Eliza McCartney – 2014 Young Sportswoman of the Year.

Find out more about Eliza McCartney:

View McCartney's Athletics New Zealand Rankings and Records.

Read Eliza McCartney's Athlete Profile on IAAF

Collection reference TZP454264
Year 2014
Credits Reporter: Abby Scott

Celia Lashlie

An inspirational woman with great moral courage, Celia Lashlie was always prepared to speak out – especially for those who could not. An author, influencer and advocate for social justice, Lashlie believed communities hold the key to solving issues such as the prevalence of domestic violence, high imprisonment rates and family poverty in Aotearoa. 

Celia Lashlie worked first within the prison system and then more widely to contribute to change through working with women, particularly those at the centre of at-risk families. 

Sadly, Celia Lashlie died from cancer in 2015 – in her wake is "Celia’s Army" and the Celia Lashlie Trust who continue to inspire and influence positive social change.

In 2018, Amanda Millar’s documentary Celia – about Lashlie, her work and her legacy – premiered at the New Zealand International Film Festival.

Watch Lashlie in this One News extract as she speaks up and urges fathers to step forward and take an active role in the lives of their adolescent sons.

Find out more about Celia Lashlie:

Check out the Celia Lashlie Trust website

Explore RNZ’s Celia Lashlie Collection.

Collection reference TZP286030
Year 2004
Credits Reporter: Vicki Wilkinson-Baker

Ruia Morrison

MBE, Te Arawa, Ngāti Tūwharetoa

After spending most of her childhood with a stick in her hand, Ruia Morrison was finally allowed on court as a 12-year-old – from that moment her tennis career took off. 

Morrison was the first New Zealand woman and first Māori to play at Wimbledon, where she reached the quarter finals in 1957. 

Believing in participation, Morrison played tennis until the 1970s and all together this inspirational woman won 13 national titles (including six singles).

In this extract from Māori Tennis. Acing it at 80 Morrison reflects on her tennis career.

Find out more about Ruia Morrison:

Read Morrison's profile on the Māori Sports Awards website

Read an article about Ruia Morrison on The Spinoff .

Read Morrison's profile in the Rotorua Daily Post 's "Our People". 

Collection reference F99508
Year 2007
Credits Director / Producer / Kaihautū: Erana Keelan; Narrator: Tamati Reedy

Lucy Lawless


Asked by Sunday Magazine about “what’s the best thing about being well known?”, inspirational actor, singer and activist Lucy Lawless replied “you get the chance to use your power for good; to support charities and issues you believe in”. And she has done just that: the well-known actress is a member of the Board of Trustees for the Starship Foundation and regularly devotes time and energy to fundraising. 

Since 2009 she has been a high-profile Greenpeace Climate Ambassador, and in 2017 she received the Star 100 Ally of the Year Award at the Australian LGBTI Awards.

Watch as Lucy Lawless speaks to reporter John Hudson about climate change.

Find out more about Lucy Lawless:

View Lucy Lawless' profile at NZ On Screen

Read about Lucy Lawless: Warrior Princess on

Read an interview with Lucy Lawless.

Collection reference TZP411324
Year 2012
Credits: Producer: Jane Skinner; Reporter: John Hudson