Editorial: NZ's leading women are deserving of top honours

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New Zealand novelist Eleanor Catton. Photo / Sarah Ivey
New Zealand novelist Eleanor Catton. Photo / Sarah Ivey

This newspaper was clearly on to something when it awarded its New Zealander of the Year accolade to three young women - Eleanor Catton, Lydia Ko and Lorde. A fortnight later, it is women who again claim much of the attention in the New Year Honours. At the top of the list are Trelise Cooper and Alison Paterson, trail-blazers in the worlds of fashion and business, respectively, who are appointed dames companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit. Dame Alison has made her mark locally, acting since the 1970s as a role model for women keen to scale corporate boardrooms. Dame Trelise, for her part, has transferred her local success in fashion design on to the global stage and now has 10 flagship boutiques worldwide.

Indeed, the fashion industry finds its name in lights this year. Karen Walker and Francis Hooper, two other internationally successful designers, are made a companion and a member of the order, respectively. The awards are well timed because this country's fashion industry is now about far more than hugs, kisses, skinny models and Champagne.

Officially, apparel exports average about $230 million a year, but that is misleading because it does not include clothes made overseas and delivered directly to export markets. The honours acknowledge the true value of creative design in this country.

Other awards are equally timely, not least that to Bob Parker, who is appointed a knight companion of the order. His time as Mayor of Christchurch was, of course, most notable for the devastating earthquakes that struck the city. Sir Bob's previous career as a television host proved invaluable as he became the public face of Christchurch. As the citation notes: "His calm leadership throughout the emergency periods were noted for providing reassurance and hope."

As is evident in this instance, and has occurred over the past few years, the New Year Honours have become far better at quickly recognising deeds. This means Eleanor Catton, the youngest ever winner of the Man Booker Prize for her novel The Luminaries, becomes a member of the NZ Order of Merit only a couple of months later. There is also virtually instant recognition for Dale Williams, who is made an officer of the order after retiring as the Mayor of Otorohanga. The inspiring and highly successful partnership that he forged with local industry meant the King Country town had zero youth unemployment throughout most of the recession.

Not always, of course, does recognition come so quickly. Geoff Murphy, a pioneer film-maker who paved the way for the likes of Sir Peter Jackson with classic movies such as Goodbye Pork Pie, finally is appointed an officer of the order. There is also overdue acknowledgment of a number of sporting feats. John Reid was a champion all-rounder in the 1950s and 1960s, a time when New Zealand cricket struggled to make a global impact. Later, he continued to contribute to the game in various roles, including as a match referee. He becomes a companion of the order.

Richard Tayler also became a household name when he won gold in the 10,000m at the 1974 Christchurch Commonwealth Games. He is made a member of the order, as is Ross Norman, a figure prominent at a time when New Zealand was a major power in squash. While Dame Susan Devoy claimed much of the limelight, Norman reached the pinnacle of the game in winning the world title in 1986.

This year's list will not attract too much controversy. That is no bad thing if it means it is an an accurate reflection of achievements of merit and valuable contributions to society. Honours should never be bestowed lightly. This year's list acknowledges as much in most respects.

- NZ Herald

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